It is that time of year again, or, as we sing along, “the most wonderful time of the year.” The so-called Holiday Season is a joyous time for many people, as it is for me and my family. The ability to travel and rekindle relationships with family and friends is always treasured. It is a special time filled with laughter, eating, retelling of stories long passed, and overall cheer. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, we in the United States take time to gather and celebrate.
As Christians, we have an even greater reason to celebrate. Though we find joy in all these events and especially with our loved ones, this season is greater because of The Christ and the celebration of His birth: Christmas. It may be cliché to say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” or, “put Christ back into Christmas,” but these oft-overused statements are nonetheless true.
There is no doubt that Christmas is an important time for Christians. Liturgically, many traditions not only celebrate the day of Christmas but the weeks leading up to it in a time called Advent. Advent is the time on the Christian calendar inclusive of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Advent comes from the Latin adventus. It relates to the concept of arrival or waiting for arrival. In the Christian worship calendar, the weeks before Christmas appropriately point to this waiting, because Christmas is the celebration of the arrival of the Christ. It is a time of remembering, waiting and rejoicing in Jesus Christ.
It is a time of remembering because we are on the other side of Christmas. Christ came, lived, was crucified, and He rose again. During the advent season, we gather together to remember that God became Man. Though it is not typically the Christmas passage that we think of, John 1:14 encapsulates the essence of Christmastide more than any other passage: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The Word becoming flesh is central to the Christmas message. The idea of God with us, Emmanuel, is cause for rejoicing. Sure, the coming of any new child is a time of rejoicing, but the coming of Jesus the Christ is the pinnacle of rejoicing. The desires of humanity in need of salvation are bound up in the bundle of this Babe.
It is the doctrine of the Incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas, and it is the doctrine we should study and remember during Advent. We remember that Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but humbled Himself, taking the form of a man and dwelling with us. We remember that the One who is the firstborn of all creation, who created us, and who holds all things together by, in and through Himself, has come to be with us. We remember that this babe is the exact imprint of the Father. He is higher than the angels and, through His priesthood, enables us to be counted as Sons. We remember that this incarnation has come in Jesus Christ, who promises that He is with us always, even to the end of the age.
Advent also has the idea of waiting, even longing. The situation for most of humanity is one in which there is a longing for something different from the situation in which they exist; they desire a new beginning. For the person of faith, this longing is looked for along the lines of what God has said. In the Old Testament, the prophets spoke of redemption and the people waited for it. In the New Testament, we, too, wait. We wait for the completion of the work that began at the incarnation, accomplished much in the cross and the resurrection, yet is still to be completed in Christ’s return. Though Christians have much over which to rejoice in and through Christ, we still do so in hope, for we are waiting for His return.
We can place ourselves into the minds of Simeon, who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” His waiting was for the coming of the Messiah; our waiting is for the return of the Christ. For him and for us, the Holy Spirit functions as a first-fruits. Though the indwelling of the Spirit is a manifestation of God-with-us, we still wait for the consummation of all things. Simeon waited for the consolation of Israel; we wait for the consolation of all things.
Finally, the Advent season is a time for us to rejoice. Though our remembrance is of an event long passed and our waiting is for an uncertain time, we do so with confidence of both events. Christ has come—the incarnation is real. Christ is coming again—He will not leave us nor forsake us. In these two truths we have much to rejoice.
We rejoice with the angels. That night outside of Bethlehem, in announcing His birth, they proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14). In heaven, they cry out, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12). We rejoice with the humble shepherds who saw the glory of the Incarnate one and glorified and praised God for it (Luke 2:20). We rejoice with the disciple who waits and proclaims, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
When times are great, we rejoice as the woman who found the lost coin and as the man who found buried treasure and sold all he had in order to buy the field, for the Lord has blessed. We do the same when times are low, for the Lord has not forsaken us.
We rejoice because we know that in Christ we can do all things. For we know that because of Christ, all things are created, have been reconciled, and will be made new. We rejoice because Christ has come, Christ is coming again, and Christ is here with us now.
As we move into the season of Advent, may our minds be set beyond the gifts, parties, and holiday hustle and bustle. May it be set on remembering the Gospel that proclaims that Christ came. Though this time may be difficult for some, as the holidays are for many, may we set our minds also on the hope that is to come. Finally, though we have reason to be merry and glad, let us focus on the reason to rejoice: Christ has come, and Christ is coming again.