Happy New Year!
I love preaching on the first Sunday in Advent because I can always greet the congregation with those delightfully provocative words. For churches that follow the liturgical calendar, Advent started this week and spans the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. It is the liturgical new year, when we start the cycle of storytelling anew with the proclamation of Christ coming into the world. This is a time for renewal and recentering. Even for churches that do not follow the liturgical calendar, we live in a society where capitalism drives the observance. Everywhere you look, people are preparing for Christmas. We have lights hanging from houses, decorations in nearly every business, and the persistent reminder of “the most wonderful time of the year!”
Of course, Advent is more than just preparation for Christmas. The Advent of our Lord has two meanings because it has two times. We live in between these times, in the already-but-not-yet. The first is the coming of the Christ child, the word made flesh, into the world. The second is the time for which Christians have been expectantly waiting and preparing for two millennia. We anticipate this in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth.” We anticipate this in the Apostle’s Creed when we profess that Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Christ’s admonition to the disciples is, “Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Matthew 24:44).
So, Advent is more than a season of expectant waiting. It is also a time of preparation and renewal. We mimic this preparation when we decorate our homes and businesses, and we practice it when we participate in the holiday spirit of joy, reconciliation, and generosity. Our task as Christian disciples is not simply to wait around for Jesus. Our task is to get busy with the work of God. The Reign of God is breaking into this world, and we are a part of this inbreaking. This means following in the way of Jesus and teaching others to do the same. The core of what it means to be a Christ follower has gotten obscured and distorted in the midst of cultural warfare, but it really is simple: Love one another (John 13:34). When we show love to one another, we fulfill the commandments (Romans 13:9) and participate in the inbreaking of the Reign of God. This is how we practice being ready.
Ground Yourself in Love
The commandment to love one another sounds so simple, but we all know how hard it is in practice. Too often, Christian leaders and other disciples get so caught up in the busyness of the season that we do not take time to stop and consider God’s calling to us and our communities. Preparation begins with us. Christian leaders must see to our own spiritual wellbeing if we hope to minister to others. We can call people to worship, to attend camp, to give generously, and to participate in service to others, but all of our admonitions fall flat (or become a noisy gong? – 1 Cor 13:1) if we are not grounded in Christian love ourselves.
Grounding ourselves in Christian love involves daily reflection and centering. This is where the rhythm of Christian devotional practices can be incredibly beneficial. We learned about the importance of our Christian leaders staying connected to God in our recent Camp and Church Leadership Project. This is why we developed the Holy Ground devotional resource for summer camp staff. Advent is the perfect time to renew these practices and recenter on God’s word.
For my family, the Advent wreath becomes the center of our devotional time. We light the candles (one more each week) as a sign of our preparation and the coming of Christ. Through the weeks of Advent, we build a rhythm of devotional practices that carry us through the year. On the years where we become less consistent, Advent is a time of recentering and renewing the practice. This year, for example, we remained consistent with sharing highs and lows with one another and praying together, but we were inconsistent with reading a Bible passage each day. With the arrival of Advent, we are doing our daily readings again and reflecting together on God’s word.
A new year is a time for new beginnings and renewal. Let this Advent season be a time of renewal for you. Recenter on God’s word, and focus anew on how God is calling you to love your neighbor.
Looking for resources? My family uses THIS DEVOTIONAL. Another go-to resource is the Moravian Daily Texts. Find something right for your household, light some candles, and get to work preparing the way!