For the past couple of years Pastor Mike and I have acknowledged (too-late each year) that advent really sneaks up on us. More significantly, we’ve realized that it’s really difficult to fully embrace advent when you don’t hit the ground running. For those reasons, I’m going to preach this morning on preparing for advent. In other words, this week is about preparing for our preparation—as advent is the season of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. In particular, I’m going to share with you five simple passages that ought to shape the way each of us engages advent. Two passages help us to see how NOT to approach advent and three help us to see how we ought to approach it in light of what advent really is.
Grace, before I pray, stop for a minute to consider what I’m saying. This morning I’m calling and trying to help you to spend the next seven days preparing well to spend the next 30 days preparing well for a birthday party. That’s pretty crazy, isn’t it? Preparing for a week to prepare for a month to celebrate?! It would take someone of extraordinary significance to warrant such measures. In fact, there is only One of such significance. What I’m calling you to only makes sense for Jesus Christ, for He alone is worthy. But Grace—really hear this—it’s the only thing that makes sense for Jesus Christ, for He is glorious beyond measure. Let’s pray together, therefore, that God would help us to understand that preparing for advent as a means of preparing for Christmas is good and right. And let’s pray that God would help us spend the next week preparing well to prepare well to celebrate the birth of His one and only Son, the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
LUKE 2:10 – DON’T LET ADVENT BE LAME
The first passage that I offer as an advent shaper (for yourself, your family, your DG, and your church), is Luke 2:10.
Luke 2:10 And the angel said to [the shepherds who were in the field near Bethlehem where Jesus had just been born], “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.
The next verse, verse 11, is the key to all of this (we’ll come back to that in a bit), but the simple fact that advent is about an event of “good news of a great joy…for all the people” means that we can’t really approach advent appropriately and have it be lame. If advent is the season in which we prepare to celebrate the birth of the very Son of God, it ought to be filled with creativity and beauty and excitement and wonder and both physical and spiritual things to draw attention to its tremendous significance. It simply doesn’t make sense to lamely participate in something that is “good news” and “great joy” for “all people”. Again, the first thing to see here is that given what advent points to there’s no place for a casual, indifferent, or business-as-usual approach to advent.
Let’s ask ourselves, Grace, if an impartial observer were to look in on the way you engage advent would they be more inclined to think you’re celebrating something of OK news of a bit of joy for some people or good news of great joy for all people? Once again, the point of this sermon is to give you a chance to think about this with enough time to do something about it. Avoiding a lame advent requires planning and preparation, prayer and participation. Grace, give real thought to how you might make your time of preparation special. Give real thought to what events or decorations or activities you might try or what traditions you might start/continue to make advent truly appropriate to its meaning and significance.
ROMANS 10:2 – DON’T LET ADVENT BE WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE
It’s important to fight to keep advent from being “just another season”, but it’s at least as important to keep it from being exciting for the wrong reasons. For that reason I want to turn your attention to Romans 10:2, the second (and final negative) passage that ought to shape our approach to advent.
Of the Jews who did not accept Jesus as the messiah, the apostle Paul wrote,
Romans 10:2 I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
The Jews in Paul’s day were among the most religiously enthusiastic and excited people around. They were filled with zeal. There was a problem with their zeal though. It was based on a misunderstanding of who God is and what He required of them. They were anything but indifferent to the things of God, but they were misguided as to what that really meant.
Imagine someone coming into your living room and declaring, “Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all your kindness.” You’re not sure what they’re talking about—what specific kindness they are referring to, but that’d be pretty encouraging, right? Those are kind words. What if they continued, “I will never be able to repay you for raising my daughter from the dead!” Ok, that changes things. You couldn’t remember a specific kindness you’d performed, but it wasn’t impossible for you to imagine having done so in some capacity. But you’re definitely sure you never raised anyone from the dead. All of a sudden their kind words mean something entirely different. The kindest words in the world, the most excited gratitude imaginable, don’t mean anything if they aren’t tied to reality. It doesn’t honor you at all if it isn’t true.
Here’s the point: There is nothing commendable about misplaced excitement. Being excited about a lie isn’t in the least bit virtuous.
The Jews were excited about what they only mistakenly thought was the nature and will of God. In reality, their ignorance was put on full display in the fact that they completely missed God when He came to them. They didn’t even recognize Him when He was standing in front of them. In fact, not only did they miss that Jesus was God, as you know, in their zeal (supposedly for God) they killed Him for claiming to be God.
One of the great tragedies of our day is that there are many, many people doing exactly that in the name of Christianity—especially in December. How many millions (in and out of the Church) run around excitedly and enthusiastically under the banner of Christmas, but are in reality zealous about everything but Christ. What I mean is this: all the joy in the world around the “holiday spirit” does anything but honor God. It is not enough to be excited about the decorations and lights and presents and family and familiar songs and traditions and great food and good will toward men.
If we are going to approach advent in a manner consistent with what it truly is and what it’s truly for, we must make sure that our efforts are significant, but also according to knowledge. For followers of Jesus Advent must not be lame, but it must not be rooted in ignorance either. God-honoring advents are rooted deeply in the knowledge of who Jesus is, why He came, what He accomplished, why it’s good news for us, and how we gain access to the good news. In other words, for us to engage advent as we’re meant to—in a way that actually honors the One it’s for—it will flow from a growing knowledge of the gospel!
It’s really easy to be wrongly casual or excited during advent, and both entirely apart from Christ. And so, if these passages are meant to help us avoid ungodly advent engagement, what passages might we turn to for a right, God-honoring, approach to advent? What verses ought to shape what we ought to do? What does a non-lame, not-ignorant advent look like? The final three passages are meant to answer those exact questions.
LUKE 2:19 – MAKE ADVENT ABOUT TREASURING JESUS
The third passage comes from Luke 2:19. Having just given birth to the very Son of God and having its significance explained to her by angels and shepherds, Luke 2:19 records Mary’s response,
Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
If there’s one simple way to summarize what it means to approach advent in a truly God-honoring way, if there’s one easy explanation of a right source of excitement and knowledge, that is it. Grace, we engage advent rightly when we spend it imitating Mary by treasuring up “all these things” (all that Jesus is and did) and “pondering them in our heart”. God-honoring advent is about treasuring Jesus. And make no mistake, Grace, as I hope to help you see in a few minutes, and as we mean to help you see in the coming weeks, Jesus is a treasure of infinite worth. That means there is no amount of treasuring of Jesus that is excessive. To truly know Jesus and all that He accomplished for us is to delight in Him in the highest!
Again, to help you see and appreciate that, as elders we’ll spend the next four weeks (each Sunday in advent) preaching through the glories of Jesus in the prophets, Psalms, Gospels, and NT letters. In other words, our aim is to help you see what the whole bible says about the nature and significance of Jesus’ birth—how truly treasurable Jesus is.
This morning, though, as an appetizer, I want to simply list the 15 “these things” we see in Luke’s account of Jesus birth. That is, I want to share the immediate things Mary treasured and pondered. As we move toward advent, then, make every effort to fill it with treasuring and pondering the glories of Jesus and the grace He offers to the world.
- 1:26-27 – Jesus’ birth was foretold by the angel Gabriel who was sent by God.
- 1:27-28 – Jesus’ birth came through a young virgin named Mary.
- 1:28 – Mary was given the honor of becoming the mother of God simply because the LORD set His favor upon her and determined to be with her.
- 1:29-30 – Understandably frightened at the angel’s visit, God was patient and kind to comfort Mary, reiterating that she had found favor with God.
- 1:31, 35 – The very Spirit of God would come upon Mary, conceive a child in her, and overshadow her.
- 1:31 – The child’s name was given directly from God. His name is Jesus!
- 1:32-33, 35 – Jesus would be great, Son of the Most High, He would sit on David’s throne, He would rule forever, and He would be called the holy Son of God..
- 1:36-45 – To confirm all of this God would grant Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, who had been barren, a child also.
- 1:46-55 – Mary’s response to the promises of God, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” “Generations will call me blessed,” “He who is mighty has done great things,” “Holy is His name,” “His mercy is for those who fear him,” “He has shown strength with his arm,” “He has scattered the proud,” “He has brought down the mighty,” He has “Exalted those of humble estate,” “He has filled the hungry with good things,” and He has remembered His mercy.
- 1:56-75 – God made Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, mute and then “opened his tongue” when their son, John (the Baptist) was born…all to confirm His hand in this lowly family from whom Jesus would be born. This family and all who heard of them feared God, blessed God, understood that they were visited and redeemed by God, delivered by God, and shown mercy by God.
- 1:76 – Ultimately, God revealed through Zechariah that his son, John, would be the prophet who prepared the way for the Lord, Jesus.
- 1:77-79 – Jesus would come to “give knowledge of salvation,” “forgiveness of their sins,” “tender mercy,” “light,” “guidance,” and “peace”.
- 2:1-7 – According to the providence of God Jesus was born in fulfillment of all the prophecies concerning the Messiah, the Christ.
- 2:8-11 – In the glory of the Lord, angels visited shepherds who were near the place where Jesus was born, declaring (as we saw earlier), that “good news of a great joy…for all the people,” had been born.
- 8:12-14 – God confirmed the identity and purpose of Jesus by signs and angelic, heavenly wonders.
Again, all of this, Grace, is what Mary treasured up and pondered in her heart. We know more, much more, of the nature and significance of Jesus, God incarnate, from the rest of the NT. As I said, we’ll get to it in the coming weeks. For now, keep these fifteen things in mind as you look for your advent engagement to take shape through your treasuring of the immeasurable greatness of Jesus. Ponder these things in your heart as you prepare to worship the One whose coming we celebrate and whose return we anticipate.
Don’t let advent be lame, don’t let your enthusiasm be misguided, and let advent be about treasuring Jesus.
PSALM 145:4 – MAKE ADVENT GENERATIONAL
The fourth passage that I’d like to hold out to you as an advent-shaping tool is Psalm 145:4.
Psalm 145:1-4 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. 2 Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. 3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. 4 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
The heart of this passage is the greatness of God. The heart of the application of this passage is a multi-generational praising of the greatness of God. In other words, God is great beyond measure and it is the privileged responsibility of each generation to declare His greatness to the next.
Grace, don’t simply take the fifteen truths of the previous point, or the glories of Christ in the next four sermons, or the marvelous works of God throughout the bible, and merely treasure them yourself. Take them and share them with past and future generations. Let your advent celebrations, wherever possible, be multi-generational.
Parents, don’t keep the good stuff for yourself and give your kids the scraps of presents and candy and family gatherings—share it with the generations. Senior saints, don’t keep the good stuff to yourself and think the rest of already have it or will eventually find it on our own—share it with the generations. Young people, don’t imagine that you’ve begun to exhaust the depths of the good stuff of God in Christ—seek it from the generations.
God has designed the world to know the goodness of His grace, mercy, and salvation in His Son, primarily through the faithful recounting of those things by one generation to the next. Make sure advent in your home conforms to this great privilege and responsibility. Get good kids’ books. Get good kids’ music. Get good food. Write out your testimony. Make a list of God’s great blessings in your life. Involve the young people of this church and in your home wherever possible in planning, decorating, reading, and celebrating. Look to the older people in this church for guidance wherever possible. Because of the glories of Bethlehem, it only makes sense to look for ways to engage advent with as many generations as possible.
ROMANS 1:16 – MAKE ADVENT MISSIONAL
Don’t let advent be lame, don’t let it be zealous without knowledge, do make it about treasuring Jesus, do make it generational, and finally, do make it missional. That is, let your approach to advent serve as a light to your unbelieving family and friends. Don’t let unbelievers set the tone and shape of your celebration of the coming of Jesus. What’s more, join the angels and saints in approaching advent in such a way that you are unmistakably glad in God and eager to invite others into your gladness. Don’t be silent or quiet concerning the real nature of advent.
Romans 1:14-17 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
As Christians we need to continually be on the lookout for ways to show gospel contrast to the world. We need to unashamedly acknowledge God as greater than anyone could ever imagine, God as the sovereign creator-king of the world, God as the one who made all of us to glorify and enjoy Him forever. We need to admit—with sadness but without blushing—that all mankind has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and is therefore deserving of death. We need to unabashedly announce to the world in our approach to advent that Jesus, whose birth we prepare to celebrate during advent, is the One sent by God to rescue us from our sins and restore us to fellowship with God. And throughout advent we need to be not ashamed that faith alone is the means by which God unites us with the cross-work of Jesus. When we do so we will stand out. We will seem strange. Our words and actions will often seem unexplainable.
It will be impossible for unbelievers to understand why we believe these things, but it must also be impossible for them to explain our excitement over them, our sacrificial acts of loving service because of them, our overwhelming generosity driven by them, and the fearlessness with which we live life on account of them. And it is in that unexplainability that we are best able to make advent missional/evangelistic.
Let us, therefore, believe these things, live increasingly in light of them, and then unashamedly share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the way of explanation when people look at us funny.
Use this next week to make a plan to keep advent from being lame or misguided. Use this week as well to make a plan to make advent about treasuring Jesus yourself, among the generations, and among the unbelievers in your life. Fill this week with prayer and thought and planning and use these five verses to shape your prayers, thoughts, and plans.
I want to close with one more verse to shape advent for you. It’s a simple verse written by Paul to his young ministry apprentice. In it Paul explains why the birth of Jesus is worth so much planning and celebrating. In a few simple words he explains why Christmas—and advent—matter.
1 Timothy 1:15-17 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world [was born] to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.