Sunday, November 22, 2020

Advent 2020: 33 Days and Counting

Thirty three. There are only thirty three days until Christmas. Every year, when I hear someone announce the days until Christmas, it freaks me out a little. Even in the simplest of years, there are always so many things to do. Certainly 2020 has scaled back my December plans. Four parties that I attend each year have been cancelled, and to be honest, I'm not even upset about it. There's just something about a countdown that freaks me out.

I must be one of the few who feel this way.  Christmas countdown calendars seem to be everywhere this year, and I don't just mean the cheap cardboard ones with terrible chocolates inside of them.  I mean beautiful, wooden creations that are meant to be used from year to year and that could last a family a life time, with drawers large enough to hold a Hot Wheels car, a Lindt truffle, or a golf ball.

In some Christian traditions, the season preparing for Christmas is celebrated uniquely.  We call the season Advent.  Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas with each week focusing on Hope, Peace, Joy, or Love.  Different Christian traditions have other focuses, but this is what we celebrate.  Advent means "to come," and there are two things we celebrate the coming of: Christ's birth and Christ's return.

Christ's Birth
The story of Christ's birth is likely well known to even non-believers thanks to Linus' monologue in A Charlie Brown Christmas.  A frustrated Charlie Brown asks if there is anyone who knows what Christmas is really all about, and Linus recites:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:8-14, KJV)
I must admit that more than once I've heard Linus' voice when Luke 2 has been read in a church service, and it always puts a smile on my face. However, the story of Christ's birth actually begins in Luke 1 with the angel visiting Zechariah who would father John the Baptist, and it goes through Luke 2:39 with the story of Jesus being presented in the temple (not to be confused with Jesus being "forgotten" at the temple, which is the very next story in Luke's gospel account). Matthew 1-2 also tells the account of Christ's birth, but with different details than Luke. Matthew begins with Christ's lineage and concludes with the young family fleeing to Egypt for safety.  Both Luke and Matthew tell the most important part - the birth of Christ.

This is the image of Jesus we usually hold onto at Christmas.  As anyone who has cared for a newborn knows, He was totally dependent on His mother to feed Him and care for Him.  When our first son was born, we acted like a strong wind would break him.  In that same way, we like to imagine Him in Mary's arms while Mary and Joseph look lovingly into His face.

Christ's Return
For the believer, there is a second "coming" that we celebrate at Advent.  We believe that Christ will come again, as He told His disciples in Matthew 24, but this part of the story does not the paint the same images of Him as His birth does:
At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. Then all the peoples of the world will cry. They will see the Son of Man coming on clouds in the sky with great power and glory.  He will use a loud trumpet to send his angels all around the earth, and they will gather his chosen people from every part of the world. (Matthew 24:30-31, NCV)
Instead of fragility and need, Christ's second coming will be with "great power and glory."  It is both a promise and a warning.  So let us approach Christmas this year with a broader perspective, not just focusing on the Christ Child but also on the Son of Man.

The next post in this series can be read here: HOPE AND TWO DIVORCES.

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