Advent: A Highlight, not the Apex, of the Christian Year
“We are not here…because Christmas is the high point of every church year, and Advent its most profound season. The church year does not start here because Christmas is coming. The church year starts here to remind us why Jesus was born in the first place.”1
With this short, poignant statement we are reminded of the true essence of Christ’s incarnation. The significance of God becoming man would be lost but for the true character of Christ’s mission on earth, that is, His death, burial and resurrection. That Christ was born in real time and space, as Francis Schaeffer liked to say, is the reality of His incarnation that leads Him to the cross.It is the very reason that He became man.
Certainly this is confirmed by many Scripture passages. The writer of Hebrews notes:
“Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself (i.e., Jesus) likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through the fear of death were subject to slavery (i.e., sin) all their lives…Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God… (Hebrews 2:14, 15, 17).
As our merciful and faithful high priest, Jesus Christ intercedes and intervenes for us before the Father. The writer of Hebrews underscores this point as well: “He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
Throughout the argument in the book of Hebrews, the writer shows the holistic results of Christ’s work as He performed the functions of His priesthood perfectly. Martin Luther often summarized the work of Christ as conquering “sin, death and the devil.” In so doing, he was not focusing on the Babe in the manger, but upon the finished work of Christ which opens a door for reconciliation with God for all of mankind.
This is what Advent is about. It is like a door of entry into the larger scope of the life of Jesus. To leave Him in a manger is to view Him helpless and needy of care. But, to look through the season of Advent and Christmas toward the victory of Easter is to understand the true meaning of this season.
In fact, the warp and woof of the whole Christian year points in the same direction. As Sister Joan Chittister notes, in her wonderful overview of the Christian year titled, “The Liturgical Year,”
“To live the liturgical year is to keep our lives riveted on one beam of light called the death and resurrection of Jesus and its meaning for us here and now. One. Just one.”2
To raise Advent and Christmas to a point beyond this clear focus is to miss the point completely, and in so doing we fail to comprehend the vital distinction of Christian truth over all other religions. Jesus came. Jesus died. Jesus rose from the grave. And He will return to judge once again. It was this very message that led those hearing the Apostle Paul at Mars Hill to sneer and dismiss him for another day (Acts 17:22-34).
Chittister gives a brief synopsis of the purpose of Advent, which is from the Latin meaning “coming.” There are three distinct comings that are to come to our mind as we consider Christ in this season.3 The first, as mentioned above, is remembering the coming of Jesus in the flesh. The historical narratives of the miraculous birth of Jesus are a vital part of the Christian message, and the clarity of the incarnation shines brightly in those stories. This is His coming in the past.
Second, we also turn to notice His coming to us today. He comes in salvation. He comes in our celebrations week by week. He comes through the community of saints in our service to one another. That the Spirit of Christ indwells His people gives an incarnational reality to us as the Body of Christ on earth today. We are, in real ways, His hands and His face and His feet to those we touch, and in this world His redemptive power flows into every aspect of life through the Church.
Finally, the future holds the promise of His coming to redeem His people and all of creation. This is, in the words of the Apostle Paul, our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). As we persevere in our lives each day, we look forward to that time when, face to face, we will see Christ and be present with Him. Sorrows, fears and pain will have finally washed away as He fulfills the redemption that the Holy Spirit guarantees in us through His internal presence.
And so, as we experience this season, let us enjoy the Babe in the manger while we remember the full sweep of His life – and death – and life again! It is in the fullness of that understanding that we will rejoice this holiday season.
1 Quotes from Joan Chittister, “The Liturgical Year” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), p. 64
2 Chittister, p. 24.
3 Summarized from Chittister, pp. 64-66.
(Original Post on Dec. 9, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.breakpoint.org/worshiparts/articles/20890-advent-a-highlight-not-the-apex-of-the-christian-year)
Posted on December 5, 2016, in Christian Worldview, Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, Leadership, theology, Worship Leader and tagged Mark Sooy, theology, worship, worship leader, WorshipThink. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.