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  • Grace B-P Contributor

Why Celebrate Advent?

By Timothy Paul, Jones

Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash

As early as the fourth century AD, Christians fasted during this season and ended their fasts with celebrations either of the arrival of the wise men or of the baptism of Jesus. For many Christians today, the most familiar sign of Advent is the lighting of candles—two purple candles, followed by a pink and then another purple—on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.

Advent has fallen on hard times, though. In the Protestant and free-church traditions, the loss is somewhat understandable; we Baptists in particular tend to be suspicious of anything with origins in ancient or medieval tradition. Yet even in congregations that closely follow the rhythms of the church year, the meaning of Advent seems in danger of being misplaced. By the closing week of November, any sense of waiting has been eclipsed by the nativity scene in the lobby, the tannenbaum in the hall, and the list of Christmas parties in the newsletter.

Awkward Intrusion

Why this displacement of Advent as a distinct season?

Perhaps it’s because, for believers no less than nonbelievers, our calendars are dominated not by the venerable rhythms of redemption but by the swifter currents of consumerism and efficiency.

Why this Advent-free leap from All Hallow’s Eve to Christmas Eve?

Perhaps because Christmas is about celebration, and celebrations can be leveraged to move products off shelves. Advent is about waiting, and waiting contributes little to the gross domestic product.

In a religious milieu that has fixated itself on using Jesus to provide seekers with their most convenient lives here and now, Advent is a particularly awkward intrusion. Advent links our hearts with those of ancient prophets who pined for a long-promised Messiah but passed long before his arrival.

In the process, Advent reminds us that we, too, are waiting.

Even on this side of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, there is brokenness in our world no cart full of Black Friday bargains can fix; there is hunger in our souls no plateful of pumpkin custard can fill; there is twistedness in our hearts no terrestrial hand can touch. “The whole creation,” the apostle Paul declared, “has been groaning together for redemption” (Rom. 8:22).

In Advent, Christians embrace the groaning, recognizing it not as hopeless whimpering over the paucity of the present moment but as expectant yearning for the divine banquet Jesus is preparing for us. In Advent, the church admits, as poet R. S. Thomas puts it, that “the meaning is in the waiting.” And what we await is a final Advent yet to come. Just as the ancient Israelites awaited the coming of the Messiah in flesh, we await the coming of the Messiah in glory.

Celebrate the Waiting

So this Advent season, consider how your family might celebrate the discipline of waiting. Set aside a few moments each evening to consider biblical texts that tell about the first and second comings of Jesus. Or select a book for the month—maybe a novel that guides your family to glimpse both the beauty and the brokenness of God’s creation—then turn off the television each time and take time to read to one another. Or work together to list some ways the world is broken; then, even as you long for the return of Jesus to make it right, recognize that God’s renovation is already underway. He is making the world new even now through resurrection power among his people; so, plan a family activity that mirrors God’s renewing work by setting something right or relieving human suffering in your neighborhood. Whatever you do, let it remind you that, because God has promised to make the world new and has ensured this promise through an empty tomb, no moment of waiting is meaningless. Each passing instant is pregnant with wonder and beauty and glory and joy.

Article excerpt taken from The Gospel Coalition (U.S. Edition). Read the full resource here:

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