Hebrews 13:14-15 says, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
Sunday December 1 marked what for centuries Christians have traditionally called “Advent.” What is “Advent”? The word Advent is Latin for "coming" and refers to the first coming of Jesus. David Mathis at Desiring God Ministries writes:
Advent is for adoring Jesus...Advent is an annual season of patient waiting, hopeful expectation, soul-searching, and calendar-watching marked by many churches, Christian families, and individual followers of Jesus. There’s no biblical mandate to observe Advent. It’s an optional thing—a tradition that developed over the course of the church’s history as a time of preparation for Christmas Day. [However] many of us find observing Advent to be personally enjoyable and spiritually profitable.
I would invite you to take part in this tradition. Not because there is any biblical mandate to do so – you can search the scriptures over and you will find no command to recognize or observe the birth of Jesus Christ. But it is a tradition that I invite you to participate in as a month-long act of worship that engenders an attitude which stands in stark contrast to what the season has become. Sadly, the tradition of remembering the first coming of Jesus and anticipating his second coming has been usurped by a very different tradition. Chuck Carol of CBS News opened his Black Friday online column this way:
Millions of Americans are once again making Black Friday one of the busiest shopping days of the year. The traditional start of the holiday shopping season brings with it the stress of long lines, crowded stores, short tempers of fellow shoppers and the frustrations of not actually getting the door-busting deal, because the store is only selling one item at the insanely low advertised price.
Indeed for most people in our country the tradition that marks the beginning of this holiday season is not hearts turned to God with a renewed sense of awe at the glory of God but hearts set on “stuff” and consuming more and more stuff. Over 135 million people go out to shop on Black Friday every year. According to USA Today, an estimated 70% of their readers (97 Million) said they would be out shopping on Black Friday. And according to one source consumers will have spent 11% more than they did last year. According to Nielsen, a consumer trends newsgroup, 51% of shoppers said they will be avoiding the crowds on Friday and shopping online this year. Others claim that 37% will shop via their tablet or mobile phone. What does this tell us? It says that in general we are a people of:
1. Indifference to the infinite: As a culture our tendency is to be quite hedonistic. We live for the now. We rush the doors to get things we don’t need and won’t last as soon as possible. The problem is, man who dies with the most toys – just dies! As the title of the old Broadway musical says, “You can’t take it with you!”
2. Idolatry. As an overall culture, we have a tendency to live out what we saw in Romans 2 - we exalt created things above the Creator. We tend to seek the gift and not the giver. We have a consumer identity and as consumers we have a tendency to approach God only for what he can give us and not in worship for who He is and in surrender to His will.
3. Isolation. With the "advent" of hand-held technology, consuming stuff is getting easier and easier, and less and less personal. We don’t interact well with each other because our consumerism displays a depth of human selfishness and greed in this season that far outweighs the rest of the year (most likely it’s there all the time but it’s just amplified during this season). This makes us want to stay home and just shop on-line – ultimately avoiding people altogether. I’m all for shopping online – but God calls us to be relational for our good and His glory.
In stark contrast and in response to all of these things let’s celebrate Advent and Chrsitmas – what used to be called the “Feast of the Incarnation” together as a church.
1. Let us not seek the stuff of this world but seek the world to come. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Followers of Jesus need to be aware of this tendencies in ourselves and proclaim and live out a distinctly different message during this season.
2. Let us not consume but sacrifice “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Let’s make this season a heightened season of praise to God, acknowledging His name.
3. Let us therefore, not seek only the good and comfort of ourselves first but the good of others and giving and sharing with others in response to the great gift God has given us in Jesus. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Let us push back against the tendency of isolation by making this a season of increased relationships – with family, friends, and neighbors with purpose – to tell people the good news about why Jesus was born.