Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent Thoughts: Introduction

A couple of years ago, I wrote out a self-published e-book of Advent Devotions. You can still buy it from here: Advent Reflections. However, I’m going to re-use the whole thing for daily blog posts here on the blog this year. Next year I may have the opportunity to write a new one, I certainly hope to, but hopes and reality sometimes do not meet. The e-book is laid out on a sliding schedule, to use on respective days and weeks of Advent.

It should be noted that I drew inspiration from many works and many ideas. If you feel I have taken an idea without credit, please let me know so I can fix it.


I. Introduction

As I sit down to write this, I'm 34 years old. Unemployment in the United States of America is at 9%, a major university is facing a sexual abuse scandal, the overall governing bodies of the country are less approved of than moldy leftovers, and the world is getting a little more chaotic every day. It's an easy time to be paranoid. It's an easy time to be pessimistic. We do not quite live as Charles Darnay, where it is the best of times and the worst at once, but many have not seen much worse in their lifetime.

These times sit poorly with us all. Some, perhaps, sit at ease with no regard for the world at large, but even the many who are employed, snug in their homes and well-fed, worry for their fellow man. We see news from diverse and distant lands of terror and warfare, and news from close at home of agony and frustration. Our neighbors need work, their children need education, and their families need food that many can hardly spare.

We are in need of something. Our government ran on a platform of hope and change, and the following election was the rally of “Not that kind of change.” The coming election promises little better and many truly cannot wait that long for the social ills that plague us to be solved. We fill prisons faster than factories and school detentions faster than honor rolls. Some churches fill and empty every week with precious little hope.

We are in need of something. Our economy is based on consumption. For people to have the jobs they need to earn the money to buy food, people have to buy stuff. We need to consume, use up, and purchase again. The race does not end, for a new race is necessary. The money that is spent on things to make us happy requires us to buy insurance to pay for the therapy we need when the stuff does not make us happy.

We are in need of something. Our bookstores are filled with self-help sections. The phone book is filled with therapists and counselors, and we take drugs to fix our moods. We see stadiums fill to capacity for some preachers or gurus, and our religious quests take us around the world and back again. Movies, books, music, and gadgets promise to fulfill our missing parts, to plug the vacuum in our souls.

We are in need of something, but we hardly know where to look. Our hearts yearn for something dependable. Our minds seek a solid foundation. Our souls, our very being cries out that we need meaning, purpose, significance.

We are in need of something, something greater than ourselves. We are really in need of someone that can be our refuge, our hope, our foundation, our source of meaning and significance in this world.

Some of you are wondering “What is Advent?” and further, “What in the world does Advent have to do with this?”

The heart of Advent is the idea of coming, of expectation. Today, I want to challenge you in this: as we all scurry about, worrying about whether or not we can meet all of our expectations for this year, this Christmas, this holiday season, take a few moments each day to sit back in expectation.

Expectation of finding the grace you need.

Expectation of finding the hope you need.

Expectation of finding the love you need.

Expectation of finding the strength to share all of that with not a few, but all the people you encounter.

It's a big dream.

Let's chase it together because we need more than something, we need someone...we need Jesus. Now, most people that are reading a book about Advent already know a little about Jesus. You know that whole story: born of the Virgin Mary, lived in sinless perfection, died at the hands of sinful men, rose again, and then ascended to the right hand of God in heaven. He is the perfect Son of God, unique and yet together with God Himself. He was, in that time, not God only but fully man as well. He knows weakness, need, and pain. He also holds the power for all of it.

This book will not make you any richer in pocket, and finishing it will not find you a job or fill your pantry. Unfortunately, e-ink cannot do that. My hope is that by taking a few minutes each day you can find your way a step closer to Jesus this year during Advent.


II. How to use this guide

This is meant to be a short, daily reading guide. You’ll generally find it helpful to have a Bible at hand, because most of the longer passages of Scripture will not be reproduced, but you ought to read them. Some of you will find even more benefit in firing up your CD player or iTunes to listen to a referenced song, but others may not.

Each of the four weeks will center on a specific theme of the Christmas story as we draw near to Christmas. There are six sections for each week to allow for the possibility that you’ll miss a day. Perhaps your worship time on Sunday will keep you from this book that day: there’s no harm in that. Each day will feature a Scripture segment, some thoughts related to it, a song to consider, and a challenge to put into action that day. There will be some days that feature both a hymn or carol and a "special" song, one that's meant to be listened to. Most of these can be found on various music streaming services like Rhapsody or Spotify; alternately they can be purchased from iTunes or Hymn numbers will come from the 2008 Baptist Hymnal which is also published by Lifeway as The Worship Hymnal.

Yet keep this in mind: you cannot fail Advent. If Christmas comes, and it will, then the time to remember the birth of Christ comes. He never fails to come, and that’s what this is about.

A quick word to some of my historical and theological brethren and sistren: this is not about the debate over the actual birthday of Jesus. I know your arguments, I’ve read the suggestions, and I’m not up for that debate here. This is my statement: if you are willing to knock out a month of your life in August or September to celebrate the birth of Christ and take that time to tell people about Him, not about why you think September is right, then more power to you. You can have Jesus in September and Santa in December if you’d like, but most of us would rather celebrate the Christ Child than debate the timing. There are bound to be some good books out there about the debate, go read one.

Scripture passages are marked:

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) (NASB95) are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (HCSB) taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible ® Copyright © 2003, 2002, 2000, 1999 by Holman Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, Copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked as the author’s own translation will be based on The Greek New Testament. 4th ed. Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993 by Aland, Barbara, Kurt Aland, Matthew Black et al. Author’s Greek skills are founded in undergraduate and graduate studies in the language.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Doug: A well written, thoughtful, and perceptive blog, and the emphasis on the Advent is right on or spot on, as some would say. I would add, however, the thought that in John 14 there are two statements translated in the KJV, "I will come to you," which can be rendered, "I am coming to you." We look for the Second Coming, the bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ, but do we look for His spiritual coming to us every day, an ongoing process?


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