12 Days of Christmas

Over the years, for me personally, I have found Christmas devotionals to be a rich source of inspiration, understanding, and faith concerning the grandeur of the Christmas drama. This Christmas season, I’d like to try pointing you in that direction, providing you with some help and some of the “grace and truth” found in the matchless account of Christ’s birth and incarnation. Based on the familiar song, The 12 Days of Christmas, we will post a sampling of some of these devotional readings starting Sunday, December 14th. Beginning with my contribution here and following each day for the next twelve days, we will bring you new and applicable commentaries. As an idea: these would be good to read to and with your children. To paraphrase what every waiter and waitress tells you… Enjoy!

“ADVENT: COME, LORD JESUS”

Now that we’ve enjoyed our Thanksgiving, survived Black Friday along with the accompanying Cyber Monday, and the most likely missed #GivingTuesday, we are officially in the Christmas season. The historical or technical name of this season is Advent. It refers to the four-week season of expectant waiting leading up to Christmas Day. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning coming. It is a translation of the Greek word parousia, which is most often used in the New Testament references to Jesus’ Second Coming. In history, parousia was usually associated with the arrival of royalty: the leaders of a city went outside the city gates to meet the emperor and escort him back to the city. Eric Metaxas said, “Thus, for the Christian, Advent is about preparing to greet our King. And it is a time for both looking back to Jesus’ first coming and looking forward to His second coming in glory.” This singular season carries with it three important and lasting dimensions that we should remember and reinforce at this time of year.

The Heart’s Yearning

The final words of the Bible in Revelation 22:20 leave us with this state of yearning in the cry, “Come, Lord Jesus.” This could be called the Advent mantra. Christmas is not just a holiday that comes one day a year, but rather it is meant that our lives should be one big Advent that cries out Come! This forever seals the organic connection between Christmas, Christ’s first coming, and His promised second coming. (Matthew 24:42-44 says: “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” No expectation, no yearning, translates into no readiness. The Christmas season, then, is really Advent season: a time set aside by the church to help believers prepare to receive the fullness of Jesus’ coming. This goes beyond his incarnation in a manger at tiny, out-of-the-way Bethlehem, and points us to His promised return.

All of the Advent poems or hymns that have been with us for centuries all exude this quality of yearning. Probably the most famous is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The song dates back to the Middle Ages. The first stanza says:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Each verse begins with biblical titles for Christ: Emmanuel, Root of Jesse, Dayspring. It speaks of why His people yearn for His presence among them. Come, Lord Jesus.

The heart of the Lord’s Prayer communicates this yearning as well. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. This prayer is a yearning. Prayer is the vehicle that yearns for God to fulfill His promises to his people and to set right what has gone terribly wrong. The other side of “Thy kingdom come” is “My kingdom go!”

The Necessity of Preparation

The list of things that need to be done seems to be growing. On the other hand, the time available to us seems to be shrinking. The things to prepare for can be a bit overwhelming at times: the holiday gatherings to go to, food to be bought and cooked, Christmas cards to be sent, presents to be bought, and church celebrations to attend. Oh, and all of this is amplified if travel plans are part of the holidays. In the midst of all this we can be like Christ’s parents twelve years later, traveling home during a holiday season. Uhhm, has anyone here seen Jesus?

When the first Christmas came, when Jesus was born, the majority of the people missed it. Since 400 years had passed during which there had not been one prophet speaking for God, the people lived with and grew accustomed to a kind of icy silence. But Messiah did come, just as had been prophesied in Micah 5:2: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.” The staggering feature of the first Advent was how few were ready and prepared, and how so many missed the first Christmas: the innkeeper, the people of Bethlehem, the scholars, the religious people, Herod, and all of Rome.

Advent, you see, is a call to preparation. The forgotten message and dimension of the first Christmas was repentance. It is still the missing element today. Jesus Christ is coming back to this earth again, the second advent is real and all the prophecies will be fulfilled. John the Baptist’s message still echoes down through the ages, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The unanswered question is, have we done more to prepare for the celebration of a past event than we have for a future reality? We may well be ready for Christmas, but are we ready for the return of Christ? It might not rhyme or be found in any Christmas carol, and it might not put you in the mood to go shopping, but you still “repent your way to a merry Christmas!”

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring,
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
Charles Wesley

Virtue of Hope

Of all the three abiding virtues, faith, hope, and love, we must remember that it is hope that gives love its staying power. The dynamic of hope permeates both the Christmas story and the promise of the Second Coming of Christ. Just as Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem, these two events are a journey of and a destination of hope. It is one of the believer’s greatest treasures.

We’re not just talking about a weak or insipid cross-my-fingers-and-wish-that-things-turn-out-for-the-good “I hope so” (i.e., our teams wins, or I get what I want for Christmas). Hope in the Bible is a life-producing force. Hope if properly understood and implanted in our minds is something that can make disciples of Christ confident, encouraged, and able to smile at the future. The best definition of hope came from Jack Hayford who said, “Hope is the continued mental expectation of good; a settled confidence that God has good plans for our future.” This is what Christmas introduces into our lives.

Advent literally vibrates with and produces hope in the soul. The believing remnant at the time of Christ’s birth was designated as those “waiting for the Consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). Hope reminds us that God always keeps His word. Biblical hope deals with the promises of God which are absolutely trustworthy, irrevocable, unshakable and certain to come to pass. All that He says, He will do; great is His faithfulness. Hope reminds us that with God nothing is impossible, enabling us to trust Him with our future.

The reason hope is a necessity and not a luxury is this is the virtue that keeps us moving forward, especially in those times when things don’t go as expected Even in the worst of circumstances, a believer who has the hope of Christ will be motivated to keep going because he or she knows the best is yet to come, there is hope for your future. It is a non-negotiable, because without it, in all likelihood we would give up. Hope calls us to remember God’s past faithfulness, reassuring us of His future provision.

Richard Rohr captured the spirit of Advent when he said, “Come, Lord Jesus was not a cry of desperation, but an assured shout of cosmic help.” So, this Christmas, as we prepare our hearts before the Lord, let us add our voices to the heavenly anthem: “He who testifies these things says, Surely, I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

Come, Sun and Savior, to embrace
Our gloomy world, its weary race,
As groom to bride, as bride to groom:
The wedding chamber, Mary’s womb.
At Your great Name, O Jesus, now
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
All things on earth with one accord,
Like those in heaven, shall call You Lord.
Come in Your holy might, we pray,
Redeem us for eternal day;
Defend us while we dwell below,
From all assaults of our dread foe.
Eighth Century hymn