We are just completing the first week of the season of Advent. Advent is a word that means “coming”, and is a four-week time of preparation for the birth of Jesus.
Among all the traditional Christian ‘seasons’, it was the last to be adopted (even though it’s the first in the Christian calendar). And originally, like Lent, it was a season of penitence, where people often engaged in physical deprivation as part of their spiritual preparation for the birth of the Saviour.
Nowadays, even the church has transformed Advent into a season of anticipation and joy, perhaps in an attempt to keep up with the secular season of “Christmas” that begins at various times, depending on what store you’re visiting. (In Costco, it tends to be late September; in some other places, after Hallowe’en; and in others, after Remembrance Day. The retail side of Christmas still beats out Advent every time, chronologically.
Happily, though, the church has not transformed the season into complete compliance with the world; secularism can have its mountains of presents, but the church still has the greatest gift of all to offer in Jesus Christ. After all, he is what Christmas is all about. I saw an unusual post on social media the other day that illustrated this. It was what I would call an “Orthodox meme”: it was a meme, in the sense that it was an image that had text around it; and it was Orthodox, in that the image that was at the centre of the meme was an eastern Orthodox icon, depicting the incarnation! Its message was this:
Jesus is not part of the story of Christmas.
Christmas is part of the story of Jesus.
Whatever you do to celebrate this season of preparation and celebration leading up to the nativity, put Jesus at the centre of it. He’s not just part of the story of Christmas; Christmas is part of the story of Jesus.
Central to our anticipation of his birth is this truth, prophesied in the Old Testament and proclaimed in the New:
“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1.23, NLT).
No matter what you are going through – and this is a tough season for many – God is with us in Jesus Christ. That’s what it’s all about.