Summary: The birth of Jesus gives us hope that extends to every aspect of my life - past, present, and future.
This morning is the first Sunday of Advent. Most of us are probably familiar with that concept, but for some of us our familiarity may be limited to those calendars with little windows that open up revealing a gift or treat for each day of the month leading up to Christmas.
The word “Advent” means “coming” or “arrival”. So the period we call Advent is a season marked by expectation, waiting, anticipation and longing. It is not intended to merely be an extension of Christmas, but rather a season that links past, present and future. It offers us the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, to celebrate Jesus’ birth and what that means for us today and to look forward to His return in the future.
In a season often marked by frenzied busyness, Advent is an opportunity to set aside time to prepare our hearts and help us place our focus on a far greater story than our own – a story of God’s great love toward us that compelled Him to send His very own Son into this world to meet our greatest need. It is a time to reflect on how God came to bring light to us while we were living in great darkness.
One of the common traditions of Advent is the lighting of the candles on an Advent wreath. A circular evergreen wreath represents God’s unending love for us. And the lighting of five candles throughout the season - one for each of the four Sundays before Christmas and one on Christmas Eve - represents Jesus’s coming to a world lost in darkness. As the prophet Isaiah wrote
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
(Isaiah 9:2 ESV)
For the next four weeks, we will unwrap four gifts of Christmas – hope, love, joy and peace. And each Sunday we will light a candle to remind us of those gifts. This morning, we begin by lighting the candle that represents the gift of hope.
It is certainly fashionable as Christians to bemoan the increasing commercialization of Christmas. It’s not uncommon to see Christians complaining about a “war on Christmas” and urging our culture to “Keep Christ in Christmas”. But in many ways this really isn’t new.
When Coca Cola came looking for a Christmas special to sponsor for their holiday marketing back in 1965, they approached Charles Schulz, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip and producer Lee Mendelson. What was basically a low budget, last minute production ended up winning Emmy and Peabody awards and because it struck such a nerve with its audience, it has been a Christmas staple for over 50 years now.
You’ve probably seen it a time or two. If so, you know that Charlie Brown is surrounded by all the trappings of Christmas, but they all come up empty. When in exasperation he shouts “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!”, his best friend Linus sets him straight with a clear answer straight from Luke 2:8–14. Linus recites the passage in one of the most poignant scenes in television history. Will you read it out loud with me?
And there were in the same county shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (KJV)
It is in those words that Charlie Brown finds hope. It’s where the whole Christmas experience turns for him and good ol’ Chuck realizes the true meaning of Christmas. He goes from being depressed by the season to being inspired by it. He goes from an inward focus of questioning to an outward focus of sharing the season with others.
Most of us are probably familiar with the words we just read and the rest of the Christmas accounts that we find in the gospels written by Matthew and Luke. And we will certainly incorporate those accounts in our observance of Advent over the next four weeks and on Christmas Eve. But we’re also going to see how the story and meaning of Christmas is found elsewhere in Scripture as well.