Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season. I love this time of the year. Beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the church since the fourth century has celebrated the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ by focusing attention on the Old Testament promise of His coming, the realization of the promise in His Incarnation, and the blessed hope of our Lord’s Second Coming. Advent is designed to nurture in Christ’s church humble reverence and joyful longing.
PASTORS AS REMINDERS
With all the events of the year 2020 it is perhaps uniquely difficult for our churches to consider Advent. It’s easy to forget the wonder of the Christmas season with our minds consumed with COVID-19; various degrees of lockdowns on businesses, schools, and churches; financial hardship; distant family; and all that has come with the theater of the presidential election. But regardless of what is going on in the culture, the pastor’s job is to remind God’s people of the old, old story of Jesus and his love. Indeed, the gospel story in every season must be heard over all other competing stories.
The Apostle Peter knew the challenge of remembrance. This is why he made no apologies for explaining the same truths over and over again:
Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things (2 Peter 1:12-15).
Like a good pastor, Peter understood that he would not always be there to remind people of gospel truth. He was aware of his inevitable, and soon, departure unto death. Therefore, out of great love for the church, he served tirelessly in a ministry of remembrance so that the people “may be able at any time to recall these things.”
As faithful pastors we must feel two things: great affection for our people and the inevitability of our own death. If we truly love our church then we will say with John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). And if we know our life is “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14), then we will labor by the grace of God to ground our churches in the Word of God so that after our departure they “may be able at any time to recall these things.”
ADVENT AS REMINDER
Advent is an incredible opportunity to remind our people of the central truths of the gospel—to stir them up by way of reminder. The Advent season is designed to take up the grand narrative of the Bible and hold it before the church in the weeks leading up to Christmas. In this sense, the church calendar can act like a catechism for our people as each week we emphasize a different aspect of the gospel story.
Christina Rossetti in 1876 captured the heart of Advent in a poem. Note the gospel richness in every stanza from this sample of “Advent”:
There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.
We weep because the night is long,
We laugh, for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us, —we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.
Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight,
And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, “Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.”
In beautiful poetry, Rossetti describes great and terrible biblical themes like the fall of mankind and our present groaning because of sin, the substitutionary suffering and death of Christ, the communion of saints, and the sure hope of the resurrection when all things will be made new. Pastoral ministry is a labor in gospel poetry for our people. The Advent season helps us do this.
As I type, I’m listening to a wonderful rendition of one of my favorite oratorios, Handel’s “Messiah.” With heavenly beauty, Handel takes us through the Old Testament longings for Messiah (Behold, a Virgin Shall Conceive) to the wonder of the Incarnation (For Unto Us a Child is Born) to the horror of the cross (Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs) to the matchless power of the resurrection (Hallelujah) to the glorious Second Coming (The Trumpet Shall Sound). By the end Handel knew that everything in us wants to proclaim “Amen” to the glory of God!
Advent declares to the world the wonderful truth that Messiah has come. Indeed, God is with us. And so, with humble reverence and joyful longing we sing, Come, Lord Jesus, and make all things new.
This is worth everything to remember.