Category Archives: Advent

Preparing Your Mind for Advent and Christmas

 

It’s almost December and the first Sunday of Advent is fast approaching. Christmas parties and events have already begun and with each week there is increased busyness related to the holidays.

As a culture our time is not filled with the story of Jesus’ arrival into the world, instead, we are often consumed with celebration of the secular holiday season and commercialism. I’m not about to pretend that I somehow become extra holy during Advent and Christmas, but I can certainly feel the tension between focusing on Christ verses focusing on the secular celebrations and habits of the season.

I don’t have a problem with making “Jesus the reason for the Season”. I feel an increased need to draw closer to Christ during these busy times because I am tempted by corporations that try to convince us that Christmas doesn’t exist without all the small appliances and toys they are offering for sale. I need to call on Jesus so I don’t allow myself to become a bitter and angry person when family issues surface due to holiday pressures. My prayers increase because I see the desperate needs of people who live on the streets and those who are living in poverty and I remember what Jesus said to us about our relationship with those who are poor. I remember my identity in Christ when the thief of comparison pays a visit, reminding myself and others of the material things we don’t have.

I invite Jesus into the holiday season by engaging in Advent rituals. Without these daily reminders it becomes easy to spend more time focusing on Christmas instead of Christ.

There’s nothing wrong with having fun during the holidays, personally, I think it’s necessary for our well being to do so. The winter season is long, dark, cold, and sometimes depressing. Gathering together and having fun is the best way to beat the winter blues.

So, what are some ways you can invite Jesus into your holiday?

Advent Wreath: With an advent wreath in your home, you have a visual reminder of the seasonal themes Love, Joy, Peace, and Love. You can light the candles every day or once a week. You can even take things further by doing a reading or prayer each time you light the candles.

Advent Daily Devotional: These devotionals focus specifically on the story of Christ’s incarnation, the prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures with foretold the story of Christ, and provide reflections on how to live as Christians waiting for the advent (coming) of Christ.

Decorate your home with religious symbols: Christmas is filled with beautiful trees and the equally appealing decorations they hold. Adding religious decorations such as nativity scenes, angels, and art depicting the Christmas story serve as reminders that Jesus is a part of our holidays.

Listen to Christian Christmas Music: There are many winter songs that sing of warming up by the fire, Santa Claus and loved ones, but throwing in some songs that reflect the hope and joy of the season help to create a spiritual atmosphere. Christian Christmas music is found across many genres and are produced by both Christian and non-Christian artists.

Give-Give-Give: Christmas brings out the charity in all of us. A great way to celebrate the holidays is sharing with others whether it be by giving financially to a charity of your choice or by donating goods and your time to organizations.

Advent Week 4 – Love, the Greatest Commandment and the Toughest One

Advent W4D1

I can’t believe this is the 4th week of Advent. Time has gone by quickly. I apologize for not keeping up with the Advent series I had mentioned 4 weeks ago. I got sidelined by a head cold that didn’t want to get lost. As a result my to-do list got longer, my schedule got busier, and I grew tired. The blog took a back seat to more pressing and necessary obligations.

Hopefully you’ve had a wonderful Advent season. Re-learning the story of Christ’s purpose for coming to us here on earth never grows old. Each year I learn something new and I see passages that I’ve read many times in a new light.

Love is a difficult verb and noun to understand. In the English language the word love is used to describe our feelings about things from clothing, food, and movies, to family, crushes, and spouses.

The never ceasing love that God continuously gives us is one that I can’t claim to understand fully. I get that God loves us, His creation, His children, but I have never understood it at a deeper level. I have experienced God’s love, but can’t define it. God’s love for us is one of the mysteries of our faith, perhaps it is the biggest mystery.

John 3:16 tells us that God gave us His son because He loves us and this love brought Jesus to us, not to condemn us, but to save us. God’s love for us is a love that saves us; how powerful is that!

Advent-Love

I will confess, loving others as Christ loves us is my biggest challenge in life. Jesus tells us that loving God means loving ourselves and loving others (Luke 10:26-27). Loving God is directly connected to loving our self and others, they cannot be separated. If we don’t love God, we will not be able to love anyone else.

The four themes of Advent are all interconnected: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. These four nouns and verbs are directly tied to our faith in God. Our spiritual disciplines help us to develop these character traits that God places in our hearts through our faith in Him.

If you are like me and you continue to fail at loving every single person you know and encounter, don’t give up. Remember, God said Christ was sent to save us, not to condemn us. As believers we don’t share, spread joy, and love others as a holiday, for us it is a year round faith-based, character building lifestyle. We stumble, God corrects us. We fail, God forgives us. We forget, God reminds us.

This week, I encourage you to take some time to think about the four themes of Advent and your spiritual disciplines.

Question:

Hope-Peace-Joy-Love

How have you grown in each of these areas during 2015?

The Polarities of Advent: In the World Not of It

advent 2015 theme

Some have asked me what would be the polarities of Advent. It is difficult to describe verbally, but I have long experienced ambivalence during the Advent season. During my mid-twenties I began to view the birth of Jesus in a completely different manner than I had been previously taught.

I no longer saw the Nativity story as something beautiful with a young virgin, her older husband, and quiet little baby Jesus in a nicely decorated barn. I could no longer read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth with visions of a bright night sky filled with singing angels, three wise men travelling by caravan with symbolic gifts, and the new family all settled in with their divine baby.

Reality set in and I learned that Jesus’ birth was serious, it meant life and death for those who encountered the Christ, followed him, and preached his resurrection. This story of the arrival of Christ and the salvation he would bring to us was not something that could ever be authentically told in a sweet, sanitized holiday rendition without horror, death, rejoicing, waiting, hope, and faith.

Our festive and fast paced Christmas holiday season is not in congruence with the meaning behind Jesus’ arrival, his life, his purpose, and our faith. I love the festivities of the Christmas season; our dark cold city is filled with bright holiday lights, concerts, visits with those we haven’t seen in a while, gifts, and great food. I wouldn’t call for an end to these celebrations, but I don’t want to be fooled into thinking they have anything to do with Advent, Christmas, and the purpose of the first arrival of Jesus into the world.

Advent reminds us of our separation from Christ. We are awaiting his second coming; a date and time neither he nor any of us will know of in advance. As Jesus said, only God knows when this will happen (Matthew 24:36). Jesus has physically left us, God has sent a renewal of the Holy Spirit in his place, and our only tangible connection to Christ are the recorded teachings from his short life written in our bibles. What God calls us to do as followers of Christ is not easy, but He has given us His Holy Spirit to help teach and guide us. Jesus was a living example to us of the hardship and rewards involved in obeying God. During this Advent series we will look at both the hardships and rewards of our faith as it relates to Advent and the birth narrative of the Messiah.

This Advent I want to share with you the polarities of the season and our faith. There will be writings on sadness and hope; joy and mourning; fear and strength; and other themes found in the story of Christ’s life, message, and our commitment to following him.

Format:

Each Sunday will be a full length blog post (500-600 words). From Monday – Saturday I will post short reflections (1-2 paragraphs) in the section of this blog marked ‘Advent and Christmas 2015’. For the short reflections you can check the blog each day or visit the God, Faith, and Fitness page on Facebook for the daily meditation.

Advent Week 1/Hope: November 29 

Advent Week 2/Peace: December 6

Advent Week 3/Joy: December 13

Advent Week 4/Love: December 20

Are You Really Keeping Christ in Christmas?

Emmanuel

Christ in Consumer Christmas

Every year we see the Facebook posts, news articles, and hear sermons about the need to ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’; this has always bothered me. I’ve never been concerned about keeping Christ in Christmas because I personally don’t believe Christ cares to have his name associated with a consumer driven holiday.

I truly believe that Christ doesn’t want people exchanging gifts in his name that were made under unsafe conditions in sweat shops across Asia. Do you honestly believe God wants people fighting each other on Black Friday so they can get the best deals on the gifts they’ll be giving for Christmas? Would Jesus be excited to see underpaid and overworked cashiers and sales associates putting up with miserable shoppers for a month, all in the name of celebrating his birthday?

I often wonder why Christians go through so much effort to keep Christ’s name in something that he never celebrated; a time of remembrance that he never asked us to keep. Before departing, Jesus gave a set of instructions to his followers and not a single one of them mentioned celebrating his birth. Instead, what Jesus wanted us to do was live out the loving commandments of God. Jesus asked us to remember all that he did during his short time on earth so that we could go forward and do the same. Nowhere in scripture does Jesus engage in anything that remotely resembles our North American Christmas holiday.

holiday stress

If you would like to keep Christ in Christmas, here are a few ideas:

Be nice to the underpaid and unappreciated cashiers and sales staff. These workers are not here to be yelled at, complained about, or mistreated in any way. Remembering the fruits of the Spirit during the holiday shopping season is important, this is how we live in the Spirit of Christ.

Spend only what you can afford. If you don’t have the money to pay for items before the interest rate is added to your credit card bill, then you can’t afford the gift. Put it back. Don’t purchase it. Consumer debt is not how Christ wants us to live. If we can’t afford something, then why are we purchasing it? Wanting unnecessary material goods, buying them, ad then being in credit card debt for these items we can’t afford is called gluttony and pride.  Money mismanagement is not keeping with God’s commandments and the values Jesus taught us.

Practice advent. It never ceases to surprise me how many Christians don’t celebrate advent. As a religious culture we are beyond excited to spend much energy on a one day celebration, but somehow we can’t find the time to spend several weeks focusing on why Christ came into this world and what it all means for us as followers today. Taking time each day during Advent to focus on the great gift of Jesus means never having to remind yourself to keep Christ in Christmas, because Advent is all about Jesus and our relationship with him.

Remember those who are having a Blue Christmas. The holidays can be emotionally painful for those who have experienced loss during the year, people who are having painful memories, and those who have no family to celebrate with. You don’t have to be extravagant in reaching out to them, it can be as simple as giving them a box of chocolates, an encouraging Christmas card or something that you notice they might be in need of. Knowing that you are remembered, loved, and cherished during the holidays means so much to those having a Blue Christmas.

Remember those around the world who live in areas where they cannot openly celebrate the birth of Jesus. For Christians whose lives are in danger due to their religious beliefs, they don’t have the option of trying to figure out how to keep Christ in consumer Christmas; their lives are in immediate danger. Take time to remember those who do not know the love of Christ or why God is so amazing. Review the story of Jesus’ birth and the danger that his family was in. Thousands of years later there are still leaders and rulers who fear the love and peace that Christ came to live and proclaim.

Hopefully all of this doesn’t come across as me putting the bitter in Christmas because the truth is, I love the Christmas season for reasons that aren’t really Christ focused. The holidays make me happy because I love the festivities, the beautiful lights that brighten my dark and cold city, and all the other fun stuff that make great memories. My only concern is for Christians who find it necessary to “Keep Christ in Christmas”. There is no battle. If you are a believer, Christ will be part of Christmas and you won’t get lost in the secular. Christ is meant to be in your life and in your home year round. If you make Christ a regular part of your life, you won’t have to fight to keep him there every December.

Christmas year round