For a few, Advent conjures up memories of home and church traditions, candles and prayers, colors and decorations. For many, we might remember the chocolates behind those tiny doors, if we remember anything at all. As a legitimate season, Lent seems to have more traction in our culture than Advent. Besides, it is just too busy before Christmas to add anything to our hectic lives!
Maybe that’s exactly why we need it.
If you have ever felt that Christmas as a holiday lacked some true Spirit, or if your typical Decembers are more about survival than renewal, you may really need it. In fact, needing it is the reason we were given Advent in the first place. The ancient Church, in her wisdom, recognized that the arrival of God in human form was not just a casual appearance, but an event that has altered the course of history, giving us hope in the darkest of times. And, as such, this Advent of God is not to be bound by one day, but requires a whole season to prepare us to receive Christ into our hearts, our homes and our communities. It is our hope that these Advent guides will rekindle old memories of the Christmas Season but also created new ones.
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The story of Advent is a story of place. The Creator became part of the creation as a human person in real space and time. There is an actual spot on the map where He arrived. There are roads He walked upon, houses He lived in, cities He visited, towns He worked in. We sense the “sacred” in these because Jesus was there; we are a visited people living on a visited planet. Thus, the Incarnation itself is an invitation to invite Jesus into every space—to set it apart—to make it sacred.
Some spaces are sacred because of what God did there and some spaces are sacred because of how we engage them. Each week and Christmas Eve, we will take a look into a different sacred place in our lives that was first found in the Christmas story. They are: Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Egypt, Nazareth and The Road. In a metaphorical sense, we each have a Bethlehem story where Jesus shows up—and a story about The Road which got us there. It’s the same with the other sacred places. Here’s hoping this year’s Advent Guide will bring folks closer to the One who “became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
Most people don’t get to choose family. The lone exception to that rule would be Jesus Christ. Being the God-Man, He could have chosen whom his ancestors would be. The Gospel of Matthew starts with an overview of Jesus’ family history. Wherever a woman pops up, something questionable happened. (And it’s not the women who end up looking bad—it’s usually the men.) This Advent study will be like going to Grandma’s house for Christmas dinner and then, all of a sudden, one of the relatives starts bringing the family’s dirty laundry out for display while everyone is eating at the table. If Jesus chose these kinds of people to be his ancestors, then He obviously won’t have a problem with us as his family.
When you read the “hero stories” of the Bible, one thing becomes immediately obvious. These men and women are leading their normal lives when, all of a sudden, God breaks in. It’s no different for Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, when he discovers that she is pregnant. It is the beginning of a journey for him that not only interrupts his life but propels him on a course that will test him to to the limit. In a metaphorical sense, Joseph’s trek is a template for our own spiritual journeys as we enter into God’s plan. The creative, original illustrations engage the events of Joseph’s journey, but not always literally. For example, the magi are not portrayed but the three gifts are represented.
Isaiah, the great Old Testament prophet, wrote to those looking forward to the Messiah who was yet to come. In this advent guide, we look back at the Christ who has already come. Isaiah’s revelation describing the Messiah leads us towards recognizing Him from among all the other sages of human history. Like our Christmas luminaria (small candles set inside paper bags to light a walkway) Isaiah’s descriptions of the Messiah as Emmanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, illuminate our path and guide us to the Christmas King. This advent guide includes visual mediations with its unique, original artwork.
If the Nativity Story were a movie, these passages would be called the prequel (the story before the story). The Old Testament contains glimpses of God’s ultimate plan of salvation for the inhabitants of Planet Earth. There are a series of clues, written over the span of a thousand years, in the hope that we might find them and believe in the One sent on that first Christmas Day. In this advent guide, we will learn to anticipate the birth of Jesus—his ethnicity, his locale, his death and resurrection, and his future reign as King of Kings.