Several years ago I had the opportunity to travel with a group of High School students and come alongside a pastor who was planting a local church in a rural area of Eastern Africa. On one of the last days of our trip, we spent a day driving thru one of the national parks that are known for its large population of African Elephants. When we first arrived the excitement was through the roof. Everyone pointed and shouted as we saw these amazing animals one after the other. It was an experience of a lifetime. But, as the day went on, our excitement about seeing elephants went from “Look over there! There’s an elephant. Can you believe it?” to “oh, it’s just another elephant”. As I think back on that day it’s honestly staggering how quickly we lost interest. This is what familiarity does in our hearts. When things become familiar we tend to no longer celebrate them as we once did. Familiarity has a way of moving us from wonder to wondering what’s next.
This is the version of Christmas that advertisers and retailers try and sell us each year. Their work is to convince us of the next thing, or toy, or device, or experience that is going to make us feel wonder and excitement again. When I write that sentence it feels silly, but we believe them. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year to create the perfect holiday meal or give the perfect gift. And yet, somehow every year it never fully satisfies. And even if this Christmas is everything you wanted it to be eventually the lights and the tree have to come down. Eventually, the decorations go back into the attic, and eventually, the gift you couldn’t believe you actually received becomes so familiar that it loses its ability to excite you like it once did.
As Christians what we celebrate at Christmas is different altogether. We give and receive gifts because God the Father has given us His Son, Jesus. We invite family and friends into our homes because we have been invited into a relationship with Him. We hang lights on our homes to remember that He is the light of the world. What we celebrate at Christmas is different from the cultural Christmas we see in commercials and on billboards. And yet, even we can become so familiar with this Good News that our wonder can fade. Enter Advent.
Advent is formed from a Latin word meaning “coming” or “arrival”. It is a centuries-old tradition for the people of God of celebrating the first advent of Jesus and looking forward to His second advent. It is a four week season to remember and rejoice in what God has accomplished for us in Christ and what he has promised he will accomplish when he returns “to make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
At CBC we celebrate Advent to help us, as a church, see what is underneath the tinsel and the trees. We don’t want to move past the story of Christ’s birth but rather to steep ourselves in it so that we will be gripped again by the wonder of Christmas. We want to “behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). To plant ourselves deeply in the hope, peace, joy, and love available to us in Christ.
In addition to our Advent sermon series, BEHOLD, we would like to invite you to join us in 31 days of devotional reading and reflection. As a church, we are going to walk together in this advent season using Paul Tripp’s “Come Let Us Adore Him”. We will have copies available at CBC this Sunday, November 29th, or if you would prefer you can purchase one for yourself here. I love this little devotional for individuals and for families and I am excited about the fruit that will come as I spend a few minutes each day in December walking through it and beholding Jesus with my family and alongside my church.
“In a culture that uses this season to get children to dream about how their lives would be made better by possessing a certain material thing, where Christmas has been reduced to a shopper’s nightmare and a retailer’s dream, it is vital to draw the wonder of our children away from the next great toy and toward the wonder of the coming of our great Lord and Savior, Jesus…May the glory of the best gift ever recapture our hearts so that we really do come to adore him.” (Paul Tripp, Come Let Us Adore Him)
CBC, let’s behold Him together this Christmas.