The countdown has begun…
One of the greatest memories for those of my generation was watching the Apollo missions on our black and white TV’s and seeing the first man walk on the moon. In six missions, twelve men walked on the Moon between 1969 and 1972. As memorable as the landings were, they were preceded by our gathering around the TV for the, 10, 9, 8… blast off! The countdown built our anticipation for what was about to happen.
Can you remember counting down the days for a special event? Maybe you marked the days off on a calendar until your 16th birthday when you could get your driver’s license. Maybe it was the days before your graduation or possibly the days until a vacation or retirement. The countdown heightens our anticipation of an upcoming event.
This Sunday is the first Sunday of the Advent season; the Christian churches countdown to Christmas. It is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of not only Christ’s birth at Christmas, but also looking forward to the return of Christ at the Second Coming.
Like the countdown at New Year’s Eve, Advent anticipates something new. Whereas at New Year’s Eve we count down the seconds to welcome in the New Year, at Advent we countdown the days between the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas to celebrate Christ’s birth. During the Advent season we remember and give thanks to God for the new life given to us in Christ.
Advent is celebrated in various ways. Early in our marriage we used an Advent calendar with 24 blocks and figurines that would be taken out each of the 24 days before Christmas to build a nativity scene. In both churches and homes, candles are lit each of the four Sundays before Advent; the candles represent the hope, love, joy and peace that Christ brings to us. The candles and the calendars countdown the days until Christmas.
You’ve likely seen secularized versions of advent calendars. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find a “biblical” advent calendar with a scripture reference behind the doors. Instead, you’ll find “Santa” advent calendars with candy or a nice message behind each of the 24 days.
While these reveal an anticipation for Christmas, what the secular world anticipates is something different. Rather than marking the start of the Christmas season by lighting the “hope” candle, it begins with “Black Friday.” Rather than Advent being about anticipating Christ’s birth, it has been reduced to the giving and receiving gifts.
Don’t get me wrong. Christmas is about gifts, it’s just not the ones we give. Christmas is about the gift that we receive from the Father in Christ. We count down the days until Christmas to celebrate and remember the gift of life that was given to the world in Christ’s birth.
The first five verses of Ephesians 2 tells about the Good News that God brings us in Christ. First, it reveals our problem, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
While our sins demanded God’s judgement, He has prepared a gift for all who receive Him, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Advent remembers that this gift came to us through the child that was born on Christmas day.
Jesus testified, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son…” (John 3:16a) Later Paul tells us how the good news came to fruition, “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) (Ephesians 2:4-5)
Starting this Sunday, consider beginning your countdown toward Christmas not with candy or gifts but by remembering the gift God has given to us in Christ. You can start by remembering each Sunday the hope, joy, love and peace that Christ brings to the world.
Eldon Peterson is pastor of the Cache Valley Bible Fellowship. His column appears on the Faith page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.