What is "Advent" celebration all about?
I think it's a common misconception that "Advent" is just another word for "Christmas", and that celebrating one is the same as celebrating the other. Certainly as we celebrate this season we need to keep the focus wholly on Christ, and work against the culture of consumerism, or at the very least, against the watering down of the real reason for celebration. And that is a part of both of these words, but "Advent" takes on a further significance with perhaps a longer perspective of what the season means to us today.
In looking for a good definition of what Advent celebration is all about, I stumbled on an article which I think perfectly sums up its significance:
"Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days” (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis, they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future."
Excerpt from Christianity.com. Read more here.
What was to celebrate are available?
A conversation-based series for women
As women, our metaphorical tents are pretty full.
We often care for the many people and play several roles in life. We are wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and neighbors. Women balance many tasks and relationships throughout a given day. For this reason, it is important for us to stop, reflect and spend time with the Lord as well as other Christians to renew our spirit and minds. This renewal fuels and reignites us to continue you running the race that the Lord has set before us. “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31. We need to be filled with the word, which gives us strength and be reminded that we are not alone. Generally speaking, women also seem to have an innate need for conversation. We tend to process more fully when we have had a chance to talk about it.
In women’s ministry, we have felt the need to create an opportunity for women to gather and grow together while providing ample time to connect. We believe the Propel Women program provides an environment in which women can focus on a theme based in scripture, connect with other each and be encouraged in their walk. This fall we have focused on Isaiah 54:2 with the theme of growth. By pulling key words from the verse itself, we have been able to have deep, meaningful conversations. We first began with the word enlarge. As Christians we are called to enlarge our tents. To make room for God and others. This takes time, intentional discipline and sometimes the willingness to be uncomfortable. Many women expressed that it can be difficult to fit God and others into their day. We challenged each other to create elbow room in our lives for God and to allow the spirit to move. If we are tightly wound and lack extra space and time, we end up boxing God out of our daily life.
Moving hearts, changing lives
Nick and Anne Vanwingerden serve as missionaries in the country of France. They are involved in a vibrant student ministry in Grenoble and are seeking to begin a church on the east side of the city. There are permits and permissions and zoning issues to be resolved. The issue becomes even stickier because the mayor of the town is strongly communist and has actively opposed anything of a religious nature coming into town.
The group of believer’s who are starting the church found a property they could rent but needed to go before the mayor’s office with the proposal. Nick was worries about what might happen. You might remember this story from The Common Life Book, week 9, Five Faith Stories, Nov. 11-17.
The Continuing Story
People all over the world have been praying and God did some amazing things in the heart of the authorities there in Grenoble. Nick went with the president of their church association, Christian Lenne, to meet with the deputy mayor and the head of the urban planning service on October 9, 2018.
Here is what happened in Nick’s own words.
“Cannons to the left of them, cannons to the right of them, cannons in front of them, into the jaws of death rode the 600”. So begins Tennyson’s famous account of the “Charge of the Light Brigade” in the Crimean War. He was describing the heroic, yet costly attack of British calvary. The 600 rode thru a narrow valley, with Russian cannons smashing them from both sides.
Maybe you feel a little like those 600 riders. Life often feels dangerous. You don’t have to be horseback, on a battle field to feel threatened. There is enemy fire all the time for the Jesus follower. Warfare is real. And the ammo used is sometimes very damaging. Criticism, slander, ridicule, harshness can come from without, and inner voices hammer us with our own insufficiency, our lacks, ……cannons on the right, on the left, and right in front of you!
I want to encourage you with a Psalm written for such a time. King David writes to people in “times of trouble” (verse 9) in Psalm 9. He himself feels those troubles; “O Lord! See my affliction from those who hate me” (vs. 13). Psalm 9 highlights 3 steps we can take in the midst of hard times, when enemy attacks are real.
1. Recount God’s Blessings (vs. 1)
“I will recount Your wonderful deeds” David was surrounded by trouble. He was weary from being in charge, being strong for everyone else, being faithful in the countless roles he played. He was besieged by dissatisfied citizens, jealous associates and enemies, and rebellious kids. He could easily recite a list of reasons why he should be worried, tired, and irritable. But, he decides to “give thanks with my whole heart…. to recount all of Your wonderful deeds”(vs. 1). The word “recount” meant “to keep a tally, a running total”. Imagine how natural it would be for this tired leader to find reasons to be discouraged or angry. But, he determines to keep track of God’s “wonderful deeds” instead.
The most cheerful people are surely those who keep a running total of the good things. Some people seem to find that easier by a positive disposition. But, ultimately, for all of us, it takes practice. Keeping track of the blessings of God is learned behavior, taught at the feet of a God who wants us to see the “wonderful deeds” that He did today in our personal world. Did you see them? They were there! And they will be tomorrow!
2. Reflect on God’s Name (vv. 2-12)
Harold Ebersole's Story
Harold Ebersole has worked for years in Bangladesh as one of our church's global partners. Much of his work there is as a Hospital Administrator, serving to meet the practical needs of the people while also pointing them towards the love and hope of Christ. Recently Harold returned home to NJ for a furlough, but was instead met with a surprise diagnosis. The video below tells his story of faith amidst suffering.
Below is a longer version of his story, with some additional things God has been teaching him through this time.