As the season of Advent comes into view, we wanted to invite our readers to pick up our resource, A Guide for Advent: The Arrival of King Jesus. With essays that will help you focus on the meaning and anticipation of the Advent season, this guide will help you walk closer to Christ as the day we celebrate his birth draws close. Enjoy this excerpt from our Executive Director, Jeremy Writebol, and pick up the ebook or paperback in time for the first Sunday of Advent, December 3.
The Greatest Fear
What is the single greatest fear that most people have about the Advent season, especially Christmas Day? I doubt it has to do with finding the perfect gift. Nor does it seem like the inevitable holiday weight-gain would rank as the greatest fear. Debates over religion and politics at the dinner table might earn a higher rank but even those fights are nothing compared to a deeper fear of the soul.
I believe it to be the lack of presence. Not a lack of presents (or gifts) but a lack of presence. No one wants to be alone during this season. We sing songs about being home for Christmas. Many Christmas films riff on the theme of being separated from family and loved ones at Christmas. We cower at the thought of waking up to ourselves with no lit tree, no joyful laughter, and with nobody to share the day. Consider the very ghosts that haunted Scrooge in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, they haunted him with lonely Christmases. Studies indicate that depression hits widows and widowers deepest at the holidays. I can almost guess that a full 98% of people reading this article would prefer to have someone, even if they didn’t really like them, to be with on Christmas over spending it with no one at all.
What is it about Advent that reveals this fear in almost all of us? If we look at the very nature of what it means we will find the very reason being physically alone during this season troubles so many. At its core it is more than just remembering the coming of God into our existence, Advent is about the actual presence of God in our existence. It’s the one season that reminds us that God is with us. So, when we consider a season that tells us God is with us and yet functionally experience it in loneliness a massive discord hits. The discord, for most, isn’t with God. It’s within ourselves. We should be experiencing presence. We should be with others and God should be with us.
Presence on the Way
Four hundred years is a long time to wait. The United States of America has barely existed for half of that time. It would be nearly impossible to understand the absence and silence from God for that amount of time. However, that is exactly where the people of Israel were. National culture and identity would go through an immense rewriting if it had been four hundred years since you had a prophetic word from the national center of worship activity. Certainly brief and dim glimpses of recovery and hope came and recharged everyone’s expectations but they were just that, brief and dim. Sure, they had the prophetic words of old to lean on. Isaiah did promise Emmanuel, even if that was seven hundred years ago.
Then, rumors started cropping up. Angelic visitations occurred. Barren old women conceived. Kings from the East traveled West. A nation immigrated within itself because of a census. A virgin was with child. Then, the rumors died down. Things went back to normal for another thirty years until a shabbily dressed man like Elijah began to speak for God in the wilderness. He was no respecter of persons and called kings, priests, and publicans to repent. A nation finally received a prophetic word: “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is present. God is with us. Emmanuel has come.”
Yes, Emmanuel, God with us. He was attested to be God by his words and works by doing things only God could do. God with us possessing authority to drive out sin, devils, and death. God with us doing justice, loving the outcast and the stranger. God with us dinning with the drunkards, the harlots, and the sinners. God with us clothed in the material flesh of our bodies. Emmanuel experienced the physical limitations, pains, and agonies of our condition. God with us bearing the wrath of God in our place for our offenses against God and taking our very own death-blow. God with us being laid in a tomb dead for three days, he, God with us, was miraculously raised to glorious new life again by the power of God–securing resurrection life for all who trust in him. God with us sent his eternal presence to indwell and empower us for lives of glory and mission. He hasn’t left us, in fact, God with us has come, became flesh, and lived in our very domain and gifted us his eternal presence so we would always be with him.
Jeremy Writebol is the Executive Director of GCD. He is the husband of Stephanie and father of Allison and Ethan. He serves as the lead campus pastor of Woodside Bible Church in Plymouth, MI. He is also an author and contributor to several GCD Books including everPresent and That Word Above All Earthly Powers. He writes personally at jwritebol.net.