Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thinking Ahead to Advent

I’ve written two Advent study books, “Call Him Emmanuel” in 1997 and the new “Celebrate the Newborn Jesus,” both published by Abingdon. Advent is still a couple weeks away, but I’m thinking about the whole idea of “preparing” for the coming of Christ, which is one of the topics I discuss in these books. Here in mid-November I’m preparing for the upcoming preparation, as it were.

Advent is historically a penitential, reflective season in the church, but the expenses and many tasks of those weeks make difficult a meaningful focus upon Jesus.

But I’ve been struggling the last few years with how to help people focus upon the Gospel while, at the same time, stressing that our salvation is already accomplished in Christ and therefore the Gospel is never about anything we do. We preachers can so easily stress volunteerism, financial giving, and personal devotion to the near exclusion of the real Gospel: the free, unearned grace of Christ that saves sinners. We assume the real Gospel in our preaching, but we don’t communicate it very clearly because we’re under such pressure to increase congregational membership and revenue. We end up preaching less Gospel and more works-righteousness.

This was difficult for the Apostle Paul, too. He preached Christ alone, but if he didn't remind his congregations about holiness of heart and life, the people slipped into unloving behavior and attitudes. Paul kept his focus, though, on Christ: his people that they already had been gifted and blessed by the Holy Spirit. God had taken the initiative.

That’s good to think about at Advent. We are not making ourselves spiritually ready for Jesus, preparing the soil in order to convince God we're ready for grace. Jesus is already at work in our lives. Jesus has already done everything necessary for us. Advent is a way to help us see more clearly what God has already done decisively for our eternal benefit.

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