It was 2008 when our family moved to a Central Asia. We were settling into life there, learning the local language and enjoying the adventure of new beginnings and new experiences. At the end of our first November however we began to encounter an eerie silence. We lived in one the world’s largest cities, bustling with noise and commotion and yet we could not avoid this silence. It was a Christmas silence.
This nation was over 99% Muslim and as we went about the dailiness of life, there were no discernible signs that the Christmas season was upon us: no Christmas music in stores, no lights, no Christmas trees, no manger scenes - nothing.
The silence became for us an ever present reminder that the light of Christ had yet to shine in that land - for most, the light of Christ had yet to be seen.
It was in that season of silence that we began to discover four attitudes, born in the Advent traditions of the church, that would help us fix our eyes on Jesus and live with intentionality for his glory.
If we look into the silence, the darkness and brokenness, we see that the prince of this world always fights to preserve the darkness. Satan is a tyrant unmatched in all history. He is the enemy of God and thus, he is all humanity’s enemy. Wherever the light of Jesus is pushing into places of darkness, he will oppose it. In much of our world that opposition comes in the form of brutal oppression and violence. At Jesus’ birth, he fought back through King Herod. Today it may be an oppressive government or violently radical religious groups.
But Satan doesn’t always use violence and brutality. Deception works just the same. He takes the truth of a Creator God, twists it and binds 1.7 billion Muslims in a false religion. He pawns pantheism and paganism and atheism and materialism as paths to a good life. The pursuit of the American dream works just as well for him as the ideological brainwashing of an atheistic Chinese regime.
The first coming of Christ has happened. 2,000 years ago Jesus was born as a baby, lived a perfect life and died for the sins of the world. Satan was defeated at the cross and the light of life is available to all who call on the name of Jesus to be saved. The second coming of Christ WILL happen. He will come again. He will make all things new. Satan will be cast into the pit and sin and death will be no more.
In the interim however, 5.4 billion people in our world are not experiencing the abundant life of Jesus. 2.2 billion live in places with no access to the gospel. But it's not just those tied up in false religions. It’s right here in our Christmas saturated society as well.
A recent article in the Washington Post wrote about the fact that the average lifespan of Americans has fallen for the first time in decades. It’s fallen not because older people aren’t living as long, it’s falling because of the drastic increase of mid life deaths of 20, 30 and 40 year olds. One researcher said, “There is something more fundamental about how people are feeling at some level – whether it’s economic, whether it’s stress, whether it’s deterioration of family. People are feeling worse about themselves and their futures, and it’s leading them to do things that are self destructive and not promoting health.”
Our world is a broken place. The thief comes to steal and kill and to destroy. That’s the bad news. Tish Harrison Warren recently wrote that “To practice Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime. We dwell in a world still racked with conflict, violence, suffering, darkness.”
Lament is our appropriate response.
It’s not the way things are supposed to be. It breaks the Father’s heart and it should break ours.
We move from lament to expectation because that is not the end of the story. Jesus was born. Harrod Failed. The true light which gives light to everyone has come into the world. Satan has been defeated.
In Matthew 24:14 Jesus told his disciples that "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come." And we know this will happen because when John is given a peak into the future reality of heaven in Revelation 7:9 he says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands and crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Jesus is true to his word.
And as we move from Expectation to Celebration, it truly is the time to sing Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Like the wisemen, we sacrifice time and resources to come to Jesus and when we see him theirs is the only right response – to fall down and worship! We’ve been saved. We’ve been adopted into His family. We’ve been set free and made new and can live the abundant life of Jesus and we will reign forever with him in heaven.
More Muslims have come to faith in Christ in the last 15 years than in the previous 1400 years combined. The fastest growing church in the world today is in Iran. Syrians are coming to faith faster than Christians in Europe can handle and it’s bringing revival to the church there.
Because Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, we live in eager anticipation of others experiencing the same gift of salvation that we have experienced.
Lament. Expectation. Celebration.
It’s an advent pattern that we discovered could help us keep our focus on Christ during Christmas.
And so as we fix our eyes on Jesus this Advent season, let us fix our hearts on the things that his heart is fixed on, on the reason that he came. Ever since Genesis 3, everything in scripture – everything in the cosmos - was pointing to the moment in time when God would send his son into our broken and dark world in order to reconcile all things to himself. The Bible is the story of rescue. Of mission.
And so to this advent pattern of Lament, Expectation, and Celebration it is important to also add Mission. Our appropriate response to Jesus, who came to seek and save the lost, is to join him on his mission. He is the light of the world and he called us to be light to the world as well; we are not to hide our light. He was sent into this dark and broken world and he says, as I was sent, so I send you. He leaves the ninety-nine to go after the one. He sweeps the house clean to find the lost coin and his last command to his disciples and to us was to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit and teaching them to obey everything that he had commanded.
Christmas is the celebration of the mission of God. The God of the Universe loved us so much that he sent his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
That’s why Jesus came. That’s why we have Christmas.
Lament. Expectation. Celebration. Mission.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus – mindful of the brokenness and darkness of this world – but filled with hope because the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
As we do that, commit to taking some time to ask the Lord what he might want the next few weeks to look like for you and for your family.
He might just say, Stay the Course.
He might invite you into life altering changes, into a new journey of risk taking obedience to the King.
Lament. Expectation. Celebration. Mission.
This article is taken from a sermon preached for Advent. You can listen HERE (20 minutes).
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