Tag Archives: Advent

The God Who Has Everything

Download or listen to the Fourth Sunday in Advent, “The God Who Has Everything” (Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45)

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In A Year Or Two

Download or listen to the Third Sunday in Advent, “In A Year Or Two” (Luke 7:18-28)

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How Does God Answer for the Crimes of His Creation?

Download or listen to Advent Midweek II, “We All Believe in One True God, pt. 2” (The Creeds)

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Christmas with John

Download or listen to the Second Sunday in Advent, “Christmas with John” (Luke 3:1-14)

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“The awe-inspiring humility of God”

The particular danger which faces us as Christmas approaches is unlikely to be contempt for the sacred season, but nevertheless our familiarity with it may easily produce in us a kind of indifference.  The true wonder and mystery may leave us unmoved; familiarity may easily blind us to the shining fact that lies at the heart of Christmastide.  We are all aware of the commercialization of Christmas; we can hardly help being involved in the frantic business of buying and sending gifts and cards.  We shall without doubt enjoy the carols, the decorations, the feasting and jollification, the presents, the parties, the dancing and the general atmosphere of goodwill that almost magically permeates the days of Christmas.  But we may not always see clearly that so much decoration and celebration has been heaped upon the festival that the historic fact upon which all the rejoicing is founded has been almost smothered out of existence.

What we are in fact celebrating is the awe-inspiring humility of God, and no amount of familiarity with the trappings of Christmas should ever blind us to its quiet but explosive significance.  For Christians believe that so great is God’s love and concern for humanity that he himself became a man.  Amid the sparkle and the color and music of the day’s celebration we do well to remember that God’s insertion of himself into human history was achieved with an almost frightening quietness and humility.  There was no advertisement, no publicity, no special privilege; in fact the entry of God into his own world was almost heartbreakingly humble.  In sober fact there is little romance or beauty in the thought of a young woman giving birth to her first baby.  I do not think for a moment that Mary complained, but it is a bitter commentary upon the world that no one would give up a bed for a pregnant woman–and that the Son of God must be born in a stable.

This almost beggarly beginning has been romanticized by artists and poets throughout the centuries.  Yet I believe that at least once a year we should look steadily at the historic fact, and not at any pretty picture.  [J.B. Phillips, “The Dangers of Advent” (in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, 21-23)]

Bishop and Christian*, December 2012

Advent is ambiguous. On the surface, it is ambiguous about what, exactly, is “coming” (which is what “advent” means). Is it Christmas that is coming? Or Christ in glory? That ambiguity can pretty much be solved by looking at the readings for the four Sundays in Advent: only one reading—Luke 1:39-45 (46-56), for the Fourth Sunday—takes place prior to Christ’s birth. The others are all after Christ’s birth. Advent, if we follow the lead of the readings, prepares us almost solely for Jesus to come to us in His Word and Sacraments, and for His revealing in glory at the end of time.

But there are other Advent ambiguities. These are mainly caused by the fact that we live in two realities. Advent is ambiguous for us because the Church is doing one thing while the world is doing pretty much the complete opposite. The Church is talking very little about Christmas, very little about the birth of Jesus, and the world is talking about nothing but “Christmas.” Of course, the world knows very little of the Mass of Christ, and even X-mas is an abbreviation for “Christ”-mas in Greek (CRISTOS). All that the world knows is parties, and buying and selling, and economies, and decorating, and eating (and dieting) and eating some more. It is not surprising, however, when people try to exclude any reference to “Christmas” from public spaces: they have realized that you cannot completely secularize the name. If you don’t want Christ, you must get rid of Christmas, as well as X-mas, as well as Advent.

We all live in that world. We cannot escape it. But at the same time, we enter another world on Sundays and Wednesdays (at least) during this month. We enter a world that moves according to another clock and another time. A world that does not revolve around remaining shopping days or our preparations. This world revolves around one thing—one Person: Jesus. The Gospel depends upon who is doing the verbs, who is acting. And in the Church, the primary and most significant Actor is God in His Son, Jesus. Other people doing other verbs are always secondary.

Advent’s ambiguity surrounds us because we live in both these worlds simultaneously, and because the division between these worlds runs throughout us. But there is nothing ambiguous about God’s acting in this world. He has acted decisively “in the fullness of time, sending forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who are under the law.” Our vision is blurred, our thoughts scurry, like holiday shoppers, from one thing to another; but God’s vision is clear: He has sent His Son, who has given Himself as the single sacrifice for all sins, everywhere, at all times. There is no more sacrifice for sin. And though the Son is hidden from our physical sight (causing ambiguity in the world), He is not ambiguous about where He will be found: in His Word and Sacraments. A promise is a promise, and if God is the promiser, there is nothing ambiguous about it.

This Advent, step out of the ambiguity of the world(s) in which you live; decorate slowly; read some Scripture and light candles on a wreath; gather with the people of God around His pulpit and altar; be where God’s promise in Christ is unambiguously for you; and know that since that first Christ-mass two thousand-plus years ago, there is absolutely no doubt that God, in His own good time, will put the long, tired Advent of this world to bed, and we will wake up in the light of the most glorious Christmas morning we have never imagined.

Pr. Winterstein


*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”

The Ambiguity of Advent

Download or listen to the First Sunday in Advent, “The Ambiguity of Advent” (Luke 19:28-40)