By Russ Ramsey
Time stood still. As a kid, I marked time by its proximity to Christmas, and most years it seemed the day would never arrive. In my experience, Christmas was never overrated. Ever.
As Christmas morning drew near, two forces were at work in the mind of this little boy: memory and anticipation. I remembered how the previous years were filled with joy, and how they had yielded such treasures as a five-pound bag of gummy worms, a pogo stick, and a Huey Lewis and the News cassette.
And I looked forward to the coming holiday because each Christmas seemed better than the one before—not because the gifts were bigger or the food was better, but because every year my memory of the season became more textured with experience. My memory of holidays past fed a deep anticipation for the coming Christmas Day. December 25 couldn’t get here soon enough.
A season of hope
What is Christmas, if not a holiday built upon memory and anticipation? During this season, Christians celebrate by remembering something that really happened—the first coming of Jesus Christ, born meek and lowly as a humble king wrapped in swaddling clothes all those years ago in that manger in Bethlehem.
But it is also a time to anticipate something we’re still waiting for: Jesus’ glorious return as the Mighty One of God with the words “King of kings and Lord of lords” lighting up his blazing robe (Revelation 19:16).
Throughout the centuries, believers in Jesus have taken time in the weeks leading up to Christmas day to observe a season of remembering and anticipation. We call this season “Advent.” The word “advent” comes from a Latin root meaning “a coming to.” The first advent has already happened: the Son of God came in the form of a man—a baby, to be precise. The second advent, His return, is something we still await.
That reality—that we now live between two advents—makes this an amazing time in history. The season of advent invites us to anticipate a coming glory even as we remember the greatest gift the world has been given.
A season of remembrance
How can we observe the season of Advent? Many of churches use an Advent wreath to mark the weeks leading up to Christmas. Use your church’s liturgy to guide you and your family through deeper reflections throughout the week. Or get hold of a book about Advent.
Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative, is a 25-chapter narrative (to be used as a daily reader during the month of December) that takes the reader through the biblical story of the need for and coming of Christ—from Eden through the nativity. However you go about it, take some time to remember the biblical story of the coming of Jesus.
What, specifically, do we remember during the season of Advent? We remember the story of how long before Jesus’s birth, God’s people ached for his forgiveness in order that they might be restored to a right relationship with him.
We remember that God’s promised remedy was that he would send them a Savior, and we remember who God provided to fulfill that promise.
We remember the story of Jesus’s birth. We remember Mary’s courage, Joseph’s fear, and Herod’s bloodlust. We remember the dusty stable and the moon on Bethlehem’s pastures. We remember the angels telling the lowly shepherds that a savior had been born unto them, and that they would find him where the lambs are kept. We remember the learned men from the East laying their gifts at the feet of the boy-king.
We remember the unbreakable link between Christmas and Easter. We remember the reason for Jesus’s birth—how he took on flesh and blood in order that he might lay that life down in the place of the sinners he came to save. We remember how when he rose from the grave on Easter morning, he defeated the power of sin and death forever.
This is what we remember during advent.
A season of worship
All of this is meant to stir in us a longing to see, as J.R.R. Tolkien put it, every sad thing come untrue. Although Jesus’s work on the cross was perfect and complete in accomplishing our salvation, the world in which we live is still very broken and filled with sickness, disaster, and many other kinds of suffering and sadness. During Advent, we ourselves yearn for his return. We anticipate that what he has promised is what he will do.
We believe in faith that even now, between what we remember and what we anticipate, He is making all things new. We are in the middle of an unfolding story that began a long time ago in a land far away. Yet somehow, by the preserving grace of God, the story of this baby boy born in that stable on the streets of David’s town has found its way across oceans and centuries to us, right here, right now.
Advent beckons to us, “Come, sit and remember what has happened. And anticipate what must follow because it has.”
God is not sitting on the other side of some celestial mystic fence, crossing his fingers, hoping against hope that we might get lucky and stumble upon some cryptic message that might lead us to salvation. Neither is God sitting on the other side of heaven trying to remember our names.
No. Advent reminds us that the second Person of the Trinity stepped out of eternity and into time to interact with us for the purpose of bringing us salvation so we might know and love our Maker perfectly.
God has not hidden his salvation from us. He has revealed it to us in the form of a baby who would grow to live the life of perfect righteousness we could not live and die the sinner’s death we deserve to die so that our unrighteousness might be placed upon him and all his righteousness might be placed upon us.
This baby in the manger is cause to celebrate because he is our Immanuel—God with us. This advent season, celebrate the nearness of God. Christ has made His dwelling among us, and the single best response to any of this from any of his people is to worship at his feet.
May your celebration of Christmas be marked by your worship of Jesus, God’s extraordinary gift.
RUSS RAMSEY is the pastor of Midtown Fellowship Church in Nashville, Tenn., and the author of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative, available at rabbitroom.com. This article first appeared in Parenting Teens (@pt_magazine).