Pastor Craig Carter
Is anyone ready for the year to be over?
2020 has been one for the record books. It certainly has been the craziest in my lifetime. Someone has described it as “the gift nobody wanted, but it keeps giving and giving.”
Let me remind you of just a few of the things that have happened this year:
The year began with Australian bush fires, locusts in Africa, and the impeachment of the President (seems like long ago, doesn’t it?).
Hurricane season started early and lasted late (and I’m not sure it’s over yet!) It brought 30 named storms and 13 hurricanes to Central and North America.
Then came western wildfires, deadly earthquakes, and murder hornets.
There was Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, high profile arrests, and a bizarre explosion in Beirut.
Our country faced racial unrest, protests, riots, and a disputed election.
Oh, by the way, did I mention a global pandemic that has dramatically changed virtually every facet of life as we previously knew it?
If you’re ready for the year to be over I have good news and bad news.
The bad news is: We still have 32 days left in 2020.
The good news is: Today, Nov. 29, 2020, is New Year’s Day for Christians. Happy New Year!
You see, there is a solar calendar that is divided into twelve months that we typically use to keep track of our days. Your calendar, and mine, tells our story and reveals what is important to us. But there is also a Christian calendar designed to help us order our spiritual lives. It tells God’s story and shows what is truly and ultimately important.
J.D. Walt, the author of an Advent devotional guide our congregation is following, has adapted the Christian calendar and devised what he calls the Awakening Calendar. In Scripture, to be awakened means to be in tune with God and His Spirit. So this calendar keeps us in constant touch with the Lord throughout the year.
The Awakening Calendar superimposes the life of Christ over our daily lives. It is divided into three epic journeys, each marked by descent and ascent, which provide an ebb and flow to our spiritual lives (e.g. valleys and peaks). It begins with Advent, with Christ making His descent from His eternal abode in heaven and coming to dwell with us here on earth.
Jesus was born on Christmas and then after a 12-day celebration we enter Epiphany (lit., manifestation), which is marked by the appearance of the wise men and begins on January 6.
It is a journey from groping for God in the darkness to walking in the light of His presence. We begin the ascent of Christ’s miracles and teaching and it culminates on the summit of the Mount of Transfiguration where God’s glory is revealed.
Then comes Lent as we follow Jesus downward on a 40-day journey through the wilderness all the way to the Cross of Calvary. Of course, it is soon followed by the surprise of all surprises – Resurrection! So death gives way to life.
For 50 days we travel with our Risen Lord until He ascends into heaven and then pours out His Spirit on Pentecost. From there we learn how to live the Spirit-filled life and carry on Jesus’ ministry and extend His Kingdom through submission and humility until we are raised with Him when He comes as King of kings and Lord of lords.
In such a way, we move from brokenness to wholeness in Christ. And from that high vantage point, we are then ready to start the journey again.
Today we stand on the summit, the threshold of the Christian New Year called Advent, which comes from a Latin word meaning “arrival or coming.”
It reminds us that Jesus came as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. It is also a time to remember that one day, Jesus will come again in power and glory.
And it is only in remembering the future second coming that we can most deeply appreciate Christmas, the first coming. The humble birth of a Jewish child in ancient Palestine would have no meaning apart from His death, resurrection, and promised return as Lord and King.
So how are we to celebrate Advent?
Like its secular counterpart, since it is a new year, it is a time for new beginnings. That is, a chance to take stock of our lives and make mid-course corrections.
It is also a journey from darkness into light so it provides a new year of awakening. It provides us an opportunity to get in tune and in touch with God’s Spirit in a new and fresh way. But, for that to happen, Scripture tells us that we must “wake up.”
The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, announced the coming of the Messiah with these words: Wake up, wake up, O Jerusalem! Arise! Shine! Your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has dawned. (Isaiah 51:17a NLT; 60:1 GWT)
The Apostle Paul wrote frequently about the need for Christ’s followers to awaken. In his letter to the church in Ephesus he wrote: Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. (Ephesians 5:14 NIV)
Those are just a couple of the many biblical references where God’s people are told to awaken from their slumber and quit sleep-walking through life.
The old adage, “if you snooze you lose” is especially applicable to the spiritual life.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul issues a strong wakeup call for believers:
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12 NIV)
Paul begins by giving the reason why it’s time to wake up: “understanding the present time.” In the NRSV translation this verse reads, “you know what time it is.”
What time is it, you ask? Well, it is the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. Through Christ’s life, death and resurrection, God’s Kingdom on earth has been revealed, but only partially. One day, when He comes again, it will reach its culmination. Therefore we are now living in “the last days” or the beginning of the end.
That means we can start living like the future, as things ultimately will be. Advent is an invitation to wake up and pursue the life we dream about.
Notice Paul says “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”
Do you remember when you “first believed” and came to Christ? You were wide awake spiritually speaking and in tune with the Spirit’s work. You probably had high hopes and dreams about the future. You truly believed things were going to be different and I’ll bet you had lofty ambitions for holy living.
But then what happened?
Most of us settle into old familiar ruts and patterns of behavior. We begin to doze off in our spiritual lives and figure it was all “pie in the sky.”
Advent reminds us that things can be different.
Things can be different because the Light of the World has dawned on us! It’s time to wake up!
So what do we need to make this a new year of awakening? Paul tells us in verse 12b above: “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
In other words, take off your nighttime PJs and put on your day time clothes.
What exactly is Paul talking about? He continues with these details:
Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. (Romans 13:13-14 NLT)
For many people, Christmas is a time for hiding in the darkness. And the world in which we live gives us all sorts of shadowy places to hide in.
We can become consumed with activity and covered in decorations.
We can justify our bad behavior at the office party or family gathering since it just happens once a year.
We can overindulge in a never-ending buffet of food and beverage offered to us.
We can decide it’s time to settle the score with our in-laws after putting up with their insults long enough.
These are examples of what Paul terms “deeds of darkness.” Scripture says we need to wake up to the new reality that we are different people now because we “belong to the day” and are “children of the light.”
Rather than trying to fix our lives and change our behavior ourselves, we need to clothe ourselves “with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ” and bask in His light. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NIV)
J.D. Walt says that we tend to make Christianity about believing and behaving, but in actuality, it’s about beholding and becoming
“So all of us…can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT)
So more than anything else, Advent gives us a chance to gaze at Jesus, the One who has come in a manger in Bethlehem and who is coming again in power and glory. What if we put on the armor of light and allowed Christ’s presence to flood our souls and cover our lives? Do you think we’d look and act differently? Don’t you have to believe we’d then be wide awake and fully in tune with God’s Spirit?
We’re going to attempt to be bathed in the light of Christ this Advent season. You can join us in this celebration of the Christian New Year by participating in our church-wide reading of the devotional book, The Christian New Year, by J.D. Walt. In case we run out of books, you can get the daily devotional delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.
Additional resources related to our Advent study and upcoming Christmas events are posted at LynnHavenChristmas.com. On that site you’ll have access to supplementary video teaching from J.D. Walt, as well as sermon notes and study guides.
Let me close with this thought: During this Advent season, we’re going to hear a word used repeatedly, “Behold!” Some examples include:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 ESV)
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. (Luke 1:31 ESV)
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10 ESV)
Behold comes from a Greek word that literally means, “to pay attention.” The word is used 586 times in Scriptures, but many modern translations don’t include it. Isn’t it ironic that we ignore what we’re supposed to be focusing on?
Maybe that’s why many of us are spiritually asleep; we’re not aware of what we need to be paying attention to and what is truly important.
Our calendars have taken precedence over God’s calendar.
So what’s the solution? Behold! is Advent’s way of saying, “Wake up!”
As we proceed toward Christmas, consider these wake-up calls from God’s Word:
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19a ESV)
What is that new thing? Jesus!
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
Jesus is the key to new life! He says…
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5a ESV)
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20 ESV)
Wake up! It’s time to get up and get going! Don’t sleep the day or season away!
Christ has come … Christ is coming again … but Christ is also here right now.
Most of us are awakened each morning by a beeping noise from our cell phones.
As my mom aged, she had a hard time getting up and would set two or three alarms. Nothing worked until I got her an old-fashioned alarm clock. Even a tired, worn out 90-year old lady couldn’t sleep through that ringing bell.
In the coming weeks, we’re going to hear a lot of bells ringing. Contrary to what is said in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it doesn’t signal an angel getting his wings. I’m not sure why bells are associated with Christmas (probably because it includes an announcement or proclamation), but let me make a suggestion: Every time you hear a bell ring, consider it a wake-up call.
Think of that bell as an invitation to the joy and excitement of a new day, a new season, or a new year filled with possibilities because it gives us the chance to enjoy the Light and Life of Christ.
[Rise and] shine! Your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has dawned. (Isaiah 60:1 GWT)
Wake up, [sleepyhead] … and Christ will shine on you. (Ephesians 5:14 NIV)
Join me in praying this prayer as we anticipate a new year of awakening:
Father in heaven, thank you for this season of Advent and this new year in Christ. Make it be for us a time of awakening. Help us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Forgive us for allowing our own calendar to steal from us what is of ultimate importance. By the power of your Holy Spirit, enable us to wake up and be embraced by your love and light so we can share it with others. This we pray in the name of Jesus the Messiah, the One who has come, who is here, and who is coming again. Amen.