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Evangelicals, It’s Time to Reclaim Advent

Evangelicals, It’s Time to Reclaim Advent

I was confused and distressed.
I couldn’t find any comfort.
I lay awake at night.
I didn’t know what to say.
I groaned when I remembered the good old days.

Any of these statements sound familiar? I wonder how many you could tick off.

They are all sentiments expressed in the opening verses of Psalm 77. And they are followed by the Psalmist’s questions: “Has God forgotten to be merciful?” “Has his unfailing love vanished for ever?”

Yet the Psalm ends with a great expression of confidence. Something happens which makes the Psalmist ask a very difficult kind of question: “What god is as great as our God?”

What’s brought about this transformation? It’s not down to any change in his circumstances. There’s no hint of that in the Psalm. Something else has changed. And whatever it is, it’s surely a secret worth knowing. Here is something that enables us to face life with confidence—even in the midst of regret, heartache and struggle.

The answer is that the Psalmist appeals to the story of God. “To this I will appeal,” he says in verse 10, “the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.” It’s followed by four resolutions “to remember the deeds of the LORD”. The Psalmist determines to let the story of God shape his understanding of God and his understanding of himself.

For the Psalmist that meant remembering the story of the exodus. He alludes to the plagues on Egypt and he describes the parting of the Red Sea. The exodus story kicks off when God meets Moses at the burning bush. “I have come down,” God tells Moses, “to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 3 v 8). God came down to reveal himself, to liberate Israel from slavery and to form them as his own people. This was the great defining moment for Israel. And it’s recalling this moment that so radically changes the Psalmist’s perspective on life.

Advent is an opportunity for us to remember the moment God came down in the person of his Son to reveal himself.

The season of Advent is an opportunity for us to do the same. It’s an opportunity for us to remember the moment when God came down in the person of his Son to reveal himself, to liberate us and to form us as his bride.

Redeeming Advent Traditions

I don’t know what thoughts talk of the season of Advent evokes for you.

Some of us will think of the more tacky side of Christmas. We think of Advent calendars marketing the latest children’s movie. We dread the early morning argument about whose turn it is to open that day’s “door”. It’s seems to be only time of the year when it’s acceptable to eat sweets before breakfast.

Others will think of formal religion—of churches locked in to a liturgical calendar with little living faith. Advent has become a duty to be performed, an empty charade lacking genuine spiritual power.

But I believe Psalm 77 is an encouragement for us to reclaim Advent as an opportunity to “remember the deeds of the LORD”.

In Jesus, God has come down in person. The baby in the manger is “Immanuel”, God with us.

For Advent is the true meaning of the exodus and its ultimate fulfillment. The exodus was always intended to point us forward to the coming of Christ. God’s ultimate revelation of himself was not in the plagues that fell on Egypt, but the coming into the world of the Word made flesh. God’s ultimate purpose was not to liberate his people from slavery in Egypt, but to liberate us from the slavery of sin and death. And the ultimate means of liberation was not the blood of a Passover lamb, but the blood of Jesus, offered at the cross. “I have come down,” God said to Moses. And God was indeed present with his people to rescue them from the Egypt. But how much more is that statement true of Jesus. In Jesus, God has come down in person. The baby in the manger is “Immanuel”, God with us.

Carving Out Time

The run up to Christmas is a busy time. There are parties to attend, cards to send, presents to buy, relatives to visit and meals to prepare. Along the way it’s easy to squeeze out Jesus. It’s so ironic. Jesus rarely gets invited to his own birthday party. And, even when he’s invited, he spends much of the time being ignored.

So why not find some time this December to remember Jesus? “I will … meditate on all your mighty deeds,” says Psalm 77 v 12. And maybe, just maybe, this will change your perspective on life. Maybe you will see God in a new way. Maybe you will see your life in a new way. It worked for the Psalmist. Perhaps it will work for you.

This article originally appeared on Used with permission.

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Tim Chester is a pastor at Grace Church, Boroughbridge, UK, a tutor with the Acts 29 Oak Hill Academy, and is the author of over 30 books. He has a PhD in theology and was previously Research and Policy Director for Tearfund UK. He has been an adjunct lecturer in missiology and reformed spirituality. Tim is married to Helen and has two daughters.

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Publication date: November 28, 2016