I love our Community Groups at Redeemer Fellowship. Last week one of them had their own special Advent Celebration with Scripture readings and hymn singing. In fact, Brian Malcolm (who hosts this group with his wife, Heidi) created a guide for the group's use. When I saw I asked if I could share it on the blog. Here it is formatted a bit differently (I believe they had it set up as a booklet, but here it is presented for single-sided sheet printing). You may want to use it with your family or friends. Brian even included a Word version so you can edit - adding/removing verses to songs or switching out Scripture.
I love Christmas. More specifically I enjoy the Christmas holidays in the community God has sent us to, and I love Advent. What's the difference? Elliot Grudem explains the season of Advent this way,
The celebration of Advent (which means “coming” or “arrival”) helps us focus our attention on Jesus Christ’s birth and ministry as well as his promised return. It starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Celebrating Advent helps us cut through all the distractions of the Christmas season and focus our attention on Jesus Christ’s birth and ministry as well as his promised return. Since we can’t anticipate the day or the hour of Christ’s return, we are filled with both a sense of joyful expectation and humble reverence, with our spiritual focus being on lives of prayer and preparation. Throughout the season we are constantly reminded that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah and Savior of the World. Learning to Advent Together
Advent is all about anticipation giving way to celebration, for the Father has sent His Son. It is a season where God's people exult in the incarnation. Immanuel - God is with us! And just as there is little point in talking about the coming of Jesus without also talking about the cross of Jesus, so we must also see the the sending of the son connected to the sending of the church. Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."
Do not let this connection slip by you this season. As the Father has sent the Son (advent), so Jesus sends us (advance). Immanuel means "God with us," but he has come to us to save us, and then to send us. We should marvel at the One who was sent, and be moved to follow him as those who have been sent in his name.
I can't help but feel a little like Jack Skellington around this time of year. Jack is the lead character in Tim Burton's stop-motion Christmas/Halloween film The Nightmare Before Christmas (a favorite in our home). Jack lives in Halloween Town where everything is dark, dead and grotesque. This is their culture, and all the people of Halloween Town know. The whole of every year leads up to Halloween. One day after Halloween a discontent Jack stumbles into a portal and is taken to a different world - Christmas Town. Christmas town is filled with bright colors, sweet treats, and happy celebrations. People are singing and laughing, and are not trying to scare each other. The whole of their year revolves around the coming of Christmas Day. Jack finds himself experiencing something beautiful, and is so moved he wants to bring all of this Christmas to Halloween Town. Check out the video below for his experience.
He returns home and calls for a town meeting, but his attempts to explain what he saw simply do not translate to this alternative culture. His Town Hall Meeting eventually becomes a great example of contextualization gone wrong. He tries to sell them a Santa they can understand. A fierce King with a bellowing voice who "sets out to slay" in the dark moonlight. They call him Sandy Claws. This they like, but it has nothing to do with the truth, and Jack knows it. But he is trying to do whatever he can to get people to buy into it all. His attempt to bring Christmas to Halloween Town goes very wrong. If you haven't seen it it's worth watching.
So here I am this holiday season talking with non-Christians about Christmas and the gospel, and I find people have a hard time grasping the significance of it all. The Father sending the Son to save us from our sins? It is laughable to some I know. And like Jack, I want to see my world transformed by what I have seen in the gospel. I want everyone to see the beauty of the incarnation, and what has been accomplished through the Father's sending of his Son. I want people to be changed by it all. But I also know that we cannot force the Kingdom upon a people. From conversion to cultural renewal (as a consequence of revival) it is all the work of God. What I can do is two things. I can, as clearly as possible, 1) explain the truth to those who will listen, and 2) invite them to see what I'm talking about in the life of the church. You see, there is a portal through which everyone in my community can get a glimpse of this Kingdom. They can see it in our worship, Community Groups, mercy ministries, and more as we seek to love and serve God and others. I'm praying they do see it. I'm asking them to come and see it with me, and praying for God to do what only he can.