Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Advent (from the Latin Adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival”) is part of the larger season in the Christian year, an aspect of the church’s gathered worship leading up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas.
Although not a biblical mandate for the church, Advent has been and remains an important aspect for many churches for most of Christian history. In fact, according to the Christian year, Advent marks the beginning for the people of God in their annual calendar, not January 1. Our lives are not only lived between Christ’s first and second comings, they are also marked, formed and shaped by His two comings.
At the beginning of 2020, I prayed the Lord might give us 20/20 biblical vision this year. But who would have thought this year would look...like this?
In response, many have stated and written they cannot wait to turn the calendar to 2021. On the one hand, I understand what they mean. But simply turning the calendar is not what will make the difference.
Even though this year held a few more challenges than others, this is reflective of life in a fallen world. Pining after a past day as if that is “normal” or the “way life is supposed to be” reflects a misunderstanding, a blindness, of the world and God’s telos, his end-goal for the world. Looking back is a glance in the wrong direction.
This year’s season of Advent and Christmas is especially meaningful, as it reflects truth that is pertinent for us to remember, through which 20/20 spiritual vision comes. In the final candle in the Advent season, which highlights the “Christ” of Christmas, we focus on Christ who shines in the darkness. He is the one who brings hope and strength in the midst of discouragement and weariness (Matt 11:28-30).
Let’s recount the story of light, darkness and light again. God is light (1 John 1:5) and He created light (Gen 1:3). With the sin of Adam and Eve affecting all their descendants, the new way of life was darkness, spiritual blindness. God and His light were feared so Adam and Eve hid from him (Gen 3). Since that time, all have been in darkness.
It is into this darkness that God promised, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isa 9:2), and this promise is for the nations (Isa 60:1-3; cf. Acts 13:47).
The promise of God the Father was fulfilled in God the Son incarnate, the Word, Jesus. John begins his Gospel in this way:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5
Jesus is life and this life is the light of men! And darkness, no matter how bleak it may seem, has not and will not overcome the light. During Jesus’ ministry, He proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus is the light of the world, the light of life!
Into this world of darkness, God sent His only begotten Son to bring light and life. The origin of the sending of God the Son is love. Through receiving the Lord Jesus Christ, not only would this bring eternal life, it would also bring light and understanding to the world in which we live (2 Cor 4:6). We no longer walk in blindness and we no longer hide from God.
Tragically, however, there are those who love darkness rather than the light. John states it in this way:
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 3:19-21
Jesus Christ, who is life and light, shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome the light. Although there will be a time when the darkness is no more, there remains a groaning and grieving in this dark, present age (Rom 8:18-39; 1 Thess 4:13-18). But the coming of Christ brings light and life and prompts hope in the present.
His promise of coming again assures us that all things will be made new when “night will be no more . . . and the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 21:5).
Christmas coincides with the winter solstice, the day we experience the least light and the most darkness. Augustine explained that Christ’s birth is remembered on the year’s “shortest day, yet whence light begins to increase.”
In our experience of darkest days and longest nights, we eagerly anticipate the arrival of the child and we affirm that He will return again as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 19:16). When we gather as families and as a church, we affirm Jesus is the light of the world. We thank Him that because of our faith in Christ – affirming His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, intercession and return in glory – we, like John the Baptist, bear witness to the light, and we pray the light will be embraced by people from all nations,
At our candlelight Christmas eve services, when we light our candles focusing on Christ, the light of the world, let’s remember and pray these truths: we worship the Lord Jesus Christ who is life and light; we rebel against the status quo of this world of darkness; we intercede for those living in darkness that they might see the light; and we eagerly, and with sure and certain hope, anticipate and faithfully wait for the Lord’s coming again.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.