Advent – A time for Presence, Intention, and Sharing
by Tim Keel
I love this time of year. It is the season of Advent! It is a time when routines change, music changes, when people begin having parties – all in anticipation of Christmas. In proclaiming my love I might also be in the minority. Many people do not love this time of the year. They hope merely to survive. It’s easy to understand why. Christmas can be incredibly stressful and difficult for so many reasons.
Even so, it is a significant time of the year. Amidst all that swirls around us, there is a sense that something is different. I believe this is because Christmas isn’t a mere holiday. It is a holy day. There is a deep and true Center to our celebration that is rooted in the revelation of God. At Christmas, we proclaim that the Creator of the cosmos has made himself known by coming to us as a child, Jesus Christ. At long last, God is fulfilling his promise to come and dwell among his people once more, to bring healing and renewal to creation. Immanuel.
In coming to his people as a child, God reveals something about his nature and character that we often overlook. We learn that God’s nature is manifested not by independence and demonstrations of power, but through vulnerability and relationships. The good news is that the God of the universe comes to us as a person.
Anticipating that, we prepare to receive and worship that person – Jesus Christ – during Advent. Advent marks the beginning of the new year for the church. In the same way that our culture begins a new year with fresh resolutions, I want to invite Jacob’s Well to be thoughtful about how we prepare for Christmas this year – that our celebration of the arrival of God in Jesus Christ would reflect the Person whose birth we celebrate. And not just that, but that our actions during this season would reveal the Creator who has come to bring healing and renewal to his world.
To do that, I am challenging us this Advent to be present, to be intentional, and to share.
In Christ, God is present to his people. Immanuel means “God with us.” Because God took on human flesh in Christ, God has experienced everything that we have. God is present in our joy and in our suffering, in our celebrations and in our grief.
The most powerful demonstration of love is to be fully present to another person – to give them your full attention, to give them yourself. The anxiety and busyness of Christmas can make being present very hard, though. In fact, giving presents can too often be an easy substitute for giving your presence. Who is asking to be noticed in your life right now? Is there a person God is asking you to pay attention to? A friend? A coworker? Your spouse or child? How might this season change if you determined to slow down, pay attention, and be present to a few people in your life?
Being present requires being intentional. Scripture reveals that God is intentional in his purposes for us, that his presence serves a larger purpose. Paul writes, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:4-5). God’s love, his pleasure, and his will were all aligned around his intention to bring us back into his family through Christ.
What intentions do you have for this season? How will you use the resources God has given you? Your presence? Your time? Your energy? Your money? Without intention, we discover that the momentum of life has swept us along to a place we hadn’t intended to go, that we have squandered our resources with little to show for it. By the grace of God, can we be intentional with our resources this season, that they might be used to be a means to healing and renewal for others?
In Christ, God shares himself with us. Sharing involves presence and intention. Sharing requires relationship and vulnerability because it involves knowing and being known. On November 18, I preached a sermon casting vision about our call as a community to serve, give, and pray for each other, our church, our city, and our world. When we do these things, we are sharing our lives and participating in the life of God. When we share, we give and receive.
Advent and Christmas can be a time of profound sharing. When combined with presence and intention, sharing can be transformational because of the way we come into contact with ourselves and each other. If that is true, then why is Christmas so often disappointing? The reason Christmas can be so empty is because our culture tells us we are individuals who can satisfy our wants with things. Within that frame, people and Christmas become dehumanized. Why? Because we are not individuals with wants, we are persons who are made for and need relationships with other persons. Christmas is about God rehumanizing the world by becoming a person and sharing himself with us!
Because we believe that God has drawn near, has come to us as one of us, everything has changed. Time is reordered and our lives within it. Thus Advent and Christmas are an opportunity to respond to God and to each other in the way that God has shown us.
Please look for the many different ways you can participate in the life of God this December. At Jacob’s Well, we are seeking to create and facilitate space and time so that our celebration of Christ at Christmas may bring healing and renewal to our lives and to the world around us. May this season be filled with light and life, with presence and intention and sharing – to the glory of God.