I recall a conversation, from a few years ago, with local pastors about the upcoming Advent season. As we shared our sermon ideas with one another, an attitude emerged. No one was excited to be doing, yet again, another four-part series on Christmas.
“What could be said that would be new or fresh to keep the congregation engaged? It was, after all, Christmas and everyone knew the story.”
I do wish I could go back to that conversation and let everyone know (myself included) that we were wrong. Rather than boring, the season of Advent is tremendously meaningful and exciting. For four weeks we reflect on what is perhaps, in modern times, the most underappreciated miraculous work of God—the incarnation.
God’s power on display
Many Christians quickly point to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the lynch-pin of their faith. Reflecting on the cross and celebrating the empty tomb comes easily for most believers as there seems to be so much more to ponder.
In one aspect, this is very true. Even a cursory reading of the beginnings of the early church and the apostle’s letters show us that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the anchor of our faith.
However, what we often fail to realize, is that God’s power was equally on display with the birth of Jesus, as it was with His resurrection. In fact, without God the Son first miraculously becoming flesh, there would be no body to rise from the dead. The lynch-pin of our faith would be pulled. Our theology of the cross would explode.
So if the truth of Easter cannot stand without the miracle of Christmas, then why do Christians so often act as though the Advent season is something less?
It is true that of all the holidays with Christian origins, Christmas has been most effectively sanitized to a strictly secular holiday. It has been hijacked by shopping malls, Hallmark movies and time off work.
Meanwhile, much of the church’s activity is ensuring children remember the “true meaning” of Christmas. This is often presented as Jesus’ birthday. It is celebrated with nativity scenes and fidgety preschoolers singing “Away in a Manager.”
But I suspect that neither society nor cute toddlers are the real reason we fail to grasp the miraculousness of the season. That honour can be placed at the feet of our poor—or perhaps lazy—theology. A failure to grasp what the incarnation is really all about leads to a shallowness that is temporarily filled with great food and loud family gatherings.
Changing our thoughts
What would happen if Christians applied their hearts and minds to the wonder of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us? If we actually believed that Christmas was more than the opening act for the main event on Easter weekend? How would it change what we think of God and how we worship? Could changing our thoughts on the incarnation actually transform us to more embody the life of Christ as we live in the shadow of the cross and the power of the empty tomb?
As Paul wrote to young Timothy, true godliness springs from first beholding the mystery of the incarnation:
“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).
As you enter this Advent season may you rediscover a child’s unbridled Christmas-morning joy because you are pondering a wondrous and mysterious truth.
Bill McCaskell is the national director for One Hope Canada.