This is my favourite time of year.
I suspect I am not alone. The time leading up to Christmas is full of planning and activity in every area of my life. Family plans are huge. Plans to get together with friends are also important. Shopping becomes a bigger focus, and stores are full of seasonal goods and excited people. There is an increased pace in life.
Churches are planning and presenting special services and programs. I always look forward to seeing the loosely connected people of the congregation who show up, including students returning home from colleges and universities.
At some point, I will hear the major prophecies of Jesus read and I will read them again myself. A part of Advent for me is trying to gain the perspective of the Hebrews as they waited in hope for their coming Messiah. I think we can learn a lot about “waiting in hope” from them.
Then Christmas celebrates the birth of our Saviour. It is the world-changing event when God showed up as a baby. The hopes and dreams of the centuries were fulfilled in Him that night.
In a little book called On the Incarnation, written 1,600 years ago, Athanasius says, “He, the image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the gospel: ‘I came to seek and to save that which was lost.'”
It was renewal of epic proportions. From a small town in the backwaters of the Roman Empire to a vibrant faith cascading throughout the Mediterranean World in one generation, the teachings of Jesus changed the world.
Our faith community and our corner of Christianity look back to the Reformation as the time of renewing and re-establishing our faith. It is difficult to overestimate the impact of this time on Reformed denominations around the world.
Some others look back on the Great Awakening as the renewal that had the greatest impact. Still others look to other great national revivals or movements with the same intrinsic value.
I say all this not to get a debate started on the relative significance of historical renewals but to actually turn our thinking to the future. Although I believe that rehearsing what God has done in the past is an important part of our worship and faith, I believe Advent calls us to hope and faith in what God will do in the future. Christmas isn’t just celebrating the birth of the Christ Child; it is a reminder that we live now in the truth of Easter. It is the same Jesus who brings us both the anticipation and the assurance that God is still with us and still has much to do in redeeming us and all of creation.
It is Jesus who established His church. It is Jesus who not only calls us but also equips us through the Holy Spirit to be His body. He has chosen as, imperfect as we are, to hold the treasure of the truth of God’s love as demonstrated in Jesus. The incarnation of Jesus continues through His church, and His church, therefore, is tied into the hope of the world.
It seems to me that there is a lot of transformation left for the church to experience if we are to live out this calling. While there are many beams of light reflecting the differences many communities and individuals are making, it is harder to see the overall church living out its God-given potential for hope.
The hopes and dreams of renewal are not to re-establish the great movements of the past. They are not even to reconnect with the glory days of Christendom. They will not be fulfilled by greater numbers, newer buildings, or greater influence in society and culture.
No, we hope and pray for renewal so that we can be the church Jesus calls us to be. The world needs the real hope that comes only in the redemption and justice that the reign of Christ can bring: “Thy Kingdom come.”
Luke 1:31 says, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”
This year, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, may we seek His reign and renewal in each and every one of us.
Renewal has a name and that name is Jesus, the Christ.