I just did a quick online search for Advent calendars and discovered that you can buy Advent calendars at Target, Walmart, and on the Etsy site. They’re everywhere. I also noticed that almost all of them are incorrect. All of the Advent calendars I looked at start on December 1, and five out of every six years that is wrong.
Advent does not necessarily begin on December 1. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This year Advent began on November 28. Next year it begins on November 27. The beginning of Advent changes every year depending on what day of the week Christmas falls on. The number of days in Advent varies every year. Some years there are only 21 days in Advent. Other years there can be 28 days in Advent. But every Advent calendar I saw at Target and Walmart had exactly 25 days on it, and that’s wrong this year and most years. This year, for example, there will be 27 days in Advent. These kinds of things bug me.
Now, I understand that this all gets very complicated. Companies that manufacture Advent calendars to sell at Walmart don’t want to have to design a new Advent calendar every year. So, they just make them all start on December 1 and sell the same one every year, even if that means that it’s only correct once every six years.
This Advent calendar business is another of my pet peeves. But I don’t want to get started on my many pet peeves in life. What I really want to talk about today is Advent itself.
Most Christians tend to think of Advent as a season for preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem a little over two thousand years ago. But that’s only sort of what Advent is about. It is right to think of Advent as a season for preparing. But historically the Church has seen Advent as a season for preparing for the future second coming of Christ. In other words, Advent is meant to be a season in which we look ahead into the future, not back into the past.
Jesus Christ came to heal and set right a world that was and still is wrecked and ruined by the evil of human sin. In Revelation 21:4-5, God’s redeeming work through Christ is described this way: “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” [NIV]
If we are going to understand the Christian faith correctly, we need to understand that it is not only about something God did in the past. Our faith is about something that God is doing in the world now and that he will bring to completion at some time in the future.
The birth of that baby in Bethlehem was part of a great, long work of God in the world that he’ll bring to completion at some point in the future. Advent is meant to be a season in which God’s people reflect on this fact and remind themselves of the fact that we are part of that great work of God. We are participants with God in that great work. Or at least we are meant to be. We are meant to be working with God toward that day when Jesus will come again and make everything new.
This is the kingdom of God, this “everything new” world that the Bible talks about. That’s the kingdom of God. We’re called to live the kingdom of God into the world. That’s the mission of the people of God. But I have to say that some Christians today have gotten some wrong-headed ideas about how we Christians are supposed to live the kingdom of God into the world.
Some are urging us to use politics and the force of law to impose the kingdom of God on the world. Some seem to have gotten the idea that we followers of Jesus are supposed to dominate our neighbors. But that isn’t at all how Jesus describes the way of the kingdom of God and the work of the people of God.
In one of his great parables about his second coming, Jesus describes the work of living the kingdom of God into the world as being a work of love, of mercy, and of service. In Matthew 25:31-40, we read this:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you invited me in, I needed clothes, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
This is the way of the kingdom of God. This is how the new creation will be established. We are not called by Jesus to dominate our neighbors. We are called by Jesus to love our neighbors and serve them, because, as you know, we follow a Savior and Lord who was born in humility and weakness, a King whose crown was made of thorns and whose throne was a cross. We follow a King who said of himself, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45.
Let’s reflect on that calling this Advent season, and let’s dedicate ourselves to living lives of self-denial, of service, and of love in obedience to our true King.
© 2021 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.