Nov

29

2012

Daniel Montgomery and Bobby Gilles|10:00 PM CT

Consider Skipping 'Christmas Season' This Year

Advent means "coming." It's a time for us to celebrate the first coming of Christ, but also to anticipate his return. When we sing, "O come, o come, Emmanuel; To ransom captive Israel" we're not just taking a sentimental journey back in time. We're reminding each other of God's faithfulness in the past, and we're expressing our own longing for Jesus to come back and put an end to injustice, hatred, sin, and fear.

Jesus repeatedly told his followers to watch and pray for his return. The season of Advent is an opportunity for us to reorient our thinking and to corporately express our fervent hope in the Second Coming of Christ. Our Lord wants us to be an expectant people.

But what if we're not? What if we live as if this present world order will go on forever? What if we ignore the lessons of Advent? What can we expect when we're no longer expecting God to reconcile all things to himself and create a new heaven and a new earth, wherein all righteousness dwells?

1. No Passion for Evangelism or Mission

Regardless of what our church statement of faith says, if we practically live as if this present world will roll on forever, why work for the kingdom?

Do you not say, "There are yet four months, then comes the harvest?" Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. (John 4:35-36)

2. 'Your Best Life Now' Heresies

Many nominal Christians reduce Christianity to a set of healthy, rational principles for feeling good about yourself, staying in shape, balancing your checkbook and doing good deeds.

Why not? If this life is all there is, we may as well make ourselves comfortable.

What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (1 Corinthians 15:32)

3. Dangerous Church Leadership

When churches finally become hardened enough to the truth of Christ's return, they lay the groundwork for wolves to enter, dressed as sheep.

And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, "My master is delayed in coming," and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. (Luke 12:42-46)

Our Proposal: Skip 'Christmas Season'

Or better yet, celebrate the birth of Christ when our church fathers intended, during the 12 days between Christmas Day and Epiphany. But first, let Advent be Advent. In doing so, your Christmas celebration will be even more joyous.

Advent season begins each year on the fourth Sunday before December 25 (December 2, 2012). While "Christmas season" is often marked by greed, gluttony, and (if you're lucky) a few warm fuzzy feelings as you stand under the mistletoe or drink hot cocoa by the fire, Advent stirs our hearts for the return of the king.

We acknowledge the already/not yet tension that Christ has come, and that Christ will come again---that he is the one "who is and who was and who is to come" spoken of in Revelation 1:8. We re-enact the yearning of those Old Testament saints who longed to see Messiah. And in doing so, we let the Spirit of God stir our hearts in anticipation of our own deliverance, and Christ's promise (Revelation 21:5) to make all things new.

Daniel Montgomery is the founding and lead pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and Bobby Gilles has written several of Sojourn Music’s popular worship songs for albums like The Water and the Blood, Over the Grave, and Before the Throne. He serves as director of communications for Sojourn Church.

Categories: Articles of Interest
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  • Mike Ford

    My wife and I had our first baby boy last year in November. We had never marveled at the incarnation and birth of Jesus in the way we had then (and now this year!). To wonder at how God himself became a needy infant in order to save us elicited worship and praise and awe from us - the needy sinners that we are. We saw how helpless our son was and realized Jesus - through whom all things were created - became that helpless for us. I don't think we'd ever "gotten" what the Christmas story entailed until then.

    We then visited family and got once again caught up in buying gifts and meeting expectations, etc. Christmas consumerism stamped out our longing for Christ's coming back, not as a needy infant but as a conquering King. It was a marked contrast last year between, as CS Lewis would say, XMas and Christmas.

    Anyway, thanks for this article. I'm busting out the Advent calendar right now because of it. I am excited to worship with my family what Christ coming into the world has meant for humanity.

    • John Fountain

      Mike Ford!! Praise be to God. Just noticed your comment and thought I'd say hi. Hope all is well at school. Love you brother

  • http://www.apoorwretch.com Seth Fuller

    I think a good dose of Paul helps us think through this issue:

    One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.(Romans 14:5-6 ESV)

    I'm not sure beginning another debate about Christmas is really helpful. Let each Christian do as his conscience leads, but let us not be mastered by these worldly institutions. (Colossians 2) Let our church leaders be careful not to put needless burdens or requirements on their brethren that cause them to stumble in their conscience. There is no need to cling to a day that will pass away. Let us pursue and fight for holiness.

    For His glory,

    Seth Fuller

  • Ely Cartwright

    Thanks so much for this!

    I was literally just thinking the other day, "When did we move from 'Advent' to 'Christmas Season'?"

    I love the idea of our communities being unified around anticipation.

  • Ryan Phelps

    Fine and good; one of many ways to order our worship, personally and corporately. But (just so we're clear) it's also not at all an issue to celebrate Christ's coming all Christmas "season," for he really has come. And it's a joy and privilege to sing that. A lot.

  • George Ertel

    First you quoted Jesus: "Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life.... (John 4:35-36)

    And then you wrote: "Many nominal Christians reduce Christianity to ... doing good deeds."

    Was Jesus teaching nominal Christianity? I don't think so!

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  • Lucas Enge

    "Or better yet, celebrate the birth of Christ when our church fathers intended"

    Which Church Fathers are you referring to? Roman Catholic? Didn't most of the Puritans abstain from Christmas or even make it illegal?

  • http://thesidos.blogspot.com/ Arthur Sido

    "Or better yet, celebrate the birth of Christ when our church fathers intended, during the 12 days between Christmas Day and Epiphany."

    In other words substitute one set of man-made religious traditions for another?

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  • http://mysonginthenight.com Bobby Gilles

    Thanks so much to all who read this article and the hundreds who have recommended it on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks also to each commenter. Grace and peace to you this Advent season, and always.

    A few answers to some questions above:

    1. Certainly Christians don't have to participate in the Christian liturgical calendar, and certainly we agree with what Paul's saying in Romans 14. But we are not beginning a new Christmas debate -- every year millions of Christians around the globe lament the commercial excesses of "Christmas season," which is more about Frosty the Snowman than Jesus Christ.

    But we would never live and worship as if Christ hasn't come, or ask people to refrain from basking in this good, good news! Nor is our observance of Advent a hindrance or yoke to believers. To learn more about what Advent looks like in our corporate worship, see this complete recap of our liturgy from yesterday's service (1st Sunday of Advent 2012) -- prayers, songs, etc:
    http://www.sojournmusic.com/2012/12/sojourns-liturgy-recap-december-1-2-2012/

    And read this list of songs on our Advent Songs album (songs like Joy To The World and O Come All Ye Faithful):
    http://sojournmusic.bandcamp.com/album/advent-songs

    2. The liturgical calendar is a tool that many church leaders find helpful for their congregations - Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and many others, now and in times past. Of course no people (including the Puritans) are perfect. This article by our friend Zac Hicks may help you understand why many Christians find the liturgical calendar helpful:
    http://www.zachicks.com/blog/2012/12/3/what-having-a-worship-oriented-sense-of-time-does-to-you.html

    3. I'm sure we all agree that Christianity is more than "doing good deeds" but also that we are called to do good deeds.

    4. Neither of us grew up in churches that observed the liturgical calendar. Perhaps many of you didn't either. And it's natural for us to fear what we don't really understand. If you give this a fair study but your conscience still bothers you, then by all means don't observe it. However don't commit the "guilt by association" fallacy that we're all so familiar with: "It's wrong to observe Advent because Catholics observe Advent." It's wrong to observe _____ holiday because it has some pagan origins." "It's wrong to wear jeans, or listen to music with a rock beat, or X, Y, Z because so-and-so did it."

    As we know, carrying arguments like those to their natural conclusions will lead us to doing nothing, going nowhere, impacting no one.

    Finally, no matter where you stand on this issue, as your brothers in Christ we wish you well, respect your opinion and, again, are grateful that you've taken the time to read this article and think about it.

  • Richard

    The only place left now to really observe Advent is in the Orthodox Church. Find your nearest parish and come join us! Advent is glorious!
    http://orthodoxyinamerica.org/lr_v10/locator.php

    • Beth

      I would like to experience Orthodox worship sometime. Don't know if I'm capable of doing all the fasting though. Especially right before Christmas!!

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