— By LOU TISCIONE
Advent is a season in the church year that was instituted so that Christians would heed the warning of the Prophet Isaiah. “A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)
Several hundred years later, John the Baptist came as God’s spokesman to call God’s people to prepare to meet the Messiah by repenting of their sins. He came in the spirit and power of Elijah. (Luke 1:17) We are in this season of preparation. We are preparing to celebrate the historical and miraculous event of the Incarnation. God ordained in eternity that His Son would take upon Himself human nature and give Himself as a ransom for many. Jesus, the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah and others, is the God-man who came in the fullness of time. “He was born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, so that (God’s people) might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:5)
John’s message is still applicable. Repentance is one of the two gifts God gives to His people at their conversion. The other is faith. Those who have received these gifts from God live them throughout their lives. That is, professing Christians are penitent people. We repent of our sins and confess them knowing that God has promised to forgive our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Likewise professing Christians live in reliance on the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the object of our faith. He is the holy one of God before whom we see the truth of our sinfulness and know that He is life.
We are half way through this Advent season. Are you ready to celebrate the incarnation?
Jesus told us how we should prepare in light of John the Baptist’s declaration: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
In our country, perhaps in the western world as a whole, preparing to celebrate the incarnation has been overshadowed by making sure that we’ve managed to buy gifts for family and friends.
Now I am not suggesting that Christians refrain from buying gifts for others. In fact, giving is an expression of those who have received. But, I am suggesting that we remember what we have received and give in response to God’s grace as a demonstration of having received His mercy.
As a child I remember that Christmas wasn’t fully realized until our whole family went to church on Christmas Eve. It has been our church family’s practice to celebrate Christmas Eve with a traditional worship service called, “Lessons and Carols.” We seek to involve our children in the service both for their worship and education. The service of “Lessons and Carols” was first used in 1918 at the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge.
This 20th century worship service’s purpose is to worship God by rehearsing God’s plan of redemptive history. We read nine scripture lessons beginning in Genesis and ending with John’s gospel. As we hear from God, we respond in song with familiar Christmas carols.
Our aim is to turn our minds to God’s grace in saving His people. As God’s word is read, we are reminded that God established His plan of redemption in eternity. The Father and the Son made a covenant. The Son agreed to give His life to redeem those whom the Father chose before the world began.
If you have not thought of preparing to celebrate Christmas in this way, I would encourage you to begin. Celebrate the incarnation by attending corporate worship on each Lord’s Day, especially if your church is gathering on Christmas Eve.
Jesus called all to “repent and believe in the gospel.” God has ordained that outside of the church there is no ordinary means of salvation. As you come to worship, come expecting to hear the good news that Jesus came and died for the sins of His people and that His work of redemption has been confirmed by His bodily resurrection. This is the gospel by which you are being saved, if you receive it in faith and live by it. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
May this season of Advent be one of holy preparation as you remember God’s incomparable gift of His only Son, Jesus.
Lou Tiscione is pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA).