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TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, today is our final broadcast prior to Christmas Day 2017. Today, I’d like to have a discussion on what is Advent? For many of us, we think, “Well, it’s a season between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.” Is that all it is?
WHEN CHRIST ISN’T IN CHRISTMAS
DR. REEDER: Tom, first of all, let me say something about Christmas because that relates to Advent, obviously, and understanding it. Here’s what’s happened today: We’ve got a little Advent because we’ve got a little Christmas. You got this big secular Christmas out there that everybody’s committed to, but it never fulfills their desires.
Everybody thinks, “Okay, secular Christmas says we can have Christmas without Jesus. We can have Christmas without God’s glory. We’ll have a “secular Christmas and we’ll invent mythologies about made-up people that are actually going to do something for you that know when you’ve been sleeping and know when you’ve been awake, etc., etc.” And we do all of that and it never fills the bill.
We always think, “Well, there’s going to be some party, there’s going to be some experience at Christmas, there’s going to be some nostalgic moment at Christmas, there’s going to be some gift that I get or gift that I give,” and then Christmas Day comes and the head is empty from the parties, the boxes are empty and now you’ve got to put it all back up and you say, “Oh my goodness, it’s Ecclesiastes, all is vanity. Actually, this is just empty – just not there.”
What does the world do with their secular Christmas? Well, they say, “Hey, the problem isn’t what our world and life view is, the problem isn’t what Christmas is now representing to us – the problem is we didn’t start early enough so let’s start in November. By the way, now, let’s start in October.” I saw Christmas stuff out before a pumpkin came out for Halloween.
And then, “I know what, the gifts didn’t matter because we didn’t get a big enough gift. I’ll tell you, let’s get bigger gifts. Let’s spend more money on gifts. That’s what’ll do it.” It’ll always be empty.
THE OTHER CHRISTMAS
However, there’s another Christmas and it’s a sacred Christmas and that Christmas is the celebration that God has come, Emmanuel – God with us. Why is that glorious? We all need to be saved and none of us can save ourselves and none of us can save anybody else.
When we do a baptism, we say, “Father, name your child,” and the father names the child. It’s a wonderful moment when that happens but, in this case, when Joseph named his child, he didn’t get to think it up – he was told what to name his child and he said, “There’s two names,” Matthew, Chapter 1, verses 18-25, “that were given to Him from Heaven through the angel and it’s, ‘You shall call His name Jesus,’ and ‘you shall call His name Emmanuel.’”
Emmanuel because that’s the name that was prophesied in the Book of Isaiah, meaning “God with us.” Here is God, humbling Himself, not by subtraction – He doesn’t cease His deity – but by addition – He takes upon Himself humanity.
Because God humbles Himself, He now comes to be with us and to be one of us in order to take our place before the judgment seat of God and then give us the place that He deserved, which is the place of glory.
I’ve always thought it’s interesting there was no room for Him in the inn, but He made room for us in Heaven. There was no place for Him, but He took our place so that we could have a place and that’s a glorious, wonderful Christmas.
By the way, the Bible ties the fact that Jesus came – the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation – Jesus came to save sinners and that’s what’s glorious, Emmanuel, God with us, because God came to be one of us to be able to save us.
And, now, we’ve got this glorious truth which makes sense of “Yeshuah,” which means “Jehovah saves.” God himself comes to save us. Well, that’s a big Christmas. Well, that leads to big preparation instead of empty parties and empty boxes.
WHAT DOES ADVENT MEAN?
Advent means “preparation.” We have a preparation for a celebration. God came to save us and that will come to a consummation. This same Jesus is coming again who, first time, came and gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and that He might purify for Himself a people for his own possession who were zealous for good deeds.
Here is this glorious, most big Christmas, big celebration and we need a great preparation so that’s what the Advent season is all about, preparing to celebrate “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
The second thing is that, in our culture, the Advent season is a great time for outreach. We have our big Briarwood Christmas Festival where we have the ballet and the orchestra and I get the opportunity of the connecting tissue of the Gospel. People are coming to hear this vocal excellence of the chancel choir and the chapel choir and orchestra.
This year, I’ll tell you – I went back to my old Star Trek days – I just said, “Jesus, beam me up. It can’t get any better than this. My, oh my.” I couldn’t even go to sleep that night, I was so filled with joy.
And then, of course, we have our fourth Sunday of Advent which are carols and lessons and then Christmas Eve services where people come in and we make a wonderful time of worship and praise for a one-hour service.
And then we end with a Christmas Eve Communion. Why? Because Jesus came to die for our sin so Communion reminds us of the body and the blood and the gift of Christ. We even do a special thing of putting out the tables and so everyone comes to tables while we’re all singing, a capella, great songs of praise to God who has now come to die for our sins. It’s a glorious Christmas Eve service. And then we finish with Christ Sunday – the first Sunday after Christmas – and give praise to God for what He has done.
CHURCHES SHOULD CELEBRATE ENTIRE SEASON
Tom, all of that process is not only opportunity for outreach and proclamation, but it is a glorious opportunity for celebration and so Advent can be used that way. I did not really have that growing up. My family had these traditions, but my church didn’t. It just came up, we’d have a Christmas sermon, and that was pretty much it, but I have grown to love these opportunities.
In the Old Testament, there were three great feasts that were celebrated and, in the New Testament, early believers, I think very intentionally, mirrored that by taking the birth of Christ, and the death and resurrection of Christ – the birth of Christ, Christmas, the death and resurrection of Christ, Easter, and the Ascension and Pentecost season – they took those three seasons and made them a great emphasis as a church because we not only need to fast, we also need seasons of feasting. And our feasting isn’t so much the food that we prepare, but the Jesus whom we celebrate.
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, you quoted earlier, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” I’ve often heard that that not only applies to the first Advent, Christmas, but also the second Advent.
DR. REEDER: “He rules the world with truth and grace.” That’s what great Christmas carols do. “He did leave His throne,” and look at the last verse, “When He leaves it again to come for His people.” The really great Christmas carols always tie the two Advents of Christ together.
TOM LAMPRECHT: Well, Harry, have a great Christmas with you and your family and we do wish our listeners a very blessed Christmas and we look forward to Christmas Day. We will have a special Christmas broadcast next Monday.
DR. REEDER: And, Tom, if I could say to everyone, here’s what’s really interesting: The people that think the nostalgia of family and gift-giving and celebrations during the Christmas season without Christ are always disappointed and it’s always empty but, what’s interesting, when Christ is Christmas, No. 1, the day after Christmas is another Christmas Day – it’s always Christmas for us.
And the second thing is this: Our celebrations, our gift-giving, and our experiences and memories actually do become joyous because we haven’t idolized them, but we have used them because our praise, and glory, and confidence and trust is in the God who came to save us. Praise His name and joy to the world, the Lord has come and is coming again.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin. Jessica is editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News. Jessica has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and her work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.