“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. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” -Romans 14:5-8
This past Sunday, November 28, 2021 marked the first Sunday of what has come to be called the ‘Advent’ season. Historically, Advent is the season that consists of the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Christians have been observing ‘Advent’ since as early as the 5th century in various ways. The english word ‘Advent’ comes from the Latin word ‘adventus’ which means “coming” and the word ‘adventus’ is the Latin translation of the Greek word ‘parousia’ which is used throughout the new testament to refer to the second coming of Jesus.
Overall, Advent is focused on celebrating and anticipating the coming of Christ. We celebrate His coming in flesh 2000 years ago, His coming to our hearts today, and His coming at the end of time. Advent can also stir us up to deeper reflection and prayer. As we anticipate Christmas week after week we remember the saints of old in their years of waiting, hoping, and longing for the promises of God to be fulfilled; for light to come to their darkness, for a Savior to come, rescue, and redeem.
Back in our CBC days, for about five years we began to incorporate Advent into our annual rhythm as a church family and like many we also included the lighting of the Advent candle which involves lighting four candles; one at a time on successive Sundays leading up to Christmas. There would be a Scripture reading, an explanation and then the candle would be lit usually at the beginning of service or right before the sermon. This year will be our first Advent and our first Christmas (Lord willing) as Christ Redeemer Church and over the years The Lord has graciously and faithfully corrected us, shaped us and reformed us (formed us back) to the standard of His word and we believe He is continuing to do so! That being said, you will notice that we will no longer be incorporating the candle lighting into the liturgy of corporate worship. This is because we have become convicted by the fact that our Lord Jesus has only given the Church two sacraments or ordinances, Baptism and The Lord’s Supper, and an annual Advent Candle lighting ceremony is not one of them. While the intention of our hearts over the years was sincerely to honor the birth of Christ and to savor the treasure that He is, we do not want to offer “strange fire” (Lev. 10:1-2) or worship Him in a way He has not authorized in the Church.
However, that is not to say that we don’t have freedom in Christ to honor Him and treasure Him with the traditions in our own homes and in the traditions of our families. In fact we should do so! But we should do so, prayerfully, confidently (in good conscience), and with an aim to honor Him and to give God thanks (Rom. 14:6). For some of us that may mean letting go of some cherished traditions that glorify something or someone else and maybe even adopting new ones that better glorify God. Also, there are many great resources available like Advent devotionals, reading plans, books, songs etc. some of which we hope to highlight and commend to you in the days ahead. It may come as a shock to some to find that Scripture nowhere requires Christians to observe Advent or even Christmas! So do we have to? No. Can thoughtfully doing so be a helpful opportunity to remember and celebrate the wonderful things God has done? Yes. As Paul wrote in Romans 14, "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." (Rom. 14:5-6a)
For those of us who did not grow up observing Advent, the tradition can be a helpful reminder to slow down in the midst of the cultural and commercial frenzy that is the Christmas season. It has been said a thousand times over by now but it bares repeating that what has come to be called “Christmas” in our context has very little to do with Christ and heavenly things and far more to do with man and earthly things. For many, there is an invisible pressure to buy more, want more, do more, decorate more…and more. If we are not careful we can easily find ourselves swept away by the forceful current of the culture, participating in this or that without giving much thought. This is where Paul’s words in Romans 14 come crashing in reminding us that for the Christian, mindless participation in anything is simply not an option. This is because we have been bought with a price and we are not to become slaves of men (1 Cor. 7:23). What we do and how we do it matters because we do not live to ourselves but rather we live all of life to the Lord (Rom. 14:7-8). It’s as though every aspect of the Christian’s life is to be a lifting up of our cup, so to speak, and saying “To The Lord!”
So may the cry of our hearts this season and in every season be, Soli Deo Gloria!