This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent in the church calendar, the season before Christmastide (12 Days of Christmas), which begins December 25. Advent was always one of my favorite times to preach as a pastor because of focus on Christ's work in His Coming the first time and the anticipation of His Coming again comes into such clarity. We get to remember, wait, hope, and look forward to all that God has done and will do as He restores all things and makes them new in Christ. When I really discovered Advent personally and devotionally 7-8 years ago, it gave the whole season so much more meaning. Eventually, it even began to transform much of the cultural Christmas that I had grown so weary of and had begun to reject. I now see the cultural Christmas as the “echo” of the real thing that only Christians really understand as they worship Christ, and I now thank God for the echo because people can still hear the sound, even if they don't fully understand it. It is the role of the church to make that sound clear, right? What a blessing this whole season is!
The First Sunday of Advent is traditionally focused on Hope. We look back to the Hope in God that Israel would have had and put ourselves in their shoes. We place our hope in Christ for our own salvation and presently long for the Second Coming of Christ. Even though the world experiences darkness now in so many ways, we, the Church, are people who are filled with Hope in Christ. But, that hope is not just for our own salvation or just about what most immediately concerns us personally. Our hope is in Christ for what He is doing and going to do in His overall work for His glory. Isaiah 60 is a good window into that view and it also helps us understand what God is doing today.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3 ESV)
Isaiah 60 is a passage that says that God is going to shine His light on His people and bring the Nations to them bearing gifts. This was a prophecy for Israel of what would happen at the end of days, but it was first foreshadowed in Christ's birth, when the Magi, representing the Gentile nations, came from the East bearing gifts and worshiping. Matthew Henry, the great Bible commentator said, and I agree, that this passage is also about what will happen during the Church Age, as the Church will be made up of all the Nations who come to worship God together bearing gifts and bringing themselves before The Lord constantly. That is happening today! Right now! And it is part of the fulfillment of our Advent/Christmas hope! I wrote about this in my book, When Heaven and Earth Collide, as I talked about the local church being the place where our eschatological hope meets our current reality and transforms it into something new and restored through the work of Jesus. This is part of our impulse in Mission – not just to get people into Heaven when they die – but to bring Heaven to earth NOW (in a sense) so that the world can see as a visible witness what God is doing through Jesus as He calls the Nations to Himself. When we go the Nations and we start churches and they enter our churches and our churches expand to welcome them and they bring their cultural gifts of worship, Isaiah 60 is being fulfilled, in part, and we replay the Gifts of the Magi (in part). It is all a sign of the Hope that will be revealed in Revelation 7 of the Nations worshiping around the Throne of God from every tribe, people, nation, and tongue. All of this points to the ultimate fulfillment at the End when all that we have longed for in Christ will come to pass, Christ will be revealed, and all of the Nations will flock to the New Jerusalem bringing their gifts and worship to the Lamb of God who sits upon His throne! What a glorious time to hope and remember and be fueled with a renewed passion that the Nations would hear and believe the good news of Isaiah 9:2 that says,
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
Yes! Our Light has dawned! Let us walk in the Light of Christ and let Him illuminate everything and renew our Hope in Him and what He is doing in the world instead of living in the darkness of fear and despair that the world offers. By His Light, we see everything in a new way. Right now, we have a chance to live according to the light of the revelation that Jesus has come for the Nations and He calls us to be His ambassadors and to live crucified lives for Him instead of just seeking to promote and defend our own Way of Life. And He causes us shine like stars as we hold out the word of life (Phil. 2:14-18) to the Nations so they too can bring their gifts of worship before The Lord!
It seems that if our our Hope is in Christ and not in the false sense of safety and control that the World claims to provide us if we would just give it our allegiance, then our hearts will likewise turn with Jesus toward those who do not yet know Him. When we turn our hearts in sacrificial love toward the nations – even the different ethnic groups that have come to us in America from all over the world – and join with Christ in His work, we see why Jesus came more clearly, I think. In Jesus' name, the Nations will put their hope (Matt. 12:21). Rejoice!
In a related aside, it makes perfect sense that the Christmas season is the time that Southern Baptists give a special offering to the missionaries of the International Mission Board for foreign missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. If you are looking for a worthy place to give that will support the nations hearing the gospel of Jesus during this time, a donation through your church or online here would be a good way to do that. It is much needed, especially now. Hope for the nations through Christ. Amen.
[Photo Credit: Picture I took in Jacmel, Haiti, 2012)