by Pastor Nick Bogardus
I never thought I’d say the following three words: I like running. Or rather, I’m growing to like it. I’ve always loved competition and competitive sports. I love football, boxing, baseball, even basketball to some extent. There is immediate feedback in those sports: you catch a pass, take a punch, strike out, or make a shot. So, I’ve always hated running because, like Forrest Gump illustrated, there’s really no end to it. The problem is there aren’t many team sports open to 37 year old fathers of three. So, as I’ve been trying to lose weight the last few months, I’ve been running a lot. Turns out, I’ve grown to actually like running. I feel more loose physically. I enjoy the time to step out of being busy and listening to a podcast. I like the mental battle I have to fight for the first mile (or often the whole run) to simply keep going. The practice of running actually made me appreciate running.
We see a similar dynamic in other parts of our lives. When I have intentional time, conversations, and date nights with Kim, it turns out that we feel connected and I naturally love her more deeply and vibrantly. When we don’t make that time together, our marriage doesn’t go well – in fact, I’d say its easier to love myself in those times. Wouldn’t you say the same for you? When I am consistently in relationship with other Christians who I am vulnerable with, who ask good questions and know me, who love me, who speak truth into my life, I end up loving Jesus and other people more. When I’m isolated, it has a deteriorating effect on those loves. I imagine you’ve experienced a similar dynamic. People are driven by their loves and our loves are shaped, or influenced, by habits.
By the way, its kind of like God knew this because its one way he shaped his people. Think about all of the festivals in the Old Testament that Israel celebrated together to remind them of who God is, what he had done, and whose they were. Think about Passover, the annual remembrance of God’s delivery of his people from slavery by a sacrificial substitute, or the Day of Atonement that reminded them of God’s holiness and the penalty for their sin. Jewish worship was shaped similarly, with patterns and rhythms. Do you remember when Jesus went into the synagogue and identified himself as the Messiah in Luke 4? The scroll of Isaiah was handed to him because it was the reading assigned for that day. God gave practices and festivals to shape his people and their (ever-wandering) loves.
So, Advent. Advent is a time of the church calendar that is similar to Lent. Advent prepares us for Christmas, Lent prepares us for Easter. Advent emphasizes waiting and expecting as it looks back to Christ’s coming and forward to his second coming. Advent is a time of the church year that pumps the brakes on our busy lives and causes us to consider our lives in the scope of God’s redemptive history. Because of Christ’s first coming, we live on the other side of all of God’s promises to his people in the Old Testament – they’ve been fulfilled in Christ. We can see God’s faithfulness from the middle back to the beginning. Yet, we also live in a time when all of those promises have not yet been consummated. There is still sin, suffering, decay, sickness, and darkness in our world and lives and so we live in longing expectancy, similar to God’s people before Christ. Advent is meant to help us remember, consider, and hope.
If you’d like to read more, my friend Justin Holcomb – a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, sexual abuse counselor, and Episcopalian priest - wrote a post that is also helpful.
Free Advent Resources
As far as resources, here are some that we'd recommend.
Cross of Christ Advent EP - Sterling Pounds, our Worship Director, recorded some of the songs we're playing this Advent season. You can download them here and sing along on Sundays. :)
Cross of Christ Advent Playlist - Sterling also made a Spotify playlist of all of the songs we sing during Advent. Great Christmas listening in the car! Listen on Spotify. (Also, if you're new, we have a big playlist of all of the songs we sing together on Sundays you can check out as well.
Matt Chandler/The Village Church Texas Advent Devotional - Great content and family devotion sections. Probably the best all-around. Available here.
John Piper/Desiring God Advent Devotionals - Concise and theologically robust but no reflection questions or family section. Available at the DG site.
Tim Keller/Redeemer Presbyterian Meditations - Good personal structure for the week, pretty average family section. Download here.