Christian Living

Learning the habit of Advent

“Will you be closer to Christ because of this Christmas, or further away? Will your heart be softer to him or more callous? Will more fog lie between your eyes and his face, or will you see him with greater clarity and savour him with greater fervour?”[1]

I read these words on 17 December last year, in a wonderful Advent devotional book by David Mathis, The Christmas We Didn’t Expect.

I really wish I’d read these words earlier in December, because until that point the weight of what was at stake for my mind and heart in this season hadn’t fully hit me. Only then did I realise how much I’d already got carried away with everything Christmas isn’t about – the crazy busyness, commercialisation and consumerism.

As Mathis highlights, “holidays and feasts not only fill our mouths with laughter and our bellies with food, but shape our souls, for good or ill”.[2] So as Christians, we have a significant choice before us this December. Either we get swept up and carried along with what the world says Christmas is about, or else we use this season of waiting for 25 December to remember how the people of God waited centuries for the coming of the promised Messiah. As we do that, we of course rejoice that the long-awaited Messiah did come – and by his grace we know and love him as our Saviour and Brother! Yet it is so good for us “to rehearse the anticipation of God’s ancient people to renew our appreciation of what we now have in Christ”.[3] And as we remember his first coming, we too wait with longing ourselves for his second coming when all will be made right forever.

God created us as creatures of habit – not just with daily and weekly habits, but annual ones too, and it seems very wise for Christians to mark these weeks of liturgical anticipation that we call ‘Advent’. Of course, God doesn’t mandate our observance of Advent. It doesn’t earn us his favour. And I don’t know just how crazy life will be for you in the coming weeks. But I’m certain there will be a fierce competition for all of our affections..

Thankfully, there are so many resources out there to help us consider Christ this Christmas. Have a look at Jocelyn Loane’s ‘An Advent Top 5’ for ways to encourage children in this season, and the ACR has more suggestions on this theme coming this month! However busy you are, some kind of Advent devotional reading can be so helpful, especially if Bible reading isn’t already a daily activity. The devotional by David Mathis I’ve talked about here is truly excellent in giving a short yet totally profound and thought-provoking reflection on a Bible verse or two per day. Last year I reviewed Repeat the Sounding Joy by Christopher Ash which took me through the first two chapters of Luke at a beautifully slow pace. Even if you don’t manage to read each day, I have found it is better to at least aim for something amid the craziness, and there’s absolutely no harm in using it in the days after Christmas too.

Whatever it looks like, let’s take practical steps to treasure Christ this Advent. Let’s remember and ponder and reflect upon the unparalleled significance of Jesus’ incarnation. Because as Mathis says, come December 26, when it comes to Jesus, we will either be more like Herod, who hardened his heart, or we will be more like the magi who “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10).[4]

You can buy The Christmas We Didn’t Expect at Reformers bookshop.

[1] David Mathis, The Christmas We Didn’t Expect, The Good Book Company, 2020, p. 106

[2] Mathis, p. 106

[3] Mathis, p. 105

[4] Mathis, p. 106