By Dr. Michael A. Milton, Crosswalk.com
Uncertainty abounds. From pandemics to politics, and inflation to supply chains, life seems precarious. The season of Advent doesn’t help. No, wait. It does. I mean . . . well, just stay with me on this one. This is what I mean. The Church Year is not intended to be an imposed system of religious observances. In no way does one gain merit with God by observance. Such is specifically condemned and manifestly forbidden.
Humanity has no other way to God but through faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, and in His atoning sacrifice on Calvary’s cross. To be saved from the eternal punishment due to our sinful nature that spawns our actual sins, and to satisfy a holy God’s requirement for perfection, we must repent and believe in Jesus as the resurrected and living Lord of all. There is no other way to God but through Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father, “God of God, Light of Light.” No, observance of days and seasons cannot gain favor with God. Neither does taking Communion or being baptized. These are the two signs of salvation given by God to the Church. They are means to know and experience God’s grace. They are His touch on our lives, using physical signs that are veritable seals of the King.
The Church Year is not that. The Church Year is just marking time— not by a civic calendar—but rather by the Story of all stories: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In a word, the Church Year cannot and does not save, but following the life of Christ will sanctify (become increasingly conformed to the will of God in our very nature). Ordering the days of your life on the reading and prayerful meditation of the Person of Christ is an act of spiritual self-discipline. In the presence of the Christian community, the Church Year reinforces the disciplines of the Christian life, viz., discipleship, as normative.
The seasons of the Church Year are like reflections of Jesus in the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:6). In this sense, the seasons of the Church reflect the life and ministry of the Redeemer to bring nourishment, healing, and growth to the Body of Christ. The informed man at the Pool of Bethesda was not healed by the water (he never had to go in). Jesus healed him. The Church Year is not another means (pathway) of grace (so, not inappropriately adding to the ordained means of Word, Sacraments, and Prayer), but rather a way of life. The Christ of, e.g., Advent is our healing, not the season. Like Bethesda, the Church Year is the occasion for healing.
So, once again, the Church Year is a matter of faith in time, and of time understood by faith. To discern our days as reflections of Christ’s life and ministry is to mark time—not by lunar cycles—but instead by a New Creation. As the believer, so often blinded by the soul-killing distractions of this present evil age, seeks the Savior, she is brought closer to the Christ who came for a world of sinners (Epiphany), who lived, suffered (Lent), who died for our sins and is risen (Easter), the Christ who has ascended and is presently interceding for us before the Father (the days after Pentecost), the Savior who is God incarnate, and who is coming again, physically, visibly, to bring in a new heaven and a new earth (Advent). Advent. This where we pause.
As we mark time by the Bible story of Jesus’ coming, and His coming again, we witness the sacredness of waiting. As anticipation builds in little children to awaken to the gifts of Christmas morning, so, we who trust in God’s Messiah live expectantly. The civic calendar reminds us of the passing of days. Advent reminds us of the coming of days.
The uncertainty of our days, the inflation, political instability, and the daily grind of it all remain. That is what I meant when I wrote that Advent doesn’t erase those things any more than the waiting of Messiah precluded Roman occupation of Israel, or the taxation on even the poorest of families. It won’t relieve the birth pains of Mary nor the burden of responsibility of Joseph. The stable won’t turn into a resort. The manger will not become a cute cradle. But everything will change. For those who wait in scriptural faith, the ordinary is transformed into the sacred. Time is transcended by eternity, Heaven comes down, and we live life at the mysterious nexus of here and there.
To trust in the Lord Jesus is to live in the wonder of God with us. What else can we say? “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Even if you have never recognized the Bible story of Christ’s coming as an overarching theme for prayer and meditation, I earnestly invite you to join us. There are so many aspects to Advent, as a story to shape our lives. I want to look at the life and ministry of Joseph this Advent. He is often the forgotten figure of the season. Nevertheless, the Bible, in an economy of verses, paints a portrait of this man that draws us to learn more. He is an ordinary man living at the center of God’s Plan to redeem the cosmos. And that is the story of Advent.
[Editor's note: When more Advent lessons are added, they will be linked here]
“Jesus Came,” words and music ©️ 2005-2021 Michael Anthony Milton (Bethesda Music, Final Four Publishing), BMI.
The song is from the album, “When Heaven Came Down:New Songs for Advent and Christmas,” words and music ©️ 2005-2021 Michael Anthony Milton (Bethesda Music, Final Four Publishing), BMI.
Photo credit: ©SparrowStock
MICHAEL A. MILTON (Ph.D., University of Wales; MPA, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; MDIV, Knox Theological Seminary; Cert. in Higher Education Teaching, Harvard University) serves as the Provost and James Ragsdale Chair of Missions and Evangelism at Erskine College and Seminary. A Presbyterian minister (PCA, ARP), Milton has penned more than thirty books, hundreds of articles in journals, magazines, opinion columns, and newspapers. As president of the D. James Kennedy Institute and Faith for Living, Milton has served as a public theologian. His work has been cited on numerous national media outlets as he provides historic Christian insights into faith and life in a changing world. Dr. Milton's record of ministry includes seminary chancellor, president of three seminaries, senior minister of one of America's historic churches, founder of three congregations, and a Christian academy. A composer and artist, Mike and Mae Milton reside in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Learn more at michaelmilton.org/about. [from a press release by McCain& Associates.]
This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!
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