Growing up as a Baptist, we did not observe the season of advent at church. As a denomination, Baptists have historically been leery of any liturgical or high-church traditions. Baptists have typically rejected all church observances that were not explicitly practiced by the New Testament church, including Advent. Baptists have fiercely guarded themselves against establishing church traditions, fearing that formal religious activities might detract from the personal relationships that should characterize a Christian’s faith.
While this has been the prevailing view of Baptists for the past few centuries, there are signs of change. In recent years, more and more Baptist churches are celebrating Advent. A growing number of congregations are recognizing the rich meaning and beauty of the season. Baptists are increasingly acknowledging the role of traditions and formal observances, such as Advent, in the church. While still very guarded against repetitious and rote religious practices, many Baptists are realizing that these celebrations can contribute greatly to the quality of worship.
The season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ. The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin language and it means “coming”. The season of Advent consists of the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas. Each of the 4 Sundays emphasizes a certain theme. There are many variations of this, but one of the most common sequences is Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. With each passing week, the expectation and excitement rises as the arrival of Christ approaches.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent for this year. As such, we are going to focus on the topic of Hope. We as the children of God have hope in Jesus Christ. He came as a babe in a manager to His people Israel over two thousand years ago, and He will someday come again in the clouds for His church. As Christians, by remembering His first coming we anticipate His second coming. Our hope is in Him.
I. THE FIRST COMING
The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the coming of the Messiah to deliver Israel. They spoke of a redeemer who would come to rescue his people from their oppression. Since the glory days of King David and Solomon, Israel had been in decline. Both the Northern and Southern kingdoms had fallen and been subjected to the rule of foreign powers. The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, and the Greeks had all reigned over the Jews at various times. By the beginning of the New Testament, it was the Romans who controlled Palestine. Still the Jews patiently waited, holding onto hope that their Savior was coming soon.
It was during this time, that Jesus left His heavenly home and came to earth. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, the virgin Mary became pregnant and gave birth to a son - Emmanuel. We call this event the Incarnation. In a quiet manager in lowly Bethlehem, the Savior of the world was born as a man. Though heralded by the angels, shepherds, and magi for the most part the nativity remained largely unknown. There was no fanfare or celebration fitting for the birth of a king. Jesus had not come to be served, but rather to serve and to give His life for many,
We celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas day. It is His first advent or coming. The prophecies of the ancient prophets had come true. Their predictions had been validated. The long-awaited Messiah had arrived. The hope that had persisted for centuries was finally realized in the person of Jesus Christ. For those who recognized it, the coming of Jesus was a culmination of years and years of anticipation.
II. THE SECOND COMING
Christians today look forward to the return of Jesus for His church. The New Testament writers speak of a living Savior who was crucified on a cross, buried in the grave, resurrected from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is someday coming again. We believe that at the end of this present age Jesus will return to the earth and set up His earthly kingdom here. As Christians, we too have hope that Jesus is coming soon.
The second coming of Jesus is best understood as occurring in two phases. The first of these is called the rapture. Jesus will come in the clouds and will gather His church. The bodies who those who have died in Christ will rise along with Christians who are alive at the time to meet the Lord in the air. Then all of the saints together will return with Christ to heaven. Seven years later, following the the Tribulation, the second phase will occur. Jesus will come valiantly leading His people, will bind Satan and his followers, and will set up his earthly kingdom. The millennium or thousand-year reign of Christ will follow.
Christians are called to live expectantly, eagerly anticipating the coming of Christ at any moment. We are to be watchful and prepared, lest we be caught by surprise. The rapture could occur at any moment. It will come quickly - in the twinkling of an eye. Therefore we should live righteous and godly lives, sharing the love of Jesus with one another in humble obedience to His will and way. When the Lord returns, may we be found pleasing to Him.
III. THE HOPE OF ADVENT
The first Sunday of Advent centers on hope. Nowadays, hope doesn’t carry the same meaning as it did in Biblical times. We often use the word to refer to things that may or may not actually happen. For example, we might hope that the Cowboys will win the Superbowl this year or that we’ll be able to squeeze in a nap after church this afternoon. These are things that, while certainly possible, are not necessarily guaranteed. The word hope as used in the Bible refers to the confident expectation of something that will definitely happen. Thus, hope is not wishful thinking but rather patient assurance of a known future.
The hope of Jesus’ second coming is rooted in the fact of His first coming. Because God kept His original promise to send Jesus as the Savior of mankind, we can be sure that He will keep His additional promise to send Jesus again as Lord and ruler over the earth. When we consider the wonder of Christmas in light of this promise, the season takes on a whole new meaning.
Hope is one of the greatest virtues of the Christian faith. It is an active and dynamic part of the believer’s life. Hope provides strength to persevere during difficult times. It produces joy and peace in the midst of turmoil and chaos. Hope affects what Christians value and hold dear. It impacts every aspect of their lives. The glorious hope that God’s children have for tomorrow transforms they way they speak, think, and live today.
Christmas, especially in modern America, has been tainted by excessive materialism and greed. Most people don’t look forward to Christmas because it represents the coming of Christ. Instead, they anxiously await the holiday because of the many gifts they expect to receive. The weeks of Advent should be characterized by a growing anticipation of Jesus’ arrival, but for many they are cluttered with shopping and consumerism. The holiness and beauty of the season has been largely lost in our secular culture.
While Advent did not originate as a Baptist custom, many Baptists have begun to realize that this observance can help reorient Christians to the true meaning of the season. It provides a way for the church to teach children and remind adults that Jesus has come and is coming again. Though there is no mention of Advent in the Bible, there is no mention of Thanksgiving either - and probably all of us here celebrated it with our families last week. There is no reason to shy away from observing Advent, so long as it doesn’t become a meaningless church ritual.
This morning we’ve joined with millions of other believers around the world recognizing today as the first Sunday of Advent. We’ve highlighted the magnificent hope that we as Christians have in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Over the next 3 weeks we will discuss the themes of Peace, Joy, and Love. Until then, may you rest in the hope of His coming.