Recovering the Wonder of Advent: Four pathways for preaching in Advent

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I had the privilege to write an article on preaching in Advent for Preaching Today, which was just recently released. You can read the entire article, “Recovering the Wonder of Advent: Four pathways for preaching in Advent,” at Preaching Today, but here’s a taste of what you will find there.

In my childhood, one of the greatest moments of anticipation was Christmas. I couldn’t wait for the chance to decorate, eat Christmas cookies, and, of course, open presents on Christmas Day. Every Christmas Eve I struggled to go to bed, and was usually the first one up to see what was waiting under the tree. The anticipation and wonder were like adrenaline coursing through my body.

As we grow older, most of us lose some of our wonder. The novelty of Christmas starts to wear off, at least a little bit. Along with that, our anticipation gets trampled down under the weight of responsibilities, the rush of preparations, and, at times, the heaviness that comes on those of us for whom the holidays bring sadness.

There is a remedy for lost wonder and trampled anticipation. That remedy is not getting more expensive presents, having flashier decorations, or inviting the right people to our parties. The remedy is stepping back enough to realize what we have lost it, and then going through a journey of recovery. Like a relationship that has lost its spark or a hobby that has lost our interest, we need to take time and effort to see what’s right in front of us with fresh eyes.

The church has a recovery program of sorts for lost wonder and trampled anticipation leading toward Christmas. That recovery program is called Advent, which means “appearing,” coming from the Latin word adventus. Advent looks back with wonder at Jesus’ birth over two-thousand years ago, while also looking forward with anticipation to his future return at the end of human history.

As preachers, we have a unique opportunity to help our congregations enter into that recovery of anticipation and wonder. My hope in this article is to offer four pathways for preaching in Advent so that our congregations both taste the longing that leads us to cry out, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and savor the joy that sings, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

The Promised Lamb of God [Name Above All Names]

NAAN-Series-GFX_App-Wide.pngI continued our new series, “Name Above All Names,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This series began with our Christmas celebration of Jesus as the light of the world, continued in the last two weekends with Jesus as “Friend of Sinners” and “The Gate” (Thanks, Pastor Dan Ryan!), and now turns to Jesus as the “Promised Lamb of God.”

This message leaps off from John the Baptist’s description of Jesus in John 1:29:

Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

The message then looks at four “clues” to Jesus’ identity as the Lamb of God found throughout the Hebrew Bible: the ram provided on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22), the Passover lamb (Exodus 12), the daily sacrifice (Leviticus 1), and the suffering servant (Isaiah 52-53).

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Friend of Sinners [Name Above All Names]

NAAN-Series-GFX_App-Wide.pngThis past weekend at Eastbrook Church we began a new series entitled “Name Above All Names.” In this series, which flows out of our Christmas celebration of Jesus as the light of the world, we want to focus on Jesus, learning more about who He is by giving attention to the titles, or names, of Jesus.

Scripture tells us that after Jesus’ death and resurrection “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). We also believe “there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must saved” (Acts 4:12). A person’s name tells us so much about them and this is true even more with Jesus. Throughout the Scripture we find different titles – or names – given to Jesus, whether in prophecy, the acclamation of others, or Jesus’ own statements about Himself. In this series after Christmas we will explore ten titles of Jesus that help us grasp key truths we need to know about who Jesus is.

This weekend we looked at Jesus as the friend of sinners in Luke 7:18-35 and Luke 5:31-32.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

Read More »

Finding God: Jesus

Jesus-Christmas[This is the final devotional I wrote for Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Find the daily journey through Advent here.]

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:6-7)

The distance between expectations and reality is often one of the greatest strains on us as people. When our expected hopes never arrive we can easily descend into frustration or disillusionment. “What happens to a dream deferred?”, Langston Hughes asks in his famous poem, “Harlem,” about unrealized equality. The final lines summarize one aspect of that angst-filled reality: “Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load. / Or does it explode?” Endless anticipation that is never realized tumbles from the high peaks of hope into the chasms of hopelessness.

Yet when our anticipated hopes do arrive it is like the flash of glorious sunlight across the mountain peaks. It is like drinking a glass of clear, cool water on a hot, humid day. In the depths of our being we rise up into that realized hope and say: “Yes! Finally! This is what I have been waiting for!”

The birth of Jesus is not only the culmination of our Advent journey, but also the realization of all our greatest longings as human beings. In the words of the old hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Jesus arrives, bringing the peace of God Isaiah prophesied, the hope of God that Elizabeth tasted, the joy of God John the Baptist preached about, and the love of God that Mary felt deep within her.

Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “who was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2), is now nestled in the warm flesh and solid bone of humanity at His birth in Bethlehem. God has done it! Our dreams are no longer deferred but met in Him here and now. God has drawn near and the wonder of this moment invites us into awe-filled wonder and worship again. So, let us do that today. Let us join our voices with the women and men of God throughout all the ages to speak praise from the depths of our soul to Jesus, our infant king:

O come, let us adore Him!
O come, let us adore Him!
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord!

Reflect:

  • How has your life with God been different from what you thought it to be?
  • What has been the greatest part of knowing you are loved by God, loved by Him so much that He sent His very own son to die in your place?

A Prayer for Christmas Day (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

God of glory,
your splendor shines from a manger in Bethlehem,
where the Light of the world is humbly born
into the darkness of human night.
Open our eyes to Christ’s presence in the shadows of our world,
so that we, like him, may become beacons of your justice,
and defenders of all for whom there is no room. Amen.

Apocalyptic Christ: a poem

visions of horror shudder
the human heart
heaving oceans and lurching beasts
clamor over creation
raging conquerors crush and kill
life scurrying under the sun
and history’s wheels roll over
all vulnerable souls

then lightning flashes the skies
and tear-filled eyes see
heaven’s in-breaking rule snaps in
like a curtain torn in two
all the boiling cauldron of earth
stops short in hearing a baby’s cry
and all human hearts find unshakable rest
in vulnerable visions of glory