In the traditional lighting of the Advent Candles, we celebrate and we remember and we remind one another of Hope, Joy, Peace, Love, and finally, Christ himself. The final candle of Advent, the final reminder, the final celebration, is Christ himself. So a look at each through Scripture.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
“The people walking in darkness have see a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy…”
“Do not be afraid,” the angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger.”
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his uniquely existing Son so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost but have eternal life. 17 Because God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world would be saved through him.”
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in the darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
We just had the kids put on a Christmas pageant. Do you know what a “pageant” is? We don’t really use the word much outside of “Christmas pageant” and “beauty pageant.”
A pageant is: “a public entertainment consisting of a procession of people in elaborate, colorful costumes, or an outdoor performance of a historical scene.”
This is both: a procession of people in elaborate, colorful costumes and a peformance of a historical scene. We used to be more outdoors before we built the Eagle Center, and without four walls, we still have the feel of outdoors. We’ll also be outdoors for fireworks. But mainly we focus on Christ himself—our kids just dramatized an historical event. It’s not a Christmas play or a Christmas drama, it’s a pageant, an historical scene that our kids help us to remember every year. Christ himself, in the flesh, born to a young girl, laid in an animal’s food trough, a child born to us who will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
And everything we believe rests on this. This child is Mighty God and Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father. God loves us exactly, specifically in this way: Jesus who is God came to save us and not condemn us. God sent Jesus, Jesus who is God came as a child, “to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God.” Those are Zechariah’s words, the father of baby John who will be John the Baptist. Jesus, Mighty God and Prince of Peace, gives us salvation through the forgiveness of our sins, because of the tender mercy of our God. Just to be clear, Zechariah the priest says this immediately after being mute for nine months because he questioned how he could be sure of what the angel Gabriel told him—that his wife would have a baby who would help prepare people for Jesus’s arrival.
Priests kind of need their words, but I guess nine months is a good long time to reflect on, “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.” I’m always amazed, every time I read this story, because I can almost always relate to how people screw up in the Bible, but how does Zechariah go from “startled and gripped with fear” so that the angel tells him “Do not be afraid” to “Yeah, I’m not sure I buy what you’re saying here.” We went to see the nativity scenes by the Luis Alfonso park last night and one of the angels they had, formed out of lights, was about 30 feet tall. And I thought, “That would explain why angels always start their conversations with ‘Don’t panic. Don’t freak out. Do not be afraid.’” The Bible doesn’t specify the size of angels.
My point is, we don’t have our kids do this pageant because it’s fantasy. These Scriptures, this is our history. Fantasy is that snowmen come to life and sing and dance, or even exist in Nicaragua. Fantasy is that some people are better than others because of the color of their sin or that God loves a rich person more than a poor person. On Christmas, we celebrate history, we celebrate the history of God entering the world because in His tender mercy he refused to let us be destroyed by our sins. We celebrate Christ himself.
I’m remembering two people tonight. One I met eight years ago at House of Hope. She got to stay with us for a few days recently and we talked about her graduating from colegio next and where she wants to go to university. God rescued her from the shadow of death. Christ himself saved her, spiritually and physically. Many people have gotten to play a part in God’s miracle that is her life. The other is a friend whose wife just died of cancer. Today is his eight anniversary. I’m praying that Christ himself will be Steve’s peace and help him to find joy even through his grief, deeper than his grief. Christ is our reality.
And I promised this would be concise, so I’m ending here, because here is the whole point: We celebrate Christ himself. We follow Christ himself. We have lots of traditions and symbolism and I love that stuff, but it’s about Christ himself, not a nice idea. Christmas is not that we have learned to be nice people and give presents; Christmas is that we were living in the shadow of death, a death of our own making, and the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, saved us because he loves us. Christmas reminds us that God enters our history, God himself, not merely prophets or priests or even angels but God Almighty, Jesus who is our Christ, and he guides our feet out of that shadow of death and into the path of peace. That is our good news of great joy for all people. Eat cookies, sing Christmas Carols, give presents, shoot off fireworks, and in all of it remember: Christ himself, God and man, man who was and is God, came for us, died for us, lives in us. He alone is our life and he is our gift.