God Draws Near
"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me" - Matthew 15:8-9
As Advent season dawns, I am drawn to a wonderful conundrum. The first thought that comes to mind is the eternal "no" against man made religion. It is appropriate to start the post with Christ's condemnation of false worship. Christ rejects all worship built upon "the commandments of men." This is a loud "no." Consequently, many believe that any observance of Advent is merely following the commandments of men. Many of those who reject Advent belong to my own theological tradition. I share their concern that the church might draw close with their mouth while moving away with their heart during Christmas. However, my concern is found in the celebration of Christmas, not Advent.
Let me explain why by moving to God's eternal "yes" found in Jesus Christ at Advent (2 Cor. 1:19-20).
The reason I celebrate Advent is that it stands against man. Advent completely rejects man moving closer to God. In fact, everything about Advent screams the opposite. Man cannot move towards God. We cannot attempt to honor with our lips unless God first moves towards us. In Christ those "who once were far off have been brought near" (Eph. 2:13). This is what we celebrate in Advent. It is the celebratory waiting for God who comes to us in the God-man Jesus Christ — He emptied Himself and became humble (Php. 2:7-8). It is a celebration that we can do nothing and God has done everything in becoming man. It is during Advent that we pine for "God with us" (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23).
God With Us
Advent is a celebration of who God is and what He does. This is not an unknown God. Is is the God who has chosen to reveal Himself. He is the God who "in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son" (Heb. 1:2). For men, it is a time of emptying and solemn quietness. We are "out in the field, keeping watch" (Luke 2:8). For us it is as the old song goes a "silent night, holy night." Man does not speak during Advent. He merely waits. Advent is the rejection of "commandments of men" for the reminder of God with us.
Advent is a celebration of the very unique presence of God. In the Old Testament, the cloud signifying God's presence came and went. In Christ, God "dwelt among us" but quite differently — the Word became flesh (John 1:14). This is not purely a past event. Though it began in the past the presence of Christ has not come and gone from among us. This is why Advent must be celebrated yearly. It is the reminder that God has not left us — He has not left us "as orphans" (John 14:18). In sending His Son, God has forever linked Himself with man. He died with men. He was raised for men. And He ascended into heaven as man to be our mediator. He most certainly is God with us.
Advent is also a celebration of who God is for in His coming. Our God did not come without a purpose. Nor without an audience. It is angels who say "on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:14). He comes for a specific audience. And His purpose? As Paul says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?"(Rom. 8:31). Our God comes to "ransom captive Israel" and rule "the world with truth and grace." He comes unto us — "with his blood mankind hath bought." In Advent, we do not connect with some spiritual power or distant deity but God revealed in Jesus Christ — the God with us.