This blog has been on my heart for some weeks now, but I’ve been all wrapped up in preparing for the birth of my baby boy, that I haven’t taken a moment to sit down and actually write it. Well, the little man is past his due date, and Mommy and Daddy have everything in place for his arrival…Nursery prepped- check! Baby books read- check! Thanksgiving pies baked and eaten- check! Christmas tree decorated and stockings hung- check! Gingerbread cookies frosted- check! So I think today I shall take a breather and just write! December 1st marks for many the beginning of what we call the Advent season. Advent is a word we often toss around during this time of year, but not many of us truly comprehend it’s full meaning, which is historically fascinating and spiritually rich. I encourage you to read Justin Holcomb’s article in Christianity Today, “What is Advent?” to grasp a greater understanding of this beautiful season. To preface my own reflections and create a framework for where I am going with this blog, let me share a few quotes from Holcomb’s article:
“Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days”…as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate His eternal Kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah…Reflection on the violence and evil in the world cause us to cry out to God to make things right- to put death’s dark shadows to flight. Our exile in the present makes us look forward to our future Exodus. And our own sinfulness and need for grace leads us to pray for the Holy Spirit to renew His work in conforming us into the image of Christ…It is only in the shadow of Advent that the miracle of Christmas can be fully understood and appreciated; and it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense…The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; He has come, and He will come again. This is the essence of Advent.”
Indeed, our world is filled with violence and it seems everywhere that evil abounds. Not to mention, our own dark sin is more than we would like to admit. We truly need a Savior. And that Savior is not a politician, our next president, a pastor, Santa Claus in the latest Hallmark movie, or anyone in-between. We cannot save ourselves, and as much as we try to do good, as much as we try to change the world for the better, we always fall short and it’s not enough. Nothing is new under the sun, as the wise King Solomon once wrote, “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course…All things are wearisome, more than one can say…What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again…“ (Ecclesiastes 1:4-9)
We turn on the news and we see riots, racial divides, political protests, terror attacks, and so much more. Some days it might feel like the world is “falling apart,” yet none of this is new. When we look back through the course of history, we see the story told over and over again. Brokenness, sin, pain, hatred…all culminating in our hearts to a desperate need for a Savior. He came once, over 2,000 years ago, making His grand appearance in a messy stable in Bethlehem- God Incarnate, Emmanuel, Love Personified. It’s the story of Christmas that captures us, wide-eyed and filled with wonder, year after year. What is the most wonderful part of the story? That the story is not over! We can be assured that He is coming again! In that promise alone, our hope lies.
“Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promise and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.” – Karl Barth
I remember the week of the election, a dear friend texting this Scripture passage to me as a reminder from our Lord Jesus Christ of our place in this world, when everyone seems so divided:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men. You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophet. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled…”
– Matthew 5:13-18
Immediately my heart leapt with a flutter of joy. This passage put all into perspective, and I was called back to the sacred eternal truth of Who my Savior is and who I am in Christ. It suddenly dawned on me- tis the season to be salty and bright! Yes, we are encouraged this time of year to be merry and bright, to be festive and cheerful. All the holiday music which hit the stores it seems before even Halloween. All the red and green and tinsel and lights. The parties and cookies and family gatherings and decorations.
But it isn’t always easy- putting on our “merry face,” especially when our hearts hide burdens. Loved ones lost in the past year, pending perilous diagnosis, job uncertainty, strained family relationships, fear, doubt, feeling let down or just downright down! I had a friend just yesterday who was in bed all day because her heart felt so depressed by various situations going on around her. We can only feign happiness for so long until it catches up with us. We can only post so many pictures on instagram that make our lives look like holiday perfection until we realize that it’s not the whole, true story. There is real pain in this world. I reiterate Justin Holcomb’s statement, “Reflection on the violence and evil in the world cause us to cry out to God to make things right- to put death’s dark shadows to flight.” Amen and amen.
So how do we carry the light and spread the salt? Well, first, we must remember that we, in and of ourselves are not the light nor the salt. Rather, we abide in the Light of the World, and we dive into the deep Ocean of His love that soaks us in His salt. Then we choose to not hide it. We choose to allow our Savior and His grace to work through us, shining that ever-present, everlasting light into the souls of men. We say yes to allowing Christ to be the savory blessing of our lives, and as we soak that blessing in more and more, it overflows toward others around us.
The apostle Paul gave wonderful tips for starters in Colossians 4:2-6:
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
It seems that being salty and bright begins with prayer. It begins with a thankful heart, keeping watch for all the good blessings God has given. It begins with interceding on behalf of others- praying for them during their trials and pain, and praising God for their victories. It begins with asking God to open the door. It begins with waking every day and looking for those opportunities to share the light, to share the salt! During advent, that could be the simple act of baking cookies for the neighbor you hardly know. It could be forgiving your loved one who hurt you so badly. It could be caroling and spreading good old-fashioned Christmas joy to strangers. It could be thinking twice before speaking, and allowing the Holy Spirit to give you gentle, loving words when you respond to another person’s hostility. It could be rejoicing in another’s gain, when you have felt the deep sadness of a loss. It could be reaching out to someone who is mourning or suffering, even when you are in a season of ease. It could be letting the elderly lady behind you in line at the store go ahead of you during the holiday hustle and bustle.
Remember, we cannot be salty and bright if we do not get our own fill of salt and light. It is imperative, especially at this time of year, to soak our hearts and minds in the light of Christ’s promise, and fill our souls with the salt of salvation’s message. I encourage you to take time each day to reflect on Advent, to think upon the true meaning of Christmas. Dig into the Word of God, which will always fill you with promise and perfect peace. Some of my favorite books for Advent reflection are 25 Days, 26 Ways to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever by Ace Collins and Phyllis Tickle’s Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany From The Divine Hours. There are so many books and songs and ways to fill our hearts with truth and joy, that we might begin filling up with abounding light and salt in order touch our little corner of the world with Christ’s hope.
I want to finish by sharing one of the most incredible passages of Scripture written by Paul, Philippians 2:1-16, where He quotes one one of the earliest church creed-hymns.
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the Name that is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
…Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the Word of Life.”