Advent usually begins when the Christmas lights are lit. Whether on a tree, or strung on the house, or enjoying your community’s “Holiday of Lights” parade, or lighting the first wreath-ringed candle, festive lights signal the beginning of the Christmas season.
Originally, Advent began in the dark. For 400 years the prophetic voice of God was dark. Back in the day, the Egyptians and Israelites experienced 3 days of paralyzing physical darkness in the ninth plague. Now God’s people and the world experienced the plague of spiritual darkness for centuries. God’s word and work were dimmed and people longed for God to rescue them from gloom.
Then suddenly, it happened! God flipped the lights on. Jesus, the light of the world, entered our world.
John’s Gospel puts it this way: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9).
Matthew in his Gospel account (4:16) quotes Isaiah 9:2: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
Fleming Rutledge said this, “The authentically hopeful Christmas spirit has not looked away from the darkness, but straight into it. The true and victorious Christmas spirit does not look away from death, but directly at it. Otherwise, the message is cheap and false.”
Admittedly, our culture has grossly devalued Advent. So much of Christmas is commercialized and consumer-oriented. We’re supposed to be “merry and bright” with Yuletide cheer. We dream of a white Christmas and hope that our chronic case of the “gimme’s” will be satisfied with what’s under a tree. But baby Jesus is more than a nativity un-action figure. He’s the only hope for you and me. He’s the only one who can fill our longings and present us clean and sparkling before God the Father.
This Advent-time we can look at the world’s darkness and depravity with hope because Jesus, the Bright Morningstar, has come. We can pray with the Psalmist: “Let your face shine, that we may be saved! (Psalm 80). From dank dark basement of our despondency and depression, we can “arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph. 5:14).
And in this Advent, we can hope for the Second Advent when Jesus will triumphantly return to restore all that is flawed and fallen… When Jesus will take us to be with him in “the city [that] has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there” (Rev. 21:23-27).
Join us for Advent at WCPC while we explore the significance of Christ’s birth through the words of those who witnessed it. In the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel, we encounter four songs of praise by four
different people: Mary, Zechariah, the angels, and Simeon. Each one responds to the good news of Jesus’ birth. We will gain insight into the importance of the incarnation and what it means for everyone. Join us as we worship Christ, the newborn King!
Your neighbor shares with you how her marriage is crumbling. A close friend asks you for a loan due to gambling debts. A constant battle with an non-compliant child results in daily yelling sessions. While we listen with sympathetic ears, we are often hesitant to offer counsel. “Who am I to counsel and teach other people? What gives me the right to help someone else get his or her act together when mine’s not?” The Apostle Paul’s teaching helps us see the responsibility and the purpose of our personal ministry.
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1).
“And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 24-26).
What does it mean to restore a sinner gently and to “gently instruct?” Two aspects of restoring and teaching come to mind. First, there is the manner, and secondly, there is the message. Let’s look at these aspects in that order.
Regarding the manner, Paul instructs us Christians to NOT restore and instruct harshly or rudely. It is not our place to belittle the person struggling. We are not to be resentful of the emotional investment. This means that we have to fight the tendency to throw up our hands in exasperation saying, “I can’t believe they’ve done it again!! What’s their problem!?!? They made their bed, now they’ve got to sleep in it.” We are not to quarrel or be argumentative either.
Instead our manner is to be kind, humble and patient. This means instead of arguing or persuading from a position of moral superiority, we are to restore and instruct from a position of weakness and understanding. After all, who of us possesses the “moral high ground” from which to teach others? We have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We all struggle and will continue to struggle. Our authority and strength comes not in our own self-morality but the imputed righteousness of Christ.
This leads us to the message. The goal of restoring and instructing fellow strugglers is, as Paul says, “that God will grant them repentance leading them to … truth.” The message that we take to our own hearts first and then to the hearts of others is the Gospel truth. Jesus’ kindness opens our hearts to receiving the hard news about ourselves, leads us to repentance, and enables us to believe the truth that He came to die for us sinners.
Both the manner and the message are vitally important and inextricably linked. Paul tells us that both are necessary in restoring and instructing each other. You see, the message of truth can be lost in our manner. If we are harsh or judgmental, we can’t effectively communicate the truth. Quarrelling and bickering obscure the true message. Our manner can also hide the truth. In the name of peace-keeping and kindness, we can be non-confrontational and fail to teach the truth. That’s why Paul says that we should “speak the truth in love so that we will in all things grow up” (Ephesians 4:15). Gospel-sharing is both the manner and the message.
The story of Walnut Creek is the story of the Gospel-message and the Gospel-manner. We have been and will be faithfully committed to helping each other “grow in the grace [manner] and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ [message].”
God has positioned us all around folks to gently restore and gently instruct. To whom is God calling you to take the Gospel-message adorned in the Gospel-manner? Who are we to tell others? We are adopted heirs of Christ who bestowed all of his authority upon us to go to the nations… Therefore go.
The Apostles Paul and Peter exhort us believers to make hospitality a normal practice of life. “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13). “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
Interestingly, the Greek word for hospitality literally means, “love of strangers or guests.” The book of III John is a thank you letter from the Apostle John to his dear friend and Christian brother, Gaius. John thanks Gaius for showing hospitality to strangers in need – traveling missionaries who needed help.
Hospitality gets confused with entertainment. Karen Mains made the following differentiation between hospitality and entertainment in her book, Open Heart, Open Home.
Entertaining says, “I want to impress you with my home, my clever decorating, my cooking.”
Hospitality, seeking to minister, says, “This home, this apartment, is a gift from my Master. I use it as He desires.” Hospitality aims to serve.
Entertaining puts things before people. “As soon as I get the house finished, the living room decorated, my housecleaning done – then I will start inviting people.”
Hospitality puts people first. “No furniture – we’ll eat on the floor!” “The decorating may never get done – you come anyway.” “The house is a mess – but you are friends – come home with us.”
Entertaining subtly declares, “This home is mine, an expression of my personality. Look, please, and admire.”
Hospitality whispers, “What is mine is yours.”
Practicing hospitality puts people before things with the motivation, “I don’t want to impress you but I want to serve you.” Entertaining puts things before people with the underlying message, “I want to impress you with my beautiful home, clever decorating, and my gourmet cooking.”
With the focus on the guests, hospitality does everything with no thought of reward, but takes pleasure in the joy of giving, doing, loving, serving. With the focus on the hosts, entertaining looks for payment; words of praise, return invitation, esteem in eyes of friends and neighbors.
With the confusion between hospitality and entertainment, it’s easy to see what a burden entertaining can be. On the other hand, there is great freedom in inviting folks over to experience life as you normally live it. It’s real; it’s relaxed; it’s liberating. “Come on over & eat dinner with us. We were planning on Beanie Weenies and Mac ‘n Cheese. We have plenty for everyone.”
To whom can you practice hospitality? What are the ways you can imagine us showing hospitality – “love of strangers and guests” – at WCPC… at work… in your neighborhood?