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Over the course of the next several weeks leading up to Christmas, we are going to offer a series of weekly posts to tell again the story of the birth of Christ, and we’re going to offer them as a sort of a “Virtual Advent Wreath.” If you are unfamiliar with Advent Wreaths, here’s a short description of what they mean and how to make one of your own.
As a kid, I marked time by its proximity to Christmas. I had good reason for measuring time this way. With the cold and often snowy Indiana winters of my youth, together with the warm home my parents created for us, the Christmas I knew was everything a little kid could want it to be. It was never overrated.
Two things were at work in the mind of this little boy as the big day drew near—memory and anticipation. It was so exhilarating to watch the space beneath the tree begin to fill up with gifts bearing my name—treasures of incalculable worth. I would shake them, listen to them, smell them and contemplate their heft. It almost didn’t matter what they were. They were for me. Their presence alone was intoxicating.
With impressions like these securely fixed and coupled with the overall sense that each holiday season tended to be better than the one before, by the time Christmas Eve rolled around my memories and anticipation played off of one another with a greater potency than a stout cup of coffee coursing through the veins of this ten year old boy attempting to comply with his orders to go to sleep.
This, in itself, is a memory that warms my heart even now.
What is Christmas if not a holiday built upon memory and anticipation? It is a day we celebrate by remembering something that really happened—the first coming of Jesus Christ, born meek and lowly as a humble king wrapped in swaddling clothes all those years ago.
It is also a day to anticipate something we’re still waiting for—Jesus’ return in power as a mighty King with the words “Lord of Lords” illuminating His blazing robe. (Rev 19:16)
We live between these two advents—Jesus’ first and second coming. The word “advent” comes from a Latin root meaning “coming to.” The first advent has already happened. Jesus came to earth in the form of a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem. The second advent we’re still waiting for. This is where Christians today live—between the already and the not yet.
Through the centuries, Christians have remembered His first coming to earth to be our Immanuel (meaning “God with Us”) and anticipated His return by taking time in the weeks leading up to Christmas day to observe a season of remembering and anticipation, which we call “Advent.”
The aim of the series of the posts for this virtual Advent Wreath is to guide you through an observance of this season of remembering and anticipating the coming of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ.
Here, we’ll remember the story of how before Jesus’ birth, God’s people longed for His forgiveness in order that they might be restored to a right relationship with Him. God’s promised remedy was that He would send them a Savior.
We’ll remember their anticipation from the vantage point of seeing how and, more importantly, Who God provided to fulfill that covenant. And we’ll remember the story of Jesus’ birth and the events surrounding it—that true tall tale of the coming of Christ.
We’ll also look ahead to Jesus’ return—an event inseparably joined to His birth in Bethlehem. The reason He came in the first place, taking on flesh and blood, was to offer up that body on the cross in order to die in the place of the sinners He came to save. When He rose from the grave on Easter morning, He defeated the power of sin and death.
However, although His work on the cross was perfect and complete in accomplishing our salvation, the world in which we live is one that is still very broken and filled with sickness, disaster and many other kinds of suffering and sadness.
Christmas is a perfect time not only to remember the longing of those who awaited Christ’s first coming, but to yearn ourselves for His return when all shall be made well. We live between two advents, between what we remember and what we anticipate. We are in the middle of an unfolding story filled with harrowing journeys, murderous rulers, shepherds conversing with angels, wise nomads coming from the east and apostles sailing to the west.
Somehow, by the preserving grace of God, the story of this baby boy born in that stable outside the streets of David’s town has found its way across oceans and centuries to you, right here, right now.
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).