A Chapter Closes in Advent at Bethlehem

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Some traditions are temporary—like a quarter of a century. This one lasted 27 years. I am referring to the reading of Advent Poems at Bethlehem during Sunday Morning worship. I read the first one in 1982. Then I wrote four each year for about 23 years. Then, for about three years, I wrote three new ones, and read one recycled poem. Then last year, I wrote none, and I read only old poems.

This year we will replace the Advent Poems with Advent Scriptures. They will lead into the lighting of the Advent Candles. The growing brightness of one new candle each Sunday signifies the approach of the Light of the world. The Scriptures point forward to him.

I consulted with the Elders about this decision over a year ago and have been communicating with the worship leaders more recently. They were gracious to express their thanks for the poems and were ready, at my request, that we make a change. In fact, the whole church has been gracious to receive these Advent gifts that I loved to give.

Some urged me not to make any final decision about the future but to take it a year at a time. I am okay with that. We will see. But for now, I see those years of writing and reading as very good, and in the long run unsustainable. Some things have changed.

  • I don’t recover from sleeplessness as fast as I used to. And the night hours were often the only ones left to harvest for the investment.
  • The poems were a little bit like giving birth (not to minimize the sacrifices of all you wonderful moms!), and I need more time at this age to bring such babies to the light of day.
  • I have always felt bad that the poems preempted some Christmas singing and a fuller sermon. They took about 15 minutes out of those elements of our corporate worship. I was happy to say to the worship leaders: Here is an extra ten minutes this year to lead us into a fuller range of Advent music.

Advent refers to the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and it begins this year on the weekend after Thanksgiving. It is a season of growing expectation. We hope that our focus at Bethlehem will help you focus on Christ.

One of the central truths of the Bible, and of the Christian faith, is that Jesus Christ came into the world from outside this world. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). He was sent by his Father. “The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).

Once the Son had no body and was not a human being. He was only God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). But then he came. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Now, he is not God only, but also man. In one Person, there are mysteriously two natures, divine and human. “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). And he never ceases to be both man and God. Therefore, one could say, humanity has been drawn into closest proximity to the Godhead. He is coming back to give us a body not like he had, but like he has: “He will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21).

The reason he came was mainly to die that we might be freed from the power and penalty of sin. He shared “in flesh and blood . . . that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14–15).

In Advent, we focus or hearts and minds increasingly on this “God-like miracle of love.” “In this is love . . . that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

As we read the Advent Scriptures and light the candles, rivet your mind on these great things—on this Great Savior.

Growing in expectation with you,

Pastor John