When does the season feel like Christmas? Is when the decorations are hung, carols are playing, the shopping centres are full, the air turns crisp (or hot and humid, in the case of Australia), and when all the media is filled with festive ads? Or is it when we make a deliberate attempt to mark the season by turning our focus to the reason for all these celebrations?
Marking the Advent season is a great way for Christians to be intentional in their celebration of Christmas. Advent means “the arrival of someone important”, and for Christians, we celebrate the arrival of the King, Jesus the Christ, God’s Son incarnate. But this is not simply a look back in history to the first coming of Christ; for Christians today, we live expectant of Christ’s second coming.
If we want to be purposeful about valuing the gift of God’s Son at Christmas, we should mark the season. So for our last episode of 2022, CCL Director Chase Kuhn shares short devotion from an advent devotional he is currently writing. Our hope is that this short study on Luke 1 will help you better appreciate Christ this Christmas.
Links referred to:
- Podcast episode 048: Traditions, Christmas and thoughtful Christian living with Amy Kuhn
- Our 2023 event program:
- “Is love really all you need?” with Dr Chase Kuhn (Wed 15 March)
- “The glory of humility” with Professor David VanDrunen (Wed 7 Jun, 5-6pm)
- “Virtue in an age of virtue signalling” with Professor David VanDrunen (Wed 7 Jun, 7:30-9:30pm)
- “Self-control in an age of self-actualisation” with Dr David Höhne (Wed 30 Aug, 7:30-9:30pm
- “The power and pain of perseverance” with Dr Mark Thompson (Wed 18 Oct, 7:30-9:30pm)
- Support the work of the Centre
Runtime: 14:59 min.
Please note: This transcript has been edited for readability.
Chase Kuhn: We mark important things on our calendars so that we don’t miss them. This is a way of committing to an event and being deliberate. In theory, we say, “This is too important to let other things get in the way.” Marking the Advent season is a great way for Christians to be deliberate in their celebration of Christmas.
What is Advent? The word means “the arrival of someone important”. For Christians, we celebrate the arrival of the King, Jesus the Christ, God’s Son incarnate. But this is not simply a look back in history to the first coming of Christ. For Christians today, we live expectant of Christ’s second coming. Both events are interconnected in their importance and achievement. The first signalled the inauguration of the Kingdom; the second will bring the consummation of the Kingdom.
My wife and I have had to work really hard to think about Christmas as we’ve moved around the world. Early in our lives, the feeling of Christmas began when decorations were hung, when music came on, when the air got crisp, and when the advertisements on TV told us what shopping season it was. But this has all been confused with the change of moving from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere. Suddenly it’s strange to sing “Frosty the snowman” or “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” in the middle of summer. Likewise, Santa in a vintage snowsuit is suddenly surfing Santa, which apparently is his favourite hobby, afforded by all the help he has in his workshop. With the change in all the familiar cultural cues, we’ve been left wondering how to capture that feeling. How do you celebrate Christmas when it doesn’t feel like Christmas anymore?
This change really signalled to us that much of what we had associated with Christmas time had little to do with Christmas at all. In fact, so much of it drove us to think about spending money. What did we need so we could decorate and get the feeling right? What did we need to buy to cover our list of gifts for others? What did we want on our Christmas list? Moving internationally, we thought we might be freed from these sorts of distractions, but this has not been the case. Just because we’re in a different place doesn’t mean we don’t suffer the same distractions. In fact, as much as we look back on American consumerism colouring our holiday experience, now we find the busyness of Australian social habits squeezing out meaningful reflection on the season.
The point is that if we want to be intentional about appreciating the gift of God’s Son—especially at Christmas—then we should mark the season. So today, for our last CCL podcast of 2022, I’d like to share a short devotion from an advent devotional I’m currently writing. My hope is that this short study will help you better appreciate Christ this Christmas.
CK: Hello and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living Podcast. My name is Chase Kuhn, and I’m coming to you from Moore College in Sydney, Australia. On today’s episode, I’m going to break form from hosting a guest for a conversation, and instead offer a short reflection on a Bible passage in the lead-up to Christmas.
The text I want to focus on is not directly associated with Jesus’s birth, but instead his cousin John. John was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah. The words I’m going to read to you come from Luke 1:67-79, when Zechariah prophesied at the birth of his son John. Zechariah had not been able to speak during the whole pregnancy, because he did not believe an angel who foretold of his son’s birth. When he finally could speak, filled with the Holy Spirit, this is what he said:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
This is the word of the Lord.
Being lost is a terrible feeling familiar to many. We might recall a time when we may have been separated from our parents as a young child, be it at a theme park or the supermarket. As a child, you feel a sensation of panic. Perhaps this is a feeling that’s only rivalled by the parent!
Of course, not every child knows that they’re lost, and sometimes they wander aimlessly down the aisles or through the crowd. But suddenly the child hears a beckoning call: it’s their parent or a helper calling out their name, and the sound rings out like a light through darkness, giving guidance to safety.
This is was the ministry of John was like.
John was born to an old couple. Zechariah, when he was told of the pregnancy, wonders how it could be. He calls himself an old man, and then politely says of his wife, “[She] is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18). The Lord had worked miraculously to give life to John, raising him up for a very particular purpose: he would be the herald who would come before the coming king.
As a herald—indeed, a prophet—the Lord had given John his Holy Spirit (1:14-18, 80). It cannot be overstated how significant this is: John was the God-ordained “preparer” for the ministry of Jesus, the Messiah of God. With the arrival of John, the people of God had been given a signal, like a flare shot into the sky on a dark night: the salvation that God had promised with his coming King was now in motion. The time had come.
Zechariah sees the sign and understands what’s happening, so in this passage, he offers Spirit-filled prophetic praise. The essence of what Zechariah declares is that God has been faithful to his promises in raising up a saviour. Why does Zechariah, the father of John, declare praises to God for Jesus? Because he sees that his son is the signal that the Messiah has come. God really is saving his people. Zechariah’s son John will have the privileged ministry of preparing the way of the Lord.
One feature of Zechariah’s praise is worth focusing on. Amid declaring God’s faithfulness to his prophecies and promises, we’re told of the purpose for redemption:
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. (1:74-75)
To press the metaphor from earlier of being lost, now we see the forest from the trees. We’ve been wandering in the woods and groping in the dark, but now the light has shone. The path that is illumined through the woods is the path of life. True life, full and rich, is lived in devotion and service to God. True life is walking in his ways.
The declaration of the purpose for redemption rebukes us, or at least it rebukes me. Our culture has taught us a great deal about life and how it, presumably, is oriented. All that is around us is meant to serve us. We’re consumers. Marketing teams have strategically sold us on the notion that life is about our choice and desires. Everything should be catered to our preferences. So it seems natural that when it comes to faith, we could be fooled into thinking that salvation is the same—that we are redeemed because it’s what we want and need. This is, of course, true to a degree: we do need it and we should want it. But why? To what end?
This is where we can be derailed. Redemption is not unto us and our preferences. Let me illustrate this misunderstanding with a bad model from my own life when I was starting out in ministry. On a Saturday afternoon, I made a house call to a family who had visited our church with the aim of sharing the gospel with them. The family was made up of a single mother with three young boys. They were poor, living in a very small one-bedroom unit. I sat down with the second child, who was about nine years old at the time. When attempting to share the gospel with him, I asked him, “What do you like to do?”
“Play soccer,” he replied.
“How would you like to play soccer forever on the most beautiful fields of grass?” I asked him.
“Oh, that would be the best!” he said.
“Then you should trust Jesus. If you trust him for the forgiveness of your sins, you’ll be with him forever in heaven where you’ll be able to enjoy the most perfect fields of grass and play soccer all the time.”
“Okay. I’ll trust him,” he said.
It was one of the most regrettable moments in my life in ministry. As I had shared with the young boy, I had explained the basics of the gospel: that we’re sinners in need of a saviour; that God’s Son had come to live, die and rise for our salvation; and that the only way to be saved was to have faith in him. The trouble was not the mechanics of this message, but the end that I told him that they were for: I’d sold him himself as the goal of his salvation. I told him that this new life was all about him. But nothing could be worse!
Zechariah prophetically helps us see that salvation isn’t about the service of our desires, but about us serving the Lord our God. In fact, this liberates us from our depraved desires and sets us on a better course.
As we look to the arrival of Christ and the signal that John served to this coming, we’re given a helpful point of direction. Where we’ve been lost is where we’ve “followed too much the schemes and desires of our own hearts,” as the Prayer Book puts it.1 So the very essence of our lostness is that we’ve been guided by our own compass.
But the Lord, in saving us, sets us free by showing us true north, as it were. As we look on to the preparation of the Lord’s coming, we see that he sets the agenda, he guides us on the path, and he is the destination. We are wonderfully saved to serve the Lord without fear in holiness and righteousness all our days.
I hope, this Christmas, that you’ll be able to marvel at the wonderful gift of Jesus. Be filled with joy and wonder again, just as Zechariah was—that in Christ, we’re given salvation, the forgiveness of our sins, so that we can now be guided in the way of peace.
CK: As we look on to 2023, I hope you’ll plan to be part of what we’re doing at the Centre for Christian Living. Our podcast will resume after a short Australian summer break.
We also have an exciting live events series planned considering virtue. We’ll be looking at love, humility, true virtue over against virtue-signalling, self-control and perseverance. You won’t want to miss out on what we have in store. Please be sure to sign up for enews, follow us on social media, subscribe to our podcast, and register for our events. And please pray for our work: we’re passionate about helping people to follow after Christ faithfully in this wonderful and complex life that we get to live.
CK: To benefit from more resources from the Centre for Christian Living, please visit ccl.moore.edu.au, where you’ll find a host of resources, including past podcast episodes, videos from our live events and articles published through the Centre. We’d love for you to subscribe to our podcast and for you to leave us a review so more people can discover our resources.
On our website, we also have an opportunity for you to make a tax deductible donation to support the ongoing work of the Centre.
We always benefit from receiving questions and feedback from our listeners, so if you’d like to get in touch, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, I would like to thank Moore College for its support of the Centre for Christian Living, and to thank to my assistant, Karen Beilharz, for her work in editing and transcribing the episodes. The music for our podcast was generously provided by James West.
1 Anglican Church of Australia Trust Corporation, “Morning and Evening Prayer: First form” in An Australian Prayer Book (Broughton: Mulgrave, 1978), 20.
Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.