Some thoughts on Advent (and a free resource!)

Recently, I’ve been thinking about advent and speaking to a couple of different groups about it. I’ve been reminded that although we think of it as something we get ready for over 24 days in December the first Christmas took a lot longer than that to prepare for. Here’s just a tiny selection of the evidence: Micah wrote that a ruler would come from Bethlehem 700 years ahead (5:2); David saw the Messiah’s suffering 1000 years before it occurred (Ps 22); the pagan prophet Balaam spoke better than he knew, of a star and sceptre rising from Israel (Num 24:17); Jacob spoke of a ruler from Judah’s line whom all the nations would obey (Gen 49:10); and in the garden where it all went so wrong, the sovereign God showed his indefatigable love by promising a serpent-crusher to end the curse (Gen 3:15). And we haven’t even mentioned Isaiah! The first Christmas was all-of-human-history in the making.

Why so long? Well one reason, surely, is that it takes so very long for us to realise that we can’t save ourselves and that we need someone to come from outside and do it for us. The Old Testament is full of promising starts followed by many disappointing or even disastrous failures and all of it points ahead to the one we have always needed. The one who was coming would meet our needs precisely. And so we need to get ready in order to truly experience the joy that Christmas offers us.

But even if we only have a few weeks to prepare, one of the contemporary world’s great pastor-scholars, John Piper, has written an advent devotional to help us prepare our hearts with the help of the one who planned and brought about that first Christmas. The hard copy is available for £4.99 from various places but you can also get it as a free download from this link which will also take you to the rich resources of Desiring God Ministries, founded by Piper. To whet your appetite, which always helps as we are often slow to recognise our own need, here’s something from the preface:

‘Twice [the apostle Peter] told his readers why he was writing to them. In the first chapter he said, “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Pet. 1:13). Then, in the last chapter, he said it again: “I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (2 Pet. 3:1)…

…What you and I need is usually not a brand-new teaching. Brand-new truths are probably not truths. What we need are reminders about the greatness of the old truths. We need someone to say an old truth in a fresh way. Or sometimes, just to say it. What Peter really means, and what I mean, by being “awakened” or “stirred up” is to feel some measure of the joy God intends for Christmas to bring. “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). Not small joy. Not modest joy. But “great joy”. If we don’t feel this when we ponder the incarnation of the Son of God, we need awakening.” We need to be “stirred up”. I have called Christmas—and this little book—“the dawning of indestructible joy” because the joy Jesus was bringing into the world was like no other kind in history. Once we have it, it cannot be destroyed. Jesus said, “No one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).’

Let’s use this wonderful free resource to help us prepare ourselves. It’s not just for the children, or to get our economy back on track – Christmas was and is, in the words of John Piper, ‘the dawning of indestructible joy’ for you and me – ‘good news that will cause great joy for all the people’ (Luke 2:10).

Al MacInnes