Welcome to the season of Advent! Or, well, week three of advent. This is the time of year that we celebrate the coming of our Lord, Jesus the Messiah of the Jews, God in Flesh, to dwell as a human among us.
I love this season. I love the Christmas hymns (Hark the Herald Angels Sing is my favorite), I love the with family, the good food and conversation, and this year I love watching my almost-three-year-old explode with excitement about all the Christmas trimmings and presents to come. Like many Christians, I’m concerned about the commercialism and focus on materialism that our modern culture has around Christmas.
I only started celebrating the advent season a few years ago, but the focus has helped me to orient myself on Jesus, his first coming, and his second coming. Amid some general links as I usually do, I have included some Advent and Christmas-themed links. Our first one, below, is a great way to start thinking about advent, the historic traditions around it, and how you can incorporate it into your family (even if it's a family of one!) life.
Family Focus 🏡
For looking back:
In fact, God revealed to them that they were not the ones who would see the sufferings and glory of God’s Christ. “They were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Pet. 1:12). They were serving us. We Christians on this side of Jesus’ birth are a God-blessed, happy people because we know God’s plan. The centuries of waiting are over. We have the greatest reason to celebrate.
And for looking forward:
And yet we are still waiting. Our spiritual redemption came to us with the baby of Bethlehem. Nonetheless, as Romans 8 says, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). There is suffering and tragedy still, even for Christians. Someone we love is dying. We may be in pain. Sometimes we have trouble believing God’s promises. In other words, our redemption is not complete. We are waiting for the redemption of our bodies—waiting for Jesus’ second advent, for him to come again.
Advent isn’t about just one or the other, but both:
So here we stand in the middle. Advent is a season of looking back, thinking how it must have been, waiting for the promised salvation of God, not knowing what to expect. And at the same time, Advent is a season of looking ahead, preparing ourselves to meet Jesus at his Second Coming.
She goes deeper into how traditional advent traditions, like advent candles and calendars, point us back and point us forward.
Living This Christian Life 🤴👸
I have the same personality type as Pastor John (he discusses it in this episode) and many of the same effects upon his life I see in my life. Perfectionism, a love of excellence, can drive one to do well in service for the Lord, but it can also drive one to criticize the perceived failures of others to do so. This can lead to dangerous pride.
If perfectionism or a critical spirit is something you have struggled with, I really recommend listening with an open heart.
Christianity Is True ✝️
Skeptical critics love to target the birth narratives found in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew's theological agenda is evident in his constant attempt to connect Jesus to some type of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew is very clearly concerned to show that Jesus' birth and early childhood is a fulfillment of the prophets. And he does it in some very weird ways.
Take for instance Hosea 11:1, which reads “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt, I called my son.” Matthew takes that to refer to Jesus’ return from Egypt after King Herod’s death. The holy family was hiding there after Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. Speaking of which...Matthew applies a prophecy to that event, too.
Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15, which reads: “Thus says the Lord: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children because they are no more.”
The skeptical theory says that Matthew knew his Old Testament prophecies and was bent on proof-texting people to death to show that Jesus was really the Messiah. To do that, he invented stories to fit the prophecies. We don't have to let critics ruin your Christmas.
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Listen and Learn 🎧
I’ve linked to the C.S. Lewis podcast before (Issue #20), but I wanted to point to it again because I’m really enjoying the new season. Season 3 is walking through the Chronicles of Narnia books one by one. I’ve read the books numerous times and love them, so I’m really enjoying the questions being asked.
Read and Reflect 📖
Ironically, it’s Christians who can become Ebenezer Scrooges at Christmas, saying “Bah” to all the spiritual forgetfulness in the culture. But here is my question: What if the world will always be forgetful of the reason for the season? And what if God intends a group of people to remind them—not with annoyance but with joy?
I think of the traditional Jewish Passover. Every year the youngest member of the household asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The youngster is not then blasted by his elders for such spiritual ignorance. It’s written into the holiday. The question needs to be asked and the answer needs to be given — an answer that tells of the saving love of God. There’s a season and there’s a reason. It’s expected that the season needs explaining. And it’s a privilege to give the reason.
This is how I feel about a world forgetful of Christ at Christmas. The forgetful are like that Jewish youngster asking, “Why is this holiday different from all other holidays?” I’m not surprised when people miss the meaning of Christmas. Instead, I’m prepared with a gift: a book about Christmas.
He recommends several in the article, which I have also linked to below (each is less than $5). He also gives five reasons for giving a Christmas book to an unbeliever. This isn’t something I’ve done before, and I think it would have to happen in the context of an established relationship and done with care.
- The Gift: What if Christmas Gave You What You've Always Wanted? | Glen Scrivener 📚 (Affiliate Link)
- The Case for Christmas: A Journalist Investigates the Identity of the Child in the Manger | Lee Strobel 📚 (Affiliate Link)
- Is Christmas Unbelievable? Four Questions Everyone Should Ask About the World's Most Famous Story | Rebecca McLaughlin 📚 (Affiliate Link)
Consider Another Perspective 🤔
Was There a Historical Adam? with William Lane Craig and Joshua Swamidass | Unbelievable? With Justin Brierley 📽 →
A preface: the answer that both guests give here is a “yes.” But the way they answer “yes” is a bit different. Both guests are Christians and they join host Justin Brierley to discuss William Lane Craig’s new book In Quest of the Historical Adam (linked below). Craig is a theologian and philosopher who theorizes that Adam probably lived in the remote past several hundred thousand years ago.
Swamidass is a computational biologist who also has a recent book that places Adam 6000 years ago, but with a twist. Swamidass’ hypothesis is that Adam and Eve could be the genealogical ancestors of all current humanity, but by interbreeding with humans that existed outside the garden. In Swamidass’ hypothesis, humans evolved outside the garden, and these humans were not “made in the image of God.”
This leads to an interesting discussion between two Christians who hold many of the same scientific beliefs (for example, that the earth is many billions of years old) and try to reconcile the Biblical data about Adam and Eve in two very different ways. They discuss how Genesis 1-11 need to be interpreted to fit their beliefs and more.
Even if you disagree with them about their understandings of science and Biblical interpretation, I think this conversation will still be worthwhile. If you’re not sure where you land on these important but not central issues to Christianity, perhaps these two intelligent Christians can provide you with options to reconcile the Bible and science.
- In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration | William Lane Craig 📚 (Affiliate Link)
- The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry | S. Joshua Swamidass 📚 (Affiliate Link)
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
Josh Butler: Grappling with Violence in the Old Testament | Adherent Apologetics with Zac Sechler 🎧 →
There’s no doubt that questions around the Old Testament depictions of violence have circulated for millennia. A very early Christian named Marcion (80–160 A.D.) even claimed that the God who sent Jesus must be a completely different God than the evil Jewish God of the Old Testament.
He was denounced as a heretic and excommunicated from the church because Christians believe that Jewish scripture and Christian scripture are two dots on the same line, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament scripture, and that Jesus and the God of the Old Testament are one God.
But Marcion’s underlying difficulty in reconciling the God of the Hebrew scriptures’ call to violence and Jesus’ call to love our enemies. This is an incredibly complex topic, and Josh and Zac only scratch the surface of what can be said. I like Josh’s approach. I don’t think it tells the whole story, but I do think it makes a lot of sense.
- The Skeletons in God's Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War | Joshua Ryan Butler 📚 (Affiliate Link)
- Zac’s Youtube Interviews on Different Ways to Understand Old Testament Violence 📽
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him.
— Matthew 6:7-8 (CSB)