At Russell Road Church we celebrate Advent every year. The Advent season begins the last Sunday of November and continues through Christmas Eve. One of the ways we celebrate Advent in our worship services is that we ask someone who has demonstrated spiritual growth to light a candle and read a scripture and then give a testimony of their new life in Christ. It is always exciting to hear how God has changed people’s lives through their new birth experience (born again experience, John 3:3) and to hear what God is going in their life now as they continue on their faith journey.
In Romans 10:17 it says that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Advent simply means to come or coming. It is the season leading up to the birth of Christ (Christmas). His first coming, Advent, is the season and time of preparation that calls our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and to the anniversary of our Lord’s birth on Christmas. Advent is not about speculation. The scripture readings during Advent call us to be alert and ready, not weighted down by sin and distracted by the cares of this world (Luke 21:34-36).
In Matthew 24:3 the disciples asked Jesus what would be the sign of His coming (Advent) and of the end of the age. Matthew 24:4-8 says, “And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for [a]all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” The word sorrows means birth pangs. Isaiah 53:4 says that Jesus has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. The sorrows represent adversity, trials and tribulations that we face now. Count it all joy when you fall into various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. Patience is the first attribute of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4. This is the agape love (God’s love). This is not predicated on our understanding of love, but on God’s love which is unconditional.
1 John 4:8 says God is love, love is who He is. Supernatural love. Super=above the natural. Our love is based on our nature, the natural. His love is based on the supernatural, the spiritual. But it must be developed. God assists us in that development through difficulty, hardship, pain, adversity and trials. As we go through these hard times we begin to depend on Him more and more, and He helps us pass the test that produces His love in us. This is why it is so vital that we grow in our faith. Faith is key in the Christian life. The sinner is saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). The believer must walk by faith (1 Corinthians 5:7). It is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and whatever we do apart from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). In Galatians 5:6 it says faith works through love (agape, supernatural love). As we grow in our faith and the love of God, we are able to forgive and give grace and mercy to others we weren’t able to give before. As we grow in our faith, God is introducing you to a you that you haven’t met yet. A more loving you, a more gracious you, a more secure you, a more merciful you, a more giving you, a more understanding you. This is the you God created you to be. This is the you that will not get offended or take an offense, but will always forgive others no matter what the abuse, lie, hurt, pain or betrayal that has come to you. Because God has shown you the truth about who you are, that frees you with solutions and answers (the truth) that will help others in this world.
In Matthew 24:10 it says, “And then many will be offended, will betray one another and will hate one another.” The word offense in this verse means the place on a trap where the bait is placed. The offense is the word scandalyon, which refers to a trap orchestrated by the devil. So when someone offends you it is not the person it is really the devil-the enemy of your soul. Tthe Bible tells us we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood. Because you are continuing to grow in your faith, you will not take the bait of offense to get you to hate and betray others because you will respond with God’s supernatural love, not yours, and you will receive direction from God how to handle the offenses by loving the offenders and giving them mercy that will protect you from being offended. You can’t have hatred and God’s love in your heart at the same time. 1 John 2:5 says “But whoever keeps my word, truly the love of God is being perfected in Him.” His direction always gives us protection, but when we don’t get His direction we forfeit His protection. Paul prayed that our love would abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment. Philippians 1:9-10 “That you may approve (pass the test) the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.”
In Mathew 24:12 it says “Because lawlessness will abound the love of many will grow cold.” We see this on the news and in the world around us. Lawlessness is all the more reason we need to keep our faith working through the love of God and continue to grow in our faith. Jude 1:20 says, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep guard, shield and protect yourselves in the love of God.” Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ let’s stay in the faith and keep our love working as we celebrate this Christmas and the Advent season of His second coming. Merry Christmas!
The writer is the senior pastor at Russell Road Church, Sidney.