Advent Letter

December 4, 2017

 

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In the following Advent Letter, I develop this basic message in greater depth.

 

            We have entered the season of Advent. Advent turns our attention to the object of           our hope and settles us into the unfamiliar territory of waiting. The object of our               hope is not an event, a change, or an experience. It is these things, but far more.                   The object of our hope is a Person . . .

 

            Advent is waiting for a Person, THE Person. But how might we wait for the Lord in                 substance? How can waiting be more than a flicker of imagination? Let’s dig

            deeper . . .

 

            In the New Testament, waiting for the Lord is associated with moral and ethical                     change, a deep re-orientation in three specific areas. We know we are waiting for                 Jesus when we turn to him from our idols (1 Thess 1:9), when we purify ourselves

            (1 John 3:3), and when we become zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).

 

            . . I bring Hosea into the conversation to emphasize the point that we all know. The           greatest good is that God has entered our world, and he is Jesus, and he            desires to know us and be known by us. Advent is a blessed gift and                            opportunity to be renewed, restored, and deepened in our own love-relationship                  with Jesus. From that love comes the fire of purity and the zeal to do the good that              actually can change people, communities, and perhaps the land itself. 

Dear Friends, Beloved in the Lord,

 

We have entered the season of Advent. Advent turns our attention to the object of our hope and settles us into the unfamiliar territory of waiting. The object of our hope is not an event, a change, or an experience. It is these things, but far more. The object of our hope is a Person. In this season, we remember the waiting of the people of Israel for the Messiah, and we re-enter the wonder of the unexpected answer to that longing, Emmanuel. How can we ever exhaust the amazing fact of the Incarnation? Everything changed when God the Son came into our world to redeem us, reconcile us, and resurrect us to life through the Holy Spirit.

 

During this season, because of Jesus’ promises we also await his second Advent, when he comes in glory. The second Advent throws open the door to the inauguration of the New Creation. We will experience Christ face to face, and every other experience we have ever had, or will ever have, will move to the periphery of joy. We will see him as he is.

 

Advent is waiting for a Person, THE Person. But how might we wait for the Lord in substance? How can waiting be more than a flicker of imagination? Let’s dig deeper . . .

 

In the New Testament, waiting for the Lord is associated with moral and ethical change, a deep re-orientation in three specific areas. We know we are waiting for Jesus when we turn to him from our idols (1 Thess 1:9), when we purify ourselves (1 John 3:3), and when we become zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14). But let’s dig even deeper . . .

 

In Advent we reconnect with our Jewish roots. The spiritual leaders of the Jewish world, the priests, were to proclaim and teach the Law to the people that they might live as the people of God. Don’t underestimate that word, teach. In other ancient religions, the priests did all cultic work and the people mechanically paid for services rendered by the gods. There might be events that offered the worshipper an ecstatic experience (usually involving drunkenness and sex), but there was no effort to teach, instruct, or engage the mind, will, and heart. There was no Scripture to be learned, no Person to be known, and no life to be lived.

 

In contrast, we stand in the tradition that Yahweh initiated, where the heart of our faith involves a Person to be known and “truth that transforms.” So waiting in Advent means we dedicate attention to Jesus, seek to be with him, and learn more about who he is and what he has done. We turn from our idols (we all have them) toward a greater love, Jesus himself. Advent is a time to grow in intimacy with Jesus. It is a time that takes time.

 

I recently found myself doing what I am encouraging us all to do in Advent. Let me share my experience.  

 

I have been reading Hosea, aided by Derek Kidner’s wonderful commentary (the Bible Speaks Today series). My heart has stirred as I read about marital love played out in the passion of a husband determined to love a wife-turned-whore. “Go love a woman,” God commands the prophet, “Love her.” Find her. Seek her. Buy her back. Hold her accountable. Speak truth, and love her relentlessly, at whatever cost necessary. Hosea, (whose name is a form of Yeshua) embodies Jesus and translates the Gospel into an unforgettable story of grace.  

 

I’m simultaneously reading the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God.” From eternity, God is reaching out and communicating. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He came, He pursued us. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” As the old Gospel hymn says, “He loved me ‘ere I knew him. He sought me, and bought me.”

 

Here’s where the waiting comes . . . These truths are rich. If I am to understand more than I already know, I have to take time, let things settle. So I do. I read just a few verses from Hosea and John, and a few pages of Kidner, and then I sit, or maybe kneel, reflect, and pray. I cannot hurry. I take in less to enjoy more. Waiting for Jesus requires intention, effort, space, silence, and time.

 

Waiting for the Lord also calls for purification. We know we are waiting when we repent from specific sins in our lives. More than a facile regret, real repentance is visible, habitual, and measurable. It is imminently practical, productive. Take a moment: is there any actual sin you are turning from in this season? Any point of humble repentance and prayer?

 

John’s epistle, where purifying-while-waiting is stated so clearly (1 John 3:1-3), combines all ethical and moral questions into one: “Do we love God and love others?” Every call to holiness is a call to love, a call to set aside a lesser love so that we can take up the opportunity to love another.

 

Finally, Advent waiting is a time to consider the practical good works God calls us to do.

 

Our world has adopted a sort of “doing good” during the generic “holiday season.” Giving Tuesday jostles with Toys for Tots. Women gather in neighborhoods to enjoy a glass of wine, pool money, and decide together where to make a financial contribution – a food bank, a women’s shelter, the botanical garden, or the local library. Even eBay(!) sends me emails, encouraging me to join its charitable efforts.

 

Conceptually, all of this is good. God calls his people to bodacious generosity: care for the widow, the poor, the stranger and alien, the orphan, the vulnerable, and the needy. Titus 2:14 is one of eight times Paul calls Titus to teach God’s people to do good works in their communities in the reprobate island of 1st century Crete. So we have to ask: what’s different, if anything, between the Church and eBay, or the neighborhood giving group?

 

Certainly any good works we do must be godly good works. Titus 2:11-14 outlines a lead-up path for us to understand what good works might, or might not, be. Ponder the following:

  • The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation: The ultimate good is salvation through God’s work of grace in Jesus.  

  • Training us: We have to be taught and trained by Jesus, to learn what substantial godly goodness really is, and what it is not. NOTE: it is not tolerance at the cost of truth.

    • To renounce ungodliness and worldly passion: Personal desire and passion are untrustworthy guides for action, pretty much always the opposite of true good.

    • To live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives: Self-control, self-denial, and discipline? A weird way to define good – except that it is the truth.

    • To wait for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior: A heart devoted to Jesus (the Advent call) corrects our thoughts and reforms our understanding about how to live in every way, including “doing good.”

      • Who gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness: Godliness seems pretty important to Jesus: he gave his life to make it possible.

      • (Who gave himself in order) to purify for himself a people for his own possession: The greatest good is apparently a living and real connection to Jesus Christ.

 

I’m not suggesting that we say “repent, be saved, become a disciple, and turn from your wicked ways” every time we plop a scoop of mashed potatoes on a plate in the food line at the homeless shelter. But we better be clear on what “true good” ultimately means. There is no truer love than loving someone enough to pray, work, wait, talk, and sit with them, in the hope that they will come to know Jesus.

 

Here’s where Advent waiting comes full circle. Our own waiting in Advent is essentially a waiting for the Lord himself. Again, back to Hosea: in Chapter 4, God indicts his children, calling them to reality. The moral standards of the last half of the Ten Commandments have been thrown out the window (v. 2). The nation is full of lying, theft, profanity, sexuality, violence, and murder. The land itself suffers environmental disaster (v. 3). Bloodshed follows bloodshed. There is no common decency, no faithfulness, no loyalty. Sound familiar?

 

But the heart of the problem is none of the above. The problem is that “there is no knowledge of the God in the land” (v. 1). There is no love for the Lord: the people have forsaken him (v. 10) and fallen in love with unbridled, unbounded wine and sex, which “take away understanding.” The priests have failed to teach the people, and “a people without understanding shall come to ruin” (v. 14).

 

I bring Hosea into the conversation to emphasize the point that we all know. The greatest good is that God has entered our world, and he is Jesus, and he desires to know us and be known by us. Advent is a blessed gift and opportunity to be renewed, restored, and deepened in our own love-relationship with Jesus. From that love comes the fire of purity and the zeal to do the good that actually can change people, communities, and perhaps the land itself.

 

Waiting for the Blessed Hope,

 

 

 

Bishop Steve Breedlove

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