Why Advent demands missional living
The holiday season is one of the busiest times of year for most of us. The Christmas season is filled with many things. We go on vacations, buy gifts, decorate the house, visit loved ones, enjoy traditions, and plan big get-togethers. For many of us, the last thing we might think about is how we might live missionally during the holidays. Although 30% of all charitable giving happens in December and many churches do some kind of outward-facing event around the holidays (clothing drive, community meal, Christmas Eve service, etc.), many Christians struggle to live on mission during the Advent season. For many of us, Christmas is busy and is more about time with family and friends than those who don’t know Christ. Even when we make the time to set our gaze on Christ during Advent, it is more often an inward focus than an outward one. But is this how it ought to be?
The shepherds got it right
In Luke 2, we meet some shepherds, watching their flocks outside Bethlehem. When the angel appears and proclaims the joyful arrival of Jesus, they look at each other and say, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15). They went with haste and found Jesus and his parents. They adored the child. Then what did they do? They “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them” (Luke 2:20). The implication is that in the same way the angels came to them and told them about Jesus, they too went and told others about Jesus. All who heard were in wonder at their message (Luke 2:18).
This was their response: 1) They came and adored Jesus. 2) They went and told others about him. The angels never commanded that they go and tell others. They couldn’t help but do so because of the joy within them at Christ’s birth.
The purpose of Christ’s coming: to save a world in darkness
For Advent this year, our church is studying the picture of Christ as the light of God that came into the world. One of the things that became clear as we looked at this biblical picture (used often of Christ’s coming) was how missional it was. The very idea of “light” needing to come implies the presence of darkness. And we see a thread of mission weaving through the analogy of Christ’s coming as the light of the world.
Isaiah and the light of God’s salvation
In Isaiah 9, the people are walking in darkness and a great light comes as a child born that will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, saving his people from their darkness (Is. 9:2-7). In Isaiah 47 and 60, there is the promise of light that is coming to rescue the nations.
Simeon’s bold declaration of Christ’s mission
Simeon holds baby Jesus and declares that he has seen a “light” for the Gentiles and in this, he sees “God’s salvation” (Luke 2:29-32). The light of Jesus shone so that all might see it and be saved from their sin and rebellion.
Nicodemus, light, and darkness
In the famous exchange with Nichodemus, Jesus declares that God loved the world and sent his only Son to save it but the people loved their darkness rather than light (John 3:19-21). In John 8:12, Jesus calls himself the “light of the world” and those who have received the light of life will no longer walk in the darkness of their sin.
John the Baptist’s missional preparation
Zechariah prophecies over his son, John the Baptist as one who will give light to those in darkness and prepare the way for peace to come. In this, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 1:76-80). In chapter 3, the purpose of John’s ministry is emphasized again. The purpose of the coming light is salvation. Light has come to save us!
John’s glorious description of the incarnation
In John 1, we have the most in-depth gospel description of Jesus’ incarnation. Jesus is described as the divine Word, eternal creator, and bearer of life itself. And this life was the “light of men.” And to all who received this light, he gave the right to become children of God. This is the purpose of his coming, that people lost in sin would be saved from judgement and receive life and salvation.
You cannot separate Christ’s coming from his mission
Why did Jesus come to this earth? Was it to give us an example of righteousness? To teach us great moral truths? To bring people together? No, the heart of why Jesus came to this earth was the plan “before the ages began,” to “save us and call us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ… who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:8-10). The reason the angels told great news of great joy was because it was a “savior” who was born in the Bethlehem manger. The advent of Christ was, in many ways, a missions trip. Christ came because we were lost in the darkness of our sin with no hope. He came and brought light that sets us free. Christmas is all about the mission of God.
If Christ’s coming cannot be separated from his mission, then our celebration of his coming should not be separated from ours: to display and proclaim the glory of Christ.
Now, we are called the “light of the world.”
It boggles my mind when I consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 when he talks to his disciples. He tells them, “You are the light of the world… therefore, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14). In some way, as Christ’s body, we now radiate his light. We live out God’s light so that others might be saved from their darkness. We reflect the glory of God in the world and then plead with people to receive it. We have a glorious mission, like the shepherds, to come and adore our savior and then go tell others about him. We are now, in a sense, the incarnation of Christ in the world. If Christ’s coming cannot be separated from his mission, then our celebration of his coming should not be separated from ours: to display and proclaim the glory of Christ.
Live with missional intentionality this Advent season
I urge you to pray a challenging prayer this Advent season: “God, help me celebrate Christmas in such a way that others would come to know you.” Consider following the twofold example of the shepherds. First, come and adore Jesus. And then, go in joy and tell others to come and adore him too. For many of us, we barely make time to stop and adore our great Savior during the holidays. Perhaps you need to fight for rest and intentional times of communion with Jesus so that you can adore him with your whole heart. But also, consider how you might live with missional intentionality. That may mean inviting coworkers, neighbors, and friends into your family’s traditions and celebrations that magnify Jesus. That may mean taking time as a family to pray for those in your spheres of influence that are still walking in darkness, even on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. That may mean looking for opportunities over the next month to ask others what they think of Jesus or what Christmas means to them, as a way to share the light of Christ with them. Whatever it needs to look like, are we willing to live with missional intentionality this Christmas?
Do not allow this season to pass without taking time to come and adore Jesus. And do not allow this season to pass without going and inviting others to adore him too. This is why he came. And because he came, we go.