When I was thinking about Advent this year and getting my heart in the right place for Christmas, I started to feel overwhelmed. I know many of us feel the same.
Sometimes we feel like we should be doing a special daily advent devotional, alongside devotions or Christmas crafts for our children, then there’s all the extra things that happen in December – school concerts, Christmas parties, Christmas light switch ons, carol services, family get togethers – and that’s before you start thinking about Christmas Day itself and buying the presents and food.
We all know that this isn’t what Christmas is really about. We are excited to spend Advent focusing on Jesus’s coming. And yet we feel overwhelmed at how we can do this.
This is a simple, short four week series that should only take fifteen minutes at one point in each week. I thought about doing something a little different – sometimes devotions can be so samey – and have based the series on four Christmas hymns.
By listening to the music, looking at the passages of scripture behind them and thinking about how we might respond, I’m hoping that we won’t only benefit from that time but we’ll listen to the piece of music again as we go about our week and the words and truths will soak further into our hearts.
Week one – Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
Listen to the hymn: This version is on Chris Tomlin’s album, sung by Christy Nockels https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAGE1Es8IPs I grew up Methodist so I’m built to appreciate the Wesleyan hymns before I even delve into them, in fact I actually struggle to sing ‘Methodist’ hymns in our Presbyterian church as I can only sing the alto lines! I do miss church worship regularly involving hymn singing in parts.
Read the lyrics:
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
Reflection: The first verse of Come Thou Long Expected Jesus is based on Haggai 2 v 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty. (NIV)
The hymn reflects on this longing of the Israelites for their Messiah and yet it goes beyond that first coming, as we also long for Jesus – both His presence in our lives daily and our hope in His return again. At Christmas we don’t just look back at the first coming of Jesus, every day we look afresh at Him and the joy and peace He brings to our everyday.
I’m always fascinated by what the Jewish people were expecting in the promised Messiah. They were primarily looking for a political leader, a King in earthly terms, to rule over them and restore their nation. Sometimes I wonder if we do the same with Jesus, hoping that He will be able to help with one area of our lives but not welcoming Him into it all. Or perhaps we focus too much on the physical needs we have and not our spiritual needs.
Can you say that Jesus is the central longing of your heart as we come into this festive season? Pray that He would be. All around us we see people in pursuit of selfish ambitions, a focus on parties, on presents or food in this season. Let’s not lose our focus and longing for more of Jesus in our lives.
And did you notice that line ‘let us find our rest in Thee’? How often we feel like need to just keep saying yes, turning up to every event we get an invite to, ensuring our kids have as many Christmas experiences as possible, exhausting ourselves and making it even more difficult to get ready for Christmas.
That’s not what it’s about. Let’s not make more work for ourselves. Rest as much as you can. Have lazy days at home. If the children get sick, see it as an opportunity to slow down not a disruption to all your plans.
Have you looked to Jesus for your rest before this Advent season gets started?
Is there stuff in the diary you should be saying no to?
The second verse is a prayer, building on the expectations of that first Christmas and how it should impact on our lives. Maybe we could use it to reflect this week on how we need to have Jesus rule in our hearts. And let’s not miss the fact we don’t need to worry about our own ability to deserve Him. I always love the words of the Prayer of Humble Access in communion services, where we acknowledge we are not worthy to so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table and that we come to this table, trusting in your mercy and not in any goodness of our own.
There is no pressure on us to create the perfect Advent and Christmas experience for ourselves or for our children.
We don’t earn Jesus at Christmas any more than we do throughout the rest of the year.
Step outside the crazy, take some time to be still and reflect on the fact Jesus came to show us how to live, to point us to God and to deliver us eternally.
Come back next week to take a look together at Mary Did You Know?