Pastors urge congregations to see the 'darkness,' 'waiting' of Christmas season
While many consider December a time of winter celebrations, presents and parties, some pastors are urging their congregations to focus on the "darkness" and the waiting of the Advent season.
As Advent celebrates the season of preparation for the Nativity of Christ at Christmas, it's often a time for pastors to preach on what the season should mean for followers of Christ.
Senior Pastor Jon Tyson of the Church of the City New York told his congregation in a recent sermon titled “There is a Darkness” that Advent should be a time to think deeply about suffering through the lens of Christ.
“There is a darkness. We're actually in the season of Advent. It's not Christmas yet. And Advent is the point in the church calendar that is actually about longing," Tyson preached on Dec. 4.
"It historically references the longing in Jesus’ first coming, the longing that people had between the Old Testament and the New Testament, almost 400 years. The Jewish community was pushed around by empires rising and falling and the whole time they're asking, ‘when will you show up, God?’”
He said Advent is "about the longing for the second coming of Jesus."
“That's what we're experiencing," he said. "'Lord, how long will injustice reign on the Earth? How long until You come and establish Your kingdom?' It's about longing. It's the tension of the now and the not yet.”
Christians, he said, are “in need of an honest diagnosis of the brokenness at the heart of the human condition," or else they "will only continue to bandage" their symptoms "without ever fully being healed," for they "do not have the strength, understanding or power within to fix [themselves].”
'Consider it joy'
Daniel Duce, pastor of discipleship at the Mission Church of San Antonio, Texas, shared in a Dec. 4 sermon that Advent should make Christians realize the sinful state of humanity.
The pastor said God calls Christians to have peace and joy while facing trials and that Christians should recognize that hard times will make them more complete in Christ.
“The peace of God is so much more than the absence of trial or stress or distress or anxiety," said Duce. "The peace of God is the ability to not only rejoice in it but to consider it a joy because we know the fruit that’s going to get produced in us and through us in the suffering."
Duce said that one way to celebrate Advent in a season of suffering is by growing in the Christian community while delving into deeper intimacy with Christ through discipleship.
“It sounds complicated, but it’s not. We need to grow in the Gospel. It ain't easy, it’s simple, [but] it ain’t easy. We grow in the Gospel; we do discipleship. That's why, as a church, it’s just what we do,” Duce said.
Christians need community through discipleship. Not just during the Advent season, but all the time, Duce said, noting that "we need to be reminded of the truths of the Gospel."
"We need to be reminded of who we are, who God is, who God really is as He reveals Himself to us in His Word and what He’s done. And we need others to sharpen us. I mean, if you’re by yourself, ain’t nobody rubbing you the wrong way. Right? Who’s disagreeing with you? Who’s sinning against you?” Duce preached.
“When you’re in community and proximity in these discipleship relationships, it just forces you into this sharpening. We need to be reminded by other people to rejoice, to be thankful. … We need people in our lives to confess sin to, to pray for us, to join us in this fight, to wage war with us against our sin, the world, the flesh and the devil.”
‘We lost Christmas’
Tyson advised his New York City-based congregation that although many people do not like waiting patiently for Jesus’ second coming as they endure trials, it's a part of the Christian life.
“Now, most of us don't do waiting. We're like ... ‘I want Santa and a singing snowman and hot chocolate and ice skating.’ I mean, I don't want to wait and sit in the brokenness of the world, but we have to. We have to face the brokenness in our world if we're going to offer the hope that we actually have,” Tyson said.
“Our culture has gotten so secular. … We lost Christmas a long time ago. But we're at the point now where we're living with the insufficiency of 'happy holidays.' Happy holidays are insufficient for the brokenness that exists in our world."
Tyson said that the Advent season "is about looking that brokenness in the eye, not looking past it, not making it a sentimental reality, but looking at it in the eye and asking the question: ‘Does Jesus at Christmas have anything to say about the brokenness of the world?’”
Amid the suffering that many people experience, Tyson pointed to the importance of Christians fixing their minds on the love of God.
He said that one way to deal with struggles during Advent is for Christians to focus on the purpose given to them “to make disciples of all nations,” as commanded by Jesus.
“A lot of theology in the Church says this: ‘Everyone is a child of God.’ Folks, everybody is not a child of God. Jesus never said that. He said God loves everybody and He said everybody is made in the image of God. But everybody is not a child of God. That's why we have the doctrine of adoption,” Tyson said.
“People need to be saved. They matter. That's why they're worthy of saving. But they are desperately ill. That's what sin does. Now, the reason it's important to diagnose this is because if you get the wrong diagnosis, you get the wrong treatment.”
‘Gospel of saving peace’
Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, told his congregation during a Dec. 4 sermon titled “The Advent of Peace” that Advent isn’t a time to deny the reality of suffering.
However, he said it is a time for Christians to be mindful of their current seasons — even if it's a time of facing painful experiences — and to recognize that God wants to bring peace to anyone in every season.
“I wonder if you would define yourself as someone who has been near. Like, you've grown up in church or you've been around the Christian community for a while. You know that you love Jesus," said Chandler.
"And yet, man, the last three years have been just really difficult years. And you've noticed in your heart some cynicism and some anxiety that is starting to be more normal than you would like."
Chandler noted that someone might be a Christian, but still "over the last couple of years, the hardship of life, the weariness of the age, the fear-mongering that you and I steep in, maybe real trauma in your life has created significant anxiety and created some cynicism.”
Even Christians who feel distanced from God during Advent because they are facing hardships, Chandler said, God desires to draw closer to them through prayer.
Chandler offered a prayer to churchgoers: “Father, we thank You for grace. We thank You for this season. We thank You that behind all of that, there's a good and kind King. And we thank you, Jesus, that there are no secrets before You. You know things about us we can't see about ourselves. And yet, you continue to move toward us in love."
“And Your banner over us isn't condemnation. It's not a more robust moral law, but rather it’s peace, peace to those who are far, peace to those who are near."
Nicole Alcindor is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com.