The holidays are coming.
We often kick off the season with songs like “Joy to the World,” but the holidays can be the most frantic, hectic, and exhausting time of the year! And for some of us, it can be the most lonely. We call it Christmas vacation, but do we get a vacation? Do we get a real rest? Where is the joy?
Thankfully, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there’s Advent. Beyond the holiday craziness, Advent helps us reorient from all the things pulling against us to find real rest. But to understand the work of Advent, I want to go back to a recent summer vacation.
My family and I visited NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, and saw one of the original Saturn 5 rockets that helped put humans on the moon. I’m kind of a NASA /Apollo Program geek, and with this summer being the 50th anniversary of landing on the moon, I was inspired to learn more.
I learned that the guidance and navigation computers that helped the astronauts know where they were going could only do one task at a time, and the first time Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin tried to land on the moon the computer blared a “1202 alarm.” They had no idea what it was, and the folks at mission control had no idea what it was. But they soon discovered the 1202 alarm was the computer’s way of saying, “You’re trying to do too much and I’m going to have to shut down.”
So how can Advent help us listen to the “1202 alarms” in our lives? They’re the ones blaring, “You’re’ trying to do too much!” How can we heed these alarms before our souls shut down, especially if we don’t even know what they are?
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the liturgical color of Advent is purple, which is also the liturgical color of Lent. And what is Lent but a season of repentance as we prepare for the work of the Lord (his passion)? Advent is also intended to be a season of repentance as we prepare for the arrival of the Lord (his first and second comings).
The Hebrew word for repent is shuv, and it means to go back by the way you came and then return by the right road. In other words, it’s finding the right trajectory. Isaiah 30:15 says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation” (NIV). Another translation says, “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved” (NLT).
So if we’re repenting and finding our rest in Jesus, what is he saving? He’s saving our souls. Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36, NLT). Or to put it in rocket terms, what in your life is your moonshot? What good is it to get your moonshot but lose your soul? And what, specifically, is your moonshot around the holidays?
The Greek word for soul is psychi, meaning “the whole human, the whole person, seen from the interior life of their motivations and their intentions.” In other words, your soul is a gift from God—it’s your created essence. That is worth saving.
Advent is not just about holidays, vacations, and time off. It’s about listening for the alarms. Where are the alarms going off in your soul? Where is your soul about to shut down? Advent helps us find the right trajectory, not just by moving away from the sin and hangups that shut down our souls, but towards someone: Jesus Christ.
“Are you tired, worn out, burned out on religion? Come to me, get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me. Watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).
We tend to carry heavy burdens around the holidays. Rather than following Thanksgiving with a countdown to Christmas, perhaps we should use that in-between time to reorient us to the true meaning of the season—awaiting the (first and second) coming of Jesus through Advent.
And perhaps, rather than kicking off the season with immediate festivities and busyness, we ought to enter deeper into repentance. In other words, we should listen for the 1202 alarms of our souls. Then, when Christmas does come around, we can sing “Joy to the Word” with, well, joy! And just in case you think that kind of Christmas observance would be short-lived, remember Christmas actually lasts 12 days long.
“Joy to the World, the Lord has come! Let Earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room, and Heaven and nature sing . . .”
“This book is an excellent advent resource. I highly recommend it for personal use, small group use, or to give to a friend. Omar does a great job in making sometimes difficult scriptures understandable. This book helps to explain advent in a way that can be applied to everyday life.” (Cindy P.)
Are you interested in a fresh take on Advent? Start reading along with daily devotions from The Advent Mission by Omar Rikabi. Take it one step further and get your entire church on the same page with our Advent Mission Church Kit. The kit includes a Sunday sermon series outline, Sunday School/group discussion guides, children’s teaching plans, and youth teaching plans. Additionally, there are six videos to help carry you through Christmastide to Epiphany. Get it from our store here.