The Wrong Advent

by Mark Loughridge

’Tis the season for baby Jesuses and mangers, wise men and shepherds, as people give a passing acknowledgement to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Carol services will be had, children perform their parts, and we will all go home will rosy cheeks and glad hearts, to mince pies and mulled wine, feeling suitably imbued with the Christmas spirit.

This is Advent—marking the coming of the Son of God into the world. The problem is that it is the wrong Advent. I don’t mean simply that we have layered extra detail on top of the Bible’s story, or that we have likely picked the wrong time of the year—although all that is true—I mean that we have picked the wrong advent event.

The word advent means ‘coming’. The Jesus whose arrival we ‘remember’ at Christmas is coming back. That’s the one we are told to be looking for, counting down to. It will be entirely unlike his first arrival. If you’ve missed the point of his first arrival, here’s how you will experience his second—as Jesus describes it.

Imagine the following scenario: You are getting on with a perfectly ordinary day, dropping the children to school, calling in at the shops, sitting at the desk in work. Suddenly you feel the earth start to tremble, a lorry going past?—no, the rumbling and shaking grows. You run outside, and the sun has grown dark—extinguished; you see the moon a strange bloody colour, the stars seem to be falling as if the very fabric of space is being torn apart. You look up into this writhing mass of darkness where sky used to be, and there is a blaze of glorious light, and an awesome figure on a white horse appears wielding a sword. This is no hallucination or comic book hero. This is the divine judge, God the Son, here to bring judgment and retribution on all who have defied, rejected or ignored him. In terror you watch as the sword falls on enemy after enemy. None stands against him. In unbroken horror you watch as he treads the winepress of the fury of God’s wrath.

You run, claw at the dirt, trying to dig a hole to escape, calling on the mountains to fall on you. You would prefer being buried alive in an avalanche to meeting him.

This will be no ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’—where did he go? Oh, he came before, and offered forgiveness and peace, and hope. He laid down his life, bearing all the judgment rebels deserved. He welcomed rebels to come, giving lots of time and opportunity.

But time has run out. Now he has come to Judge the earth. He offered to bear your judgment, but if you rejected his offer, you’ve missed your chance. Now only judgment awaits.

Yet there is still time—that baby Jesus who lies in the manger grew up to take your Hell at the Cross if you entrust yourself to him. Don’t miss the point of his first coming, for you won’t miss his second coming.

… And now we open another door on our advent calendar… 6 days to go…

Mark is the pastor of Milford Reformed Presbyterian Church and New Life Fellowship, LetterkennyThis article first appeared on GentleReformation.com.

Why Christmas will always disappoint (Newspaper article)

We're fast approaching the only day of the year when there won't be any negative newspaper headlines. Sadly however that's just because it's the only day of the year when newspapers aren't printed. The fact that this is billed as a time of peace and good will can't mask the fact that we live in a broken world.

Cases of domestic violence rise over Christmas. The first working day in January is known as ‘Divorce Day’. December 25th isn't exempt from brutal murders, such as when a man gunned down his family as they opened presents in the 'Christmas Capital of Texas' in 2011. Even Good King Wenceslas, who spread Christianity among the Czechs, was murdered by his half-brother.

Although our Christmas may be tragedy-free, it's never quite as good as we expect. Children are soon bored with presents they've anxiously waited months for. Parents have the tension of family being round and the stress of trying to get the dinner ready. Soon, it's all over. We find ourselves saying: 'is that it?' And we start looking forward to whatever the next big event is.

But if Christmas leaves you feeling empty this year, it's a reminder that you were made with desires this world can't fulfil. C. S. Lewis once said: 'If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world’.

At this time of year we get glimpses of something beyond this broken world. Time with friends and loved ones, good food, a break from routine. Maybe you could almost believe that there is something magical about it. But ultimately, it disappoints.

Lewis wrote that before he became a Christian: 'an unattainable joy had hovered just beyond the grasp of my consciousness.' We look for satisfaction in this world. But the things we think will bring us joy 'are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited'.

Every fleeting pleasure that we try and hold onto this Christmas is merely a signpost to another world. Don't put so much hope in the signpost that you miss what it's pointing to.

Published in Stranraer & Wigtownshire Free Press, 15th December 2016

Church membership: how the world knows who represents Jesus (book review)

Church Membership: how the Bible knows who represents Jesus
Jonathan Leeman
Crossway, 2012

Isn't it enough to just go to a church? What does it mean to join a church? Is it something for others but not for you? If you are a member of your church, how should that affect your life?

If you have ever wondered about any of those questions, this book is a must-read. We live at a time when 'organised religion' is looked on with suspicion if not horror. But within the 130 pages of this short book, Jonathan Leeman shows that church membership is expected by the Bible and absolutely vital.

There is much here for long-time church members as well as those new to the concept. Most church members would never imagine that the local church should affect decisions such as where to live or whether to take promotions at work - but Leeman shows that it should.

Even in churches where people could argue the Biblical case for church membership, members often don't have the slightest clue how they should interact with those under church discipline. Leeman here addresses that issue too.

As he's coming from a Baptist perspective, we wouldn't go with absolutely everything in the book, though Leeman himself acknowledges that in the New Testament 'Christians are ordinarily united to individual but interconnected churches' (which sounds a lot more like the Presbyterian position than the Baptist one!). However those minor disagreements don't detract from an absolutely brilliant book.

Cheapest online price: £6.79 delivered

Those wanting to read more on what the church is and how it should be run should check out Guy Waters's How Jesus Runs the Church (150 pages) or, if you're really keen, James Bannerman's The Church of Christ (1000 pages - though a great abridged version is also available).

Beginner, intermediate, advanced!