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Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and the Mission of God

For many of us, Advent marks the beginning of the church year. But is it the proper place to start? The season from Advent to Epiphany is only one chapter in the metanarrative that began with the creation of the world. Scripture makes it clear that the mission of God is to redeem the world, to bring the nations to himself.

In the Old Testament, God chose to work primarily through the Hebrew people to bring others into the covenant community. In Genesis 12 God says to Abraham:

“I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

That promise was passed on from generation to generation. Some of the Israelites ignored and even turned away from God, yet God was faithful and called them back into covenant. And as God performed wonders in their midst, whole nations testified to God’s greatness. A Moabite woman was even led to proclaim to her Hebrew mother-in-law, “Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). One of this Moabite’s descendants was Jesus himself.

As the light grows during the season of Advent and the anticipation mounts, we ought to ask ourselves where the Spirit is at work to bring light in the darkness and how we can be used by God to advance his mission.

Jesus is also a part of the larger metanarrative of how God redeems the world. Indeed, the incarnation is a missional activity. Advent, the time during which we prepare for the coming of Christ and anticipate his return, can be seen as a time of preparation for as well as participation in God’s mission. As the light grows during the season of Advent and the anticipation mounts, we ought to ask ourselves where the Spirit is at work to bring light in the darkness and how we can be used by God to advance his mission.

On Christmas Day our imagination is typically caught up in thoughts of cute babies and much-anticipated gifts. But Christmas is about spreading the good news in unexpected places and to unexpected people. Christmas is about the Savior coming to this world as its Redeemer. Jesus was the perfect missionary; will we look to him as the example of how we are to embody the gospel message and draw others to the light? Will we take a stand against injustice as Jesus did? Will we join in God’s mission to bring the good news to all people, including those in our midst that others consider outcasts?

Epiphany is often the season when we think of the light being sent out, of the gospel message reaching the gentile community and drawing them in, as exemplified in the coming of the magi. And certainly we shouldn’t diminish that emphasis. But what this issue of Reformed Worship encourages you to do is contemplate the place of mission in our worship and celebration during Advent and Christmas. Consider using the worship series “Enter the Songs” (p. 3), or include one of the songs suggested in the article “Singing the Christmas Gospel” (p. 12).

As you plan worship for your congregation, consider how it might renew your congregation’s understanding and imagination of God’s mission and how we might join in it.

“No more let sin and sorrow grow nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

—Isaac Watts, Joy to the World