I set out this for a quick errand to find a book on the importance of Advent. How hard could that be? As I was to learn, very hard indeed. Four bookstores and two library branches later, I came home with one book of dubious value and one booklet with some good stuff.  (I also came home with a large diet chocolate Coke from Sonic bought during happy hour, but that really doesn’t come into play in this story.) I was quickly coming to the conclusion that I was the only one in my city who really cares about Advent.

Oh, there are plenty of books and such that have the word “Advent” on them. Books like How To Have A Stress-Free Advent and A Very Amish Advent were found next to the Star Wars Lego Advent calendar without looking too hard.

Ok, I know one person looking at a handful of stores does not indict an entire nation. Yet I find it hard to believe Advent is very important to our world, leading me to wonder: Do we even know what Advent is any longer? Or is it that we know, but we are afraid to face the question it forces on each of us?

I am having a problem with our lack of focus on preparing for the coming Messiah. Instead of focusing on my sin and thus my need of a sacrifice I can’t make myself, I am told how to have a stress-free Christmas, how to “keep Jesus the reason for the season,” how I am to rise above materialism and remember baby Jesus in a manger. I hear lectures from Christians on how the real date for Christ’s birth, as figured out by scientists, was September 11 and how Satan made something bad out of that date. Or how the star that stood still over Bethlehem was really the planet Jupiter. I hear messages on family and how to love and how to have hope in the midst of hard times. Messages that tell how I am to act so that Jesus can be put back at the center of Christmas.

What I don’t hear are messages on how we are trapped in our sin with no way out. How that there is none righteous, no, not one. How that centuries of men and women trying to be good has not produced one perfect person. I don’t hear how we are hopelessly condemned to a life apart from God and no amount of polishing our lives can make us acceptable to God.

Oswald Chambers comments on this in My Utmost For His Highest. For “holiness movements” substitute “Advent messages” and we have the same idea.

The holiness movements of today have none of the rugged reality of the New Testament about them. There is nothing about them that needs the death of Jesus Christ. All that is required is a pious atmosphere, prayer, and devotion. This type of experience is not supernatural nor miraculous. It did not cost the sufferings of God, nor is it stained with “the blood of the Lamb.” It is not marked or sealed by the Holy Spirit as being genuine, and it has no visual sign that causes people to exclaim with awe and wonder, “That is the work of God Almighty!” Yet the New Testament is about the work of God and nothing else. (November 29 devotional)

If Advent is not stained by the blood of the Lamb, then what is it for? And before I can rejoice in blood shed from the foundation of the world by the Lamb, I must see just how much I need that blood to be shed for me. I need Advent to tell me why Jesus had to die, and that he was born as a baby in order that he could grow to be a man who would be executed as a criminal.

Yet we have made Advent a time of ribbons and bows when it should be a time of weeping and wailing for our sinfulness. If I do not come to see my hopelessness before the Perfect Judge, with nothing to bring before him to buy even one minute’s pardon, then how can I rejoice with the shepherds that a Savior has been born this day in Bethlehem, the City of David?

There have been many Christmas mornings when one of my children or a friend will give me a present that I never dreamed I would get. A gift that takes me by surprise. Each Christmas I want the birth of Jesus to be a gift I never dreamed of, a present that takes me by surprise. If I sleepwalk through this season of Advent, dreaming of Rudolph and Frosty and a Red Ryder BB gun and one of those chocolates that looks like sections of an orange, then Christmas morning will come and the Son of God born to die for me will just be another entitlement. Give me! Give me! Give me! Is that all there is? Oh well, tomorrow I can go to the store to buy the things I really wanted.

Advent is not important just for Christmas day, but for all of our lives. Sister Joan Chittister recognized this as she prepared her Advent devotional:

Christmas is not meant to be simply a day of celebration; it is meant to be a month of contemplation. But because Advent has been lost somewhere between the Thanksgiving turkey and the pre-Christmas sales, we have lost one of the richest seasons of the year. Unless we can reclaim Advent, the lack of it will show dearly in the way we go through the rest of life itself.  (From Sparks Of Advent Light)

I need Advent because I want desperately to throw open the shutters on Christmas and shout, “A savior is born unto us this morning!” I want to sing and dance and clap my hands knowing I no longer have to try to be good enough. To know that a baby was born who would one day utter, “It is finished.”

This is why I need Advent.

–Jeff Dunn