A Scenic Lookout
If you were at worship yesterday, I shared that Sarah’s Aunt and Uncle send Advent gifts every year to hang on a homemade calendar that we proudly display in our house. Each year Sarah’s Aunt Linda and Uncle John send these gifts that we tie to each one of the corresponding numbers, we video our kids opening the gifts, and send the videos to Aunt Linda and Uncle John. It’s a really fun thing to go back through our phone to the same date in previous years and see how much our boys have changed, see how different Sarah and my ever changing hair is, and all the different places we’ve lived in the past 11 years.
We look back and we look forward each Advent.
That is really what Advent is intended to be.
A look back at the anxious waiting for the birth of our Savior.
A look forward to Christmas, his arrival, and ultimately towards his coming again.
My first Advent as a dad was 11 years ago, and I was in the Holy Land.
On the day we began this great tradition with Foster, who was only 6 months old, I was on the other side of the world, in the country of Jordan.
While Foster was struggling to open his first gift on December 1st, I can see I was standing on the side of a road in middle of nowhere Jordan between the ancient city of Jerash and the Dead Sea.
He was opening his first ever Advent Gift that was a Christmas stocking cap that barely fit on his oversized head and it read “First Christmas” while I was staring into the valley at some river.
My guide said, “do you see that? That is the Jabbok River.”
As he said this, cars were passing us and I’m wondering why we are on the side of the road.
He continued on, “that is where Jacob wrestled with God. That is where Jacob became Israel.”
Suddenly I had this moment. This name, this tradition, thousands and thousands of years of history, of theology, of faith, of God partnering with creation, it traces one of its pivotal moments to this beautiful overlooked lookout on the side of the road in Jordan.
I was completely overwhelmed in that moment while other people were quickly passing our tour bus just trying to get home after a long days work.
This place is where humanity encountered the heavenly, where God’s chosen family engaged with some sort of divine presence, where a man who was often a mess wrestled with God and was changed by it.
Because of Jacob’s wrestling with God at the Jabbok River, we are here today.
Advent can feel like something we just have to get through before we get to really celebrate Christmas. It can feel like an annoying pit stop on our way to watching It’s a Wonderful Life, singing Silent Night in candle light, eating cookies and tearing open presents.
But Advent isn’t supposed to be a frustrating speed bump, it is a scenic lookout. An opportunity to pull away from the busyness of life, to remember the hope we have in a God who came to dwell among us, and looking forward to celebrating and experiencing that again.
I can’t believe I forgot that while Foster and Sarah and my mom (who was in town while I was away) were having this family tradition beginning, I was in the Holy Land.
What they were doing with 6 month old Foster by looking back and remembering while looking forward with hope and expectation…I was doing the same. I was looking at a river on the side of the road remembering the early days of our faith while also looking forward with hope and expectation about what God has next.
This Advent and Christmas, we should be the kind of people who seize the opportunity to slow down, to look back, to remember our story of faith and look forward to our coming King and what God has for us next. When we live like this we stand with one foot in the past, one in the future, and we exist in the already, but not yet, Kingdom of God.
This is not some fixating on when everything was perfect and wouldn’t it be great if we could just get back there.
It also isn’t some fixating on the future when we can leave this all behind escapism.
It is recognizing the story from before us, the direction of where we are going, and how that impacts here and now.
I used this quote yesterday in my sermon, but it’s worth repeating.
“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I am going to be spending the days leading up to Christmas in contemplative reflection, remembering the story of God who dwelled among us and that I am invited to be a part of that story. I invite you to join me.
The bad news is, I don’t have a fun advent calendar with ill fitting Santa caps or 24 other gifts. The good new is, when we live like this it not only changes us, it changes the world around us and impacts eternity.
Abide in the one who made you.
Be changed by our God and King.
Embody the ways of Jesus, our Emmanuel. God with us.
If you would like a copy of our Advent Guide, He Is Here, you can access a digital copy at thechapelatseaside.com/Christmas
or you can pick up physical copies at The Chapel while they last.
I hope you will join us for worship on Christmas Eve, Sunday, December 24th at one of our 3 services; 10am, 4pm, and 5:30pm.
I hope if you are in town you will join us each Sunday between now and then.
Each of the Sundays that remain (December 10th, 17th, and 24th) will be Advent Sundays where we will prepare our hearts and minds for the birth of the Christ child. I hope if you are in town and healthy, you’ll join us at 10am. And if not, you can worship with us online through our website, thechapelatseaside.com or from our Facebook page, facebook.com/thechapelatseaside. You can also listen to our sermons most places where podcasts are available; Apple, Spotify, and more.
Let us know if you have any questions and I look forward to seeing you Sunday as we continue in the season of Advent.
p. s. Enjoy the pictures below of Foster opening his first advent gift and me in Jordan by the Jabbok River.