The last time I blogged was December 28th 2019. I had planned to continue writing throughout 2020/21. However, my life was inconvenienced by a little thing you may have heard of called Covid. It interrupted all our lives and continues to do so as we head into 2022. As I look out across the horizon, I see people wearied and worried and everything in between. Today, December 17th, 2021, particularly weighs on my heart as several friends, family and members of my church experience a sense of exclusion and segregation based on their vaccination status. In Queensland, Australia, my home state, significant restrictions begin today for those unvaccinated people 16 years and older. While my heart is heavy, it is also filled with hope as Advent season is in full swing. I pray that no matter what is going on in your life, your family, study, work and yes, your vaccination status, Advent fills you with hope.
I’d like to offer a few encouragements from the book of 1 Peter. 1 Peter may not seem like a standard place to go in the scriptures for advent encouragement. But it’s the perfect book to speak into our cultural moment.
In 1 Peter, pastor Peter writes to a predominately gentile church scattered across five Roman provinces in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). The Roman Empire was still on the rise. As Rome would colonise newly acquired regions, large groups of Roman citizens would be moved to the newly acquired territories, either voluntarily or by force. Moreover, imperial worship became widespread. New temples were built up and dedicated to the Emperor, or the god being worshipped within an old temple was replaced. As a result, countless Christians were scattered, marginalised in society, and alienated in relationships due to their faith. They lost socioeconomic standing and employment, and some lost their Roman citizenship and experienced physical persecutions.
Peter writes to these Christians, encouraging them in the gospel’s truth. That’s what Advent is all about. It’s about the reality of Jesus, and the difference his coming into our world makes for our present moment.
- Advent fills us with an eternal hope
What was Peter’s message to these men and women? – Stand Firm and Stay Hopeful. How? Such dire circumstances? Because “…the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3-5).
Advent is the reminder of this living hope, this imperishable inheritance. Our hope is eternal because Christ is eternal, and our hope is in him. Jesus has come, and he’s coming again. Amongst our difficulties, we need reminding of our eternal hope in our immortal God.
2. Advent helps us to gaze at Christ.
To glance means to “make a brief or hurried look”, whereas to gaze is to “look steadily and intently, especially in admiration, surprise, or thought”. Advent helps us to gaze at Christ rather than our temporal problems. The Christian worldview allows us to acknowledge our problems and our pain. Our hardships are real and not insignificant. However, the Bible also teaches us that we must learn to “gaze” at Christ as we experience them.
In 1 Peter 1:12. Peter speaks of the salvation that belongs to the New Testament believer. He highlights that the Prophets of the Old Testament served the NT believer as they prophesied about the future grace we would receive (1 Pet. 1:10). Still, then he finishes his thought by stating that the angels of heaven “long to look” at this gracious salvation. That is – they gaze upon it. They look intently, seeking to understand it. The Angels of heaven do this because it blows their minds just how good God is to us. What about you? Have you received this grace? If so, how much time do you spend pondering its reality and gazing at Christ?
Gazing at Christ is like staring into the sun. As you behold his glory and turn your eyes back to the world in front of you, everything looks different. Advent is an incredible opportunity to reset your focus and meditate on the truth of God’s word more than the issues you face and the anxieties you feel. Lift your eyes off this current cultural moment, not to ignore it and pretend it does not exist, but so that that you can see it in light of Christ. Look up. See yourself in his arms, safe, secure, and satisfied for all eternity.
3. Advent reminds us of who we are in Christ.
Fear, disillusionment, confusion, frustration are common emotional responses to our present moment. It is important to note that these feelings are neither right nor wrong. They are simply what many of us feel. The danger, however, is living out of our emotions. Therefore, Peter continuously reminds his audience of who they are because of this eternal hope and gracious salvation. They are to see themselves as God’s chosen people who have freely received mercy (1 Pet. 2:9-10). This identity should determine their activity as the unbelieving world around them watched their response to difficulty.
As we engage a difficult period in history, we must remember who we are in Christ and who we are because Christ lives in us. This reality will ground us as we seek to make God honouring decisions in a hostile world. As the watching world looks on, the non-anxious presence of those who know who they are in Christ will shine bright (1 Pet. 2:11-12). Peter even encouraged the church that as they were to be subject to human institutions “for the Lord’s sake” (2:13) that they were to do so as “people who are free”. Peter is not outrightly dismissive of civil disobedience, especially as he did so when required (Acts 4:18-20). His point is that our submission to ungodly authorities should be made in light of our identity in Christ. That is, we belong to Christ now. Our lives are wholeheartedly surrendered to his authority and will. And with Christ as our Lord, we are freed people. Therefore we submit, as unto Christ, and as children of God.
4. Advent reminds us of what we have and what is important
One of the great tragedies of this pandemic is the division amongst neighbours, friends and family. Peter wrote to the dispersed church, encouraging them to be divided by geography alone. More than ever, the church would need one another and more than ever, we need each other. Peter wrote in Chapter 3,
“8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” 1 Peter 3:8
Oh, how much we need this! Notice the importance of humility which undergirds love, compassion, and unity? As has been repeated, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less”. Advent is a reminder of the God who had us on his mind and chose in his great compassion to condescend to us to save us. Now, as his chosen people having received mercy, and security in our eternal hope and inheritance in Christ, let us likewise consider one another. Let us have compassion towards one another in humility regardless of political persuasion or vaccination status. Let us live out our new identity in Christ as the family of God. Let us rejoice over our great Christ who came as a vulnerable child and will return in full glory to bring us all safely home to enjoy the eternal promise d hope.