Do you have an Advent calendar? We don’t, but I’ve been amazed at the assortment of Advent calendars that have appeared this year, many of which having little to do with the biblical concept of Christmas.
Traditionally, the Advent calendar counts down the days until Dec. 25, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in that “little town of Bethlehem,” as the traditional carol calls it. But many of the calendars I’ve seen feature everything from toys to cheese. Even little bottles of wine. This has been a year to tempt even the most staunch teetotaler, but seriously? For Advent?
Nevertheless, in one way or another, we’re all making preparations for Christmas. Buying and wrapping gifts. Making family gathering plans – COVID guideline-approved, of course. Baking cookies and other holiday treats. Watching holiday movies and specials. All with the calendar counting down to the day most “magical” – the term each Hallmark Christmas movie is required to include.
But how about preparing spiritually?
I’ve already forgotten who sent them to me, but I received an intriguing list of “questions to ask professing Christians,” compiled by pastor and author Tim Keller. As we anticipate Christmas morning, his questions would be good for each of us to consider. They might aid our own ponderings about the “true meaning of Christmas.”
We receive an admonition in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” Keller’s questions provide such a test. Here they are for us to ponder for ourselves and others:
1. What is the evidence of God’s presence in your life? We tend to associate being a Christian – a follower of Christ – with things we do. Like attending church (in non-pandemic times), performing good deeds, using the proper vocabulary in the right settings, things like that. But outward behavior isn’t always an accurate indicator. As someone has said, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you a car.
In the middle of His “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus spoke about counterfeit faith. He probably astonished many in His audience when He declared, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform man miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
What is this “evidence”? Well, for starters, consider Galatians 5:22-23 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Again such things there is no law.” These are not mutually exclusive, and if God is present in our lives, we should sense and demonstrate this “fruit” increasingly in our lives. Nothing wrong with being a fruit inspector.
2. What is the evidence of Scripture changing you? No one’s perfect or ever will be, this side of eternity. But for true followers of Christ, reading, meditating on and studying the Scriptures is always life-changing. “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
As 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, being changed by God and His Word is inevitable: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” We might have walked an aisle, raised a hand during an invitation time, or marked a response card indicating we had repeated a suggested prayer. But if we remain the same person we were before that, there’s some justification in questioning what – if anything – has been going on in our lives spiritually.
In Psalm 119:11, King David wrote about his reliance on God’s Word for everyday living: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”
3. What is your evidence of a growing appreciation for God’s mercy? Early in our spiritual lives, during the euphoric “honeymoon” period, we feel excited about our new relationship with Jesus. We start hearing the biblical promises and grow in anticipation of God’s blessings. Then, once the emotions ebb, we begin contemplating what the Lord has done for us.
We used to think we were pretty good folks, and maybe even have believed the Lord got a bargain when He invited us to join His eternal family. However, one day we realize who were really are – and who He really is – and start to grasp the amazing, truly miraculous act of mercy God has performed to make us His children. And we begin to realize the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Chronologically speaking, none of us had yet committed our first sin when Jesus made the truly ultimate sacrifice; we hadn’t been born yet, not even a gleam in anyone’s eye. Even knowing how sinful, how unworthy we would one day prove to be, Jesus willingly went to the cross for us. As an old friend used to say, Jesus took the rap for us.
Another passage offers a powerful perspective: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
How do we answer the questions above? If accused of being followers of Jesus Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict us? Something to ponder during this Advent season.