“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” — Philippians 1:1–5
Today is the first Sunday of Advent.
Advent may be one of those words you’ve heard your whole life, but you’re not exactly sure what it means. Advent is a Latin word that means “coming.”
Christians celebrate Advent on the four Sundays (and weeks) before Christmas. It’s a time we use to wait for and prepare to celebrate Christmas. In other words, we are preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus. So, today at church, you will probably celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, and some churches will even light Advent candles each week as part of the celebration.
Don’t you love to go to church this time of year and see it decorated so beautifully? It’s so fun to get to sing all of our favorite Christmas carols and hear music we only get to experience one month a year. Bring on “Away in a Manger” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing!” Oh, and I love the beautiful Christmas clothes people wear. I don’t even mind seeing a Christmas sweater or two (most of the time).
As much as we love this time of year and all the traditions and beautiful celebrations, it can also be a busy and stressful time. The rush of the holiday season is hard to avoid, but it is the opposite of what Paul would wish for us.
At the beginning of his letter, Paul says that he wanted everyone to know God’s grace and peace. Today, as you quiet your heart and mind for worship, pray for grace and peace to fill your holiday season. We should wish for ourselves what Paul wished for us. Paul would also wish God’s grace and peace to be our example to others during Christmastime.
Paul’s letter goes on to say that he was grateful for the Philippians because of their “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5). The message of Jesus was first given through prophets like Isaiah, who said, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Christmas is a new beginning for God’s relationship with his people. God gave his Son, his Son gave himself, and through faith, ordinary people (like us) can know Jesus. That is the message of Jesus that begins with our Christmas celebration. Paul continued spreading that message and was thankful for the Philippians who partnered with him or joined him in spreading the good news.
When we truly understand that message of Christmas, all the other things tend not to matter as much, and it’s easier to have a peaceful holiday. We become partners in the gospel, just like Paul wrote, when we make it our priority to be sure that those around us understand the grace and peace of Christmas.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying all the traditions and celebrations of Christmas as long as we make room to know and celebrate the reason for Christmas. And Paul reminds us that we are to know and experience God’s grace and peace this season and to be an example of that to those around us.
At church today, those around you might know the words of the hymns and the story of Christmas as well as anyone, but maybe they have never truly known the peace that Jesus offers. And there are neighbors, friends at school, and people all around you this season who need to know the Christmas story.
As you worship, ask God to tell you those you should pray for and speak to this Christmas. This Advent season may be a new beginning for them.
Lord, help us make this Christmas one full of grace and peace. And may we continue the partnership with Paul in spreading the word of Jesus. It’s Christmas! Let’s worship our newborn King.