by Jeffrey Dock, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
In many churches, the first Sunday in December starts off the season of Advent. This four week period leading up to Christmas is an ancient custom in the church (going back well over 1,400 years). It may also be a helpful tool for modern Christians to reclaim. If not the season itself (which is well worth observing and celebrating), then the attitude that traditionally has gone along with it.
Advent is a penitential season. Being penitent can mean a couple of different things, but often includes the denying of yourself.
As Jesus in Matthew 16, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Such denying of oneself can take different forms. It includes examining our life and actions in light of God’s Word, seeing our sins, and repenting of them.
Traditionally it has also included fasting, the voluntary giving up of food for a set time period in order to devote yourself to the Bible and prayer, to help teach us that man does not live by bread alone but instead by the Word of God. Fasting has always been a part of Christian practice and traditions, but sadly has almost entirely disappeared in American Christianity. It would be helpful to get it back.
This is almost an absurd topic to bring up in our culture because we live in an age of instant gratification. A wealth of diversions, information, and perversions is only a click of the mouse away thanks to the internet.
Our is an age of consumerism. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and the host of sales and deals sure to call to us throughout December only reinforces that fact. We admit that, but then are quick to point out these are other people’s problems and not our own. This is never as true as we think. Repent. Deny yourself.
Use this Advent as an opportunity to recognize anew that there is another way. A way of forgiveness, healing, and yes- denial. Because those things we cling to and think so important usually aren’t all that important. We’re just so caught up in them we have trouble seeing that.
Being penitent (denying yourself) is a helpful way to turn from the things of this world to the things of God. To celebrate the love of a Savior who descends into this selfish world with a love that is completely selfless. To rejoice that Christ comes to us with forgiveness and salvation every time we gather to hear His word and receive His sacraments. To recognize that what we truly need in this life are not things we so often crave, but Jesus who alone is the one thing needed.
Denying yourself hurts. Repentance is hard. Confessing your sins to God or your pastor is nerve-wracking. It’s like death in a way. But it’s the death of our sinful life and desires. Those are not actually worth holding onto.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it. That is His promise and His free gift to all who would call upon His name.
Forgiveness is always accessible. Dwell on that this Advent season. The Church is unlike the department store. There are no low prices or even a cost. For here the one thing you really need (as opposed to all the stuff we want) is offered to you freely.