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What does the ‘Advent’ of Christmas mean?

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7:
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

This is the reading for the first Sunday of Advent, which fell (this year) on 29 November. I was asked to share a message on the meaning of Advent with Following Jesus, the church I previously pastored (see the video presentation). First an explanation and background, then brief reflections on what Advent means for us, focusing on the four names in Isaiah’s text.

The English word advent comes from Latin adventus, meaning arrival or coming. Essentially, the expectation and arrival of an important person or event. Advent is associated with Christmas: the celebration (‘mass’) of the birth of Christ (‘Messiah’). Whether Jesus was actually born on 25 December is not the point. The point is that a day of great joy was chosen to celebrate the coming of God’s King into our world.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek parousia (coming, appearance) in the New Testament, used primarily for King Jesus’ return or Second Coming (1 Thessalonians 4:15). When Caesar or an important dignitary in the Roman world came to a village, town, or city, they would prepare and watch and wait in great expectation. As the watchmen saw signs of ‘The Parousia’, they would loudly announce it. Then the rulers and elders would go out to meet the person(s) on the road and welcome them, and escort them back into the village, town, or city. A celebratory party would follow. That’s the meaning of Jesus’ Parousia.

Therefore, advent meant, for the early centuries of Church history, the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ to judge the world. Only from the 6th century did it shift to Jesus’ first coming, his birth and then baptism (his ‘Epiphany’ or appearance to start his ministry). As that tradition developed, four ‘Advent Sundays’ were set to prepare for Christ’s birth on the date of 25 December. Four candles were used to represent four aspects of our waiting expectation of Christ’s mass – that Christ be born anew in our lives and our world.

In short, Advent is a tradition of the Church that developed with varying interpretations and practices, marking the beginning of the annual Christian liturgical calendar.

The lighting of each candle over the four Sundays and the themes they represent point to both the Second Coming and the first coming of Jesus:

Hope – the promise of God’s coming
Waiting – the (prophetic) preparation for God’s coming
Joy – the peace of God
Love – the adoration of God

The four candles and their enlightening themes relate to the four names given to “the child born to us”, the babe of Bethlehem. It’s remarkable how clearly Isaiah saw and spoke, by the Holy Spirit, of the coming Messiah 700 years before Jesus’ birth. “The great light… dawned for all living in deep darkness”, giving certain hope based on promise, activating preparation and joy in anticipation of the coming of God’s Prince of Peace (Shalom).

Though a weak and vulnerable baby, The Great Light shone bright. And continues to shine ever brighter to the ends of the earth. The end is loving adoration of God’s humble King, just as the kings of the east bowed down after their long and arduous journey following the Star of Bethlehem. This torrid year of corona trauma, with its extraordinary challenges, has been a rough road for all of us. So… stop… to reflect on and receive anew the true nature of Christmas, of Christ’s coming into our lives, into our world lost in deep darkness.

What this means is represented in the four names Isaiah gives to the “son given to us”. Names in Semitic usage describe the person’s character and purpose. Earlier Isaiah said that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). God does not abandon us. God becomes one of us. God in human skin. Takes on our weakness. Feels our feelings. Undergoes our temptations. Bears our pain and brokenness. Suffers our sin and death in redemptive love. God with us means…

Wonderful Counsellor:
Jesus, Wisdom of God. God comes as one of us in “the son that is given”, guiding us in how to live life as God purposed. “A little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). God is – especially in these trying times – “wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom” (Isaiah 28:29). Receive Jesus in this way. Ask him for the wisdom you need to respond correctly to what you’re going through, to the trials you face (James 1:2-5). We all need this kind of spiritual direction at this time. And for the year ahead.

Mighty God:
Jesus, Power of God. Jesus came/appeared to Israel in God’s power doing miracles of deliverance and healing. The paradox of the powerless baby who is the Mighty God, the Warrior King defeating evil in all its oppressive forms. Receive Jesus as your Mighty God. Ask him for the miracle you need right now. Furthermore, Mary symbolizes Jesus coming to life in us by God’s power. We take the shape of his life growing in us, which expresses itself through us in signs and wonders to the world around us. How can you express the Mighty God in this way to those in need – giving real Christmas gifts?

Everlasting Father:
Jesus, Love of God. Jesus was the advent (coming/appearing) of the embodied love of God. Jews knew Yahweh as their loving Father who tenderly nurtured them like a mother nurses her baby (Isaiah 49:14-15). Jesus was the human expression of this divine reality. “Everlasting Father” describes divinity – a remarkable name for the baby nursing at Mary’s breast. Everlasting means without beginning or end. God… as Father (and Mother). Eternal Love made flesh. As the child Jesus grew in consciousness, he experienced God as profoundly personal and intimate love in each moment of every day. He called God Abba, Daddy. Because Jesus was perfectly loved, he loved perfectly. He laid down his life in love of us. Close your eyes, open your hands and receive Jesus as the Everlasting Father, Perfect Love. And be an expression and embodiment of that love to others in need.   

Prince of Peace:
Jesus, Ruling Shalom of God. God, in Christ, came as one of us to put the world right, to save humanity and planet earth. To make peace through his government of justice and righteousness, grace and truth – in contrast to and in judgement of all other governments. Shalom is peace, God’s wholistic wellbeing, order, harmony and abundance, which is God’s design for all creation. It is, however, based on right relationship with God, self, each other, and creation. “Justice and righteousness” mean ‘right-way-of-relating’ – as God relates. Wrong relationship with God, self, others, and/or creation, is sin and death. It shatters Shalom. Plunges the world into the darkness of death and chaos, disease and disintegration. Ultimately hell on earth! BUT, Jesus came to bring heaven on earth, to restore the rule and reign of Shalom, to make all things new. Receive Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Receive rest. Let him calm your mind, emotions, body. Let him order your heart and relationship rightly. And yes, be an instrument of his peace to those around you.      

All of this is Christmas, Christ’s mass. The celebration of Christ, The Great Light, who comes into our world that walks in deep darkness. Therefore, Happy Christmas!

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Baby Jesus – Hope of the World

To listen to my Christmas message, the audio talk of these notes, click on

The nativity stories strike me with wonder, especially the stark contrasts portrayed in the little baby Jesus. Pope Francis’ tweet on 23 Dec captures it:
“If you really want to celebrate Christmas, then contemplate this
image: The fragile simplicity of a new-born baby. That is where God is.”


Matthew’s nativity scene presents Jesus as the Jewish King, come in fulfillment of the prophecies, contrasted with Herod The Great, the puppet Jewish King.
Luke, however, contrasts Jesus with Caesar Augustus. He sets his story of Jesus’ birth against a far broader canvas of the Roman Empire, with the coming of God’s Empire in the baby Jesus to save the world.


Read Luke 2:1-19.In those days Caesar Augustus decreed…”, is contrasted with v.6, “the time came for the baby to the born…” This is a means of historical dating of the nativity event, but Luke uses it to set the scene for an extended implied contrast between the two Emperors. ‘Caesar’ means King – of the known world at that time. God is in charge of time and history because, when Caesar issued his decree, God used it as the very timing for the birth of His King.


Caesar’s word moves Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Rome, meaning ‘power, strength’, is the centre of the Empire that makes it all happen. Bethlehem, meaning ‘House of Bread’, was in Palestine, the backwaters of the Empire in the Roman province of Syria. That’s where Jesus was born –The Bread of Heaven came to earth to feed the world with his own life. The centre of the Empire, indeed of the universe, had just moved from Rome to Bethlehem.


Mary, heavily pregnant, travelled with Joseph under decree, by donkey and on foot for at least three days to Bethlehem. They were not received. There was no guest room for them. They were put out into a cave where sheep slept at night. Caesar traveled in complete comfort to wherever, whenever, he wanted; and was received with celebration and fanfare, with pomp and ceremony.


Then “the time came for the baby to be born.” He was wrapped in simple cloths and placed in a manger, a feeding trough. Picture Caesar in his grand palace in Rome, robed with the extravagant excess of an Emperor who was worshipped as a Roman god, seated on his illustrious throne. The contrast could not be greater: Jesus’ palace was the cave, his robe was the wrapping cloth, his throne was the manger – from which he began his reign as God’s King to inaugurate His Empire. What dramatic reversal of values!


Luke introduces the attendants to King Jesus’ birth: the shepherds and the angels (v.8f). Sheep herders were the among the lowest and poorest in Palestine. God called them, in contrast to high society, to witness and attend the baby’s coronation. They were living in the fields watching the sheep. It was night. The power of darkness was suddenly pierced and overcome by light. Jesus, the light of the world, will overcome the darkness of evil, the empires of this world. Despite the so-called Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, Jews were seriously oppressed under Roman rule, especially by the brutal occupying army.


The angels appeared in a dazzling blaze of glory, bringing “good news that will cause great joy for all people” (Lk 2:10). ‘Good news’ was a technical term (Greek evangelion, meaning ‘gospel’) used for the Roman Caesars. Heralds, technically evangelists, went to the ends of the Empire proclaiming the Gospel of Caesar: “Augustus was born in 63 BC, became King in 27 BC, defeated our enemies in such and such battles, established Pax Romana, bringing peace to the whole world.” He reigned for 41 years! Luke’s readers would not have missed the contrast of the Gospel of baby Jesus, God’s Emperor born on this day… He will bring true joy, the real peace, to all people… He is the hope of the world.


The angels proclaim Jesus as “Saviour, The Messiah, The Lord.” (Lk 2:11). These were titles for Augustus Caesar, known throughout the Empire. Loyalists would have bristled with anger at such, now blatant, comparison! Then the angels said, “this will be the sign for you to know him…” – NOT a King in dazzling robes on a majestic throne – but a vulnerable baby wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger in a sheep grotto. As shepherds, they would be right at home!


Suddenly there’s a great choir of angels filling the heavens praising God, in contrast to the choirs in Rome that sang Caesar’s praises as a Roman god. The angels sang of the rule of heaven come to earth bringing “peace” to all people of good will. Here again is Luke’s implied contrast with Pax Romana and Jesus’ Kingdom of Shalom. Hebrew shalom is God’s peace, meaning wholeness, order, harmony and prosperity, based on right relationship with God, ourselves, each other, and creation.


Then the shepherds hurried off to look for “the sign”: The fragile simplicity of a new-born baby. That is where God is – the greatest revelation of God’s power in such human weakness, in contrast to such worldly power and strength in human pride and glory.

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed” (v.17). The shepherds, of the lowest and least respected in that society, become the evangelists of the lowly King, taking his evangel (Gospel) to the ends of the earth. They even become like the angels (angelos means messenger) proclaiming the Gospel of baby Jesus as Saviour, Messiah, Lord of Heaven and Earth, Joy of the world.


These dramatic contrasts are beautifully captured by St. Ephraim the Syrian (306-373 AD) in his Hymn to the Birth of Christ:
“God, who measures the sky with the width of his hand,
lies in a manger as large as a hand’s width;
He, who holds the sea in the hollow of his hand,
experienced his birth in the hollow of a cave.
The sky is full of his glory and
the manger is full of his splendor.”


However, as Origen (185-254 AD) asked, ““Does it profit us that Christ was
once born of Mary in Bethlehem if he is not born also by faith in our soul?”

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Living The Life God Intended – Intro 1

Follow me in this new teaching series in both audio and ‘sermon notes’.
For the audio of these notes click on

Title of the Series
How do we live life today? How can we live ‘the good life’ in all the pressures and challenges of daily life? How can we not only survive, but thrive? In this series I go through Jesus’ unique view on living life as God intended – to live The Life that God intends – the eternal kind of life of God’s Kingdom of Heaven. That means, living life under God’s rule & reign, as found in Jesus’ body of teaching called ‘The Sermon on the Mount’, in Matthew 5 to 7.

Matthew as biographer of Jesus
Matthew was also called Levi. He was a tax-collector, a most despised sinner who exploited his own Jewish people (collecting taxes for the Romans) and partied with really ‘bad’ people! Responding to Jesus’ call – God’s Kingdom had come and he must follow Jesus – Matthew became Jesus’ disciple (Matt 9:9-13). He lived with Jesus and his Kingdom community for three years. After Jesus’ death and resurrection (in 30 or 31 AD) Matthew was a leader in the Early Church. He wrote his carefully constructed biography of Jesus (called a ‘Gospel’) from Antioch in early to mid 60s CE. He wrote for Greek-speaking Jewish readers, hence his emphasis on the Hebrew scriptures and all things Jewish!

He presents Jesus of Nazareth as the Jewish King, the long-awaited Messiah (The Anointed), in fulfillment of God’s promises in the scriptures. A key word in Matthew is ‘fulfill’. Jesus is not only King of the Jews but of ALL who receive him as such, Gentiles included! As God’s King, his message was to announce, and his mission was to offer, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’ (KOH) to Israel. Matthew uses this phrase in contrast to Mark and Luke’s ‘Kingdom of God’, in keeping with the Jewish usage of ‘heaven’ in place of ‘God’, in respect of ‘The Holy One’. But this King, and the coming of his Kingdom, was also presented as the fulfillment and climax of Israel’s story, the promised new Moses leading a new Exodus to a new land – the KOH.

Jesus as the New Moses
The way Matthew writes his story of Jesus, how he constructs his gospel shows Jesus as the ‘one like unto Moses’ promised in Deuteronomy 18:14-19 (read it). When God sends that greater prophet, God will give him words to teach – the living (Messianic) Torah – and all who do not listen to him will suffer the consequences of their rejection of him. To show Jesus as the new Moses, Matthew does the following…

  1. Moses was born, and hidden, under Pharaoh’s oppressive rule. Jesus was born under King Herod and then hidden in Egypt because Herod killed the male babies (Matt 2:13-18)
  2. Moses led Israel, God’s son, out of Egypt. So Jesus, God’s son, came out of Egypt (Matt 2:21).
  3. Moses led Israel through the waters of Exodus, so Jesus was baptized in water to symbolize a new Exodus for a (re)new(ed) Israel as God’s affirmed beloved son (Matt 3:13-17).
  4. As the Fiery Cloud led Israel through the wilderness for 40 years of testing, so the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days, symbolizing Jesus as the obedient son in place of Israel’s disobedience and rebellion (Matt 4:1-10).
  5. Jesus came out of the wilderness temptations into the Promised Land (Israel) in the power of the Spirit, exercising the authority of the KOH, offering the KOH (Matt 4:17).

Moses is the author and giver of Torah – God’s Word/Law – the first five books of the Bible. Matthew structures his Gospel around five teaching sections (each preceded by stories), to show that Jesus is the new Moses giving the Messianic Torah:
1. Matt 5 to 7: Teaching on The Life of the KOH, or Living Life in the KOH.
2. Matt 10: Teaching on the Ministry & Mission of the KOH.
3. Matt 13: Teaching on the Mystery & Nature of the KOH (‘already and not yet’).
4. Matt 18: Teaching on the Community of the KOH.
5. Matt 23 to 25: Teaching on the Coming Judgment & Salvation of the KOH.

Next week I do a further introduction to Living The Life God Intended, in preparation for Jesus’ teaching in ‘The Sermon on the Mount’.