Advent Expectancy

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By Bill Yarbrough

Advent has everything to do with expectancy. Expectancy about all the comings of Christ and expectancy about all that he will do among us as we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

During this season, I am always moved by Luke’s account of Simeon’s prophetic embrace of the Christ child when Joseph and Mary brought him to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. That day for Simeon was the fulfillment of a life-long, prayerful expectation of the first Advent. Of Simeon, Luke writes, “this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (2:25-26). Seeing the baby, this aged saint took the Divine Child from Joseph and Mary and holding him in his arms, blessed God saying “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (2:29-32).

We are all the covenant family of that dear saint and, as family and friends, a question we could be asking during this Advent season is, “Who or what are expecting this Advent season?” I am hopeful that we would all be expectant for a deeper and more intimate fellowship with our Lord and for his healing and saving work in Columbia, or whatever city we reside in, through hearts transformed by grace and through our common life as the Church. May God graciously lead us to take unique and individual steps that would help us cultivate and nurture that relationship both to God and to one another.

Have we considered meeting with someone to pray on a regular basis, with confession and thanksgiving? Have we considered how we may best connect with Love, Inc., Granny’s House, participate in Christ Our King’s Advent food drive, or partner with local ministries that help those in need in whatever town we may reside? Have we considered some fixed times of fasting and intercessory prayer for the many heartbreaking situations, racial, cultural, and sexual that surround us? Have we considered exploring the possibility of personal spiritual direction or participating in a spiritual retreat? Advent is a time for searching our hearts and, with Spirit-filled expectancy, making choices about how to best love and serve God and our neighbor.

Simeon lived expectantly for the “consolation of Israel.” May we join heart and hands with that righteous and devout man during this Advent season, with that same spirit of expectancy about Christ coming to us. Expectancy, most certainly about that ultimate Advent, the second coming of Christ, but equally so, expectancy about our lives and city being transformed by the love of the Father, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.


Here are some resources for deepening your expectancy for Christ to come this Advent:

If you want to learn more about spiritual direction, contact Pastor Bill via Twitter below, or visit the Christ Our King website and drop us a note.

Bill Yarbrough is a Senior Dircector with Mission to the World and is an assisting pastor at Christ Our King. Follow him on Twitter @billyarbrough
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Why We Need Advent, Now More Than Ever

Not feeling the Christmas spirit this year? That’s what Advent is for. Let’s keep the season of Advent to mourn the brokenness of this world and to prepare our hearts properly for the celebration of Christmas.

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I don’t know about you, but I’m having trouble summoning up the Christmas spirit this year. Thanksgiving is over and now our culture is trying to force us into full on Christmas celebratory mode. Our culture wants us to give into the swelling wave of sickening consumeristic bacchanalia. But, I want to ask a question: is it the time for feasting yet? Is it a time for emptying our pocketbooks on ourselves just yet? Should we push back against our culture just a little, this year of all years?

How can we feast while a great American city burns? While a family mourns the reality that no one will be held accountable for the death of their son? While brothers and sisters cry out against what they see as systematic oppression, and folks across the racial and socio-economic divide struggle to listen? How can we feast while Ebola ravages the people of West Africa and threatens to move in on other parts of our world and while now the bubonic plague is becoming a threat to the people of Madagascar? How can we celebrate when campus rape culture has been exposed to be a system where victims are not always protected and the reputations of venerated institutions are instead? How can we go into full on Christmas mode when tanks continue to line up in Ukraine and heads continue to roll in Syria and Iraq? How can we feast when millions upon millions of poor immigrants and refugees in our own country struggle to meet the basic necessities of life? How can we be so tone deaf as a culture? Before we feast and celebrate, would it be appropriate to stop and pray and fast for the many sad things we see around us?

The great history and tradition of the Church may have an answer for us. You see, traditionally there was a preparatory season of prayer and fasting that preceded Christmas. Christmas is not just a day, but a season of the Church year and a time of celebration in the life of the Church. And while we are seemingly always ready to remind others to keep the Christ in Christmas, let us also remember that this feast of Christmas must also be kept in its proper season and its proper proportion. As long as there has been a feast of Christmas, there has also been a preparatory time that preceded the great feast, a period that the Church has called Advent.

Traditionally, the Christmas celebration season followed Christmas Day, while the season that preceded Christmas Day was set aside for preparatory prayer, meditation, and fasting. So while we are keeping the Christ in Christmas, let us also remember to keep a holy Advent to prepare for his coming.

What is Advent? In short, Advent is a season for us to cry out against the brokenness, the injustice, the sin, the disease, the hurt, the oppression, and the fallenness of this world. Advent is a time for us all to hit pause for a moment and as a church, as a human race, to pray and cry out to God to come and fix our broken world. Ultimately God, the All-Powerful Creator and Sustainer of all things, is the only one who can fix our world in a lasting way. But we must not forget that God, while he can intervene supernaturally, almost always uses people to meet his ends in this world. So while we are praying and fasting, let us also be doing. James says, let us not be hearers of the word only, but also doers. Pure religion he says is to serve widows and orphans – to love the poor and the foreigner; the oppressed and downtrodden – to welcome, to host, to listen, and to serve. In short, to love my neighbor as myself. Who is my neighbor, you ask? Friends, who is not your neighbor?

So Advent is a time to pray, a time to fast, a time to listen, and a time to do. If it seems that feasting may be inappropriate this year, or any year, let us first prepare our hearts for the feast. We will feast – we will eat and drink and celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God into our flesh – but before we do that let us first press pause for a moment. Let us first pray and mourn awhile. It will be good for our souls and it will be good for our world.


Here are some resources for praying, listening, and doing:


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“Easter” is not a bad word

It is once again the time of year that folks begin to ramp up for Easter. Easter bunnies, Easter egg hunts, and other various trappings are beginning to be ubiquitous. Now, I will be the first to recognize that the secular (and especially corporate) focus on fluffy bunnies, eggs, and the like is an attempt to sterilize the explicit Christian content of Easter, specifically that of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Yet, I would also argue that Christians who wish to push back against that sterilized (if not secularized) view should not abandon these traditional symbols of Easter, but should fully embrace them and refill them with their Christian meaning.

The same can be said of Christmas. The traditional symbols of Christmas- St. Nick, trees, gifts, feasts- may have been sterilized, secularized, commercialized, and paganized, but that does not change the fact that St. Nick is a real Christian saint, that the Wise Men really offered gifts to the baby Jesus, and that trees and feasts also have their origin in biblical theology. No more should we as Christians abandon these symbols of Christmas than we should abandon the traditional symbols of Easter.

Yet, while I have asserted that the traditional symbols for Easter, including the word “Easter” itself, are Christian in origin, I have not yet substantiated that claim. What is my claim exactly? Well you may have heard that the word “Easter” is of German pagan origin. As a result we Christians sometimes get a little uneasy about using that word. In this post I set out to argue that the word “Easter” is not of pagan origins, and that the word “Easter” itself is actually a Christian metonym for the word “resurrection.”

What is a metonym exactly?  A metonym is a word-symbol that represents another more abstract word that can be used in place of that word. For example, a scepter is something that a king or queen might hold as a symbol of their authority. Yet the word “scepter” itself can be used as a metonym for the word “authority.” In other words “holding the scepter,” can mean “possessing authority.” This is like when Jacob prophesies that the scepter will not pass from the hand of Judah in Genesis 49. There, the word “scepter” is a metonym for kingship or rule. Another way to think of it is that a metonym is a metaphorical or symbolical kind of synonym.

So the word “Easter” is a metonym for “resurrection.” Now, where do I get that? Well, from none other than the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), widely considered to be the definitive record of the English language. Now, as far as lexicographical philosophies go, the OED is descriptive and not prescriptive. In other words, what  the OED sets out to do, in an academically rigorous fashion, is to describe the various usages of a word throughout the history of the English language. This is opposed to prescriptive lexicography, which is the notion that a dictionary should impose its view of language on others. As opposed to stating how a word should be used, rather, descriptive lexicography presents how words have been used already.

Now where I find the OED supremely helpful is in its record of word origins and etymologies. If we look to the entry for “Easter,” what we find in the etymological section is that the word is not of pagan German origin, but of Greek origin. What we find is that far back into our linguistic heritage (that would be the Indo-European family of languages) the word “east” has been a metonym for the rising of the Sun or the coming of the dawn. Thus the Old Dutch ōster, the Old Saxon ōstarthe Middle Low German ōsteren, or the Northumbrian Eostre, never found their origins in any pagan festival, but in the fact that the Sun rises in the East (der Osten is German for “the East”). Thus East(er) means dawn, or the rising of the Sun. This word “Easter” became associated metonymically with the vernal equinox in Germanic lands, and subsequently after their acceptance of Christ, the same word became metonymically associated with the Christian festival of the resurrection of our Lord.

Now the fact that Jesus rose from the dead at or near the vernal equinox is no coincidence. The vernal equinox has always been associated as the creation of the world (in the Hebrew conception), and Jesus is considered to have both been conceived and to have died at or near the vernal equinox, coinciding with the creation of the world and the Hebrew deliverance from Egypt (this is why the Introit for Easter Sunday is the Song of Moses from Exodus 15). Thus a new world comes into being through the resurrection of Christ at the same time of year that the world itself is growing in light (in the Northern Hemisphere) and at the exact point when that light begins to over take the darkness (which by the way is why Easter can never be before the vernal equinox, before the point of the year when light overtakes darkness).

Now, reader, you may also note that only German and English speakers call Easter “Easter,” while the rest of the world calls the festival “Pascha,” which is Greek for “the Passover.” Well let us ponder this for a moment. Germans and English live in much more Northern latitudes than do Greeks or Latins. Do you think that perhaps in the German mind, where the darkness of winter is so much more pronounced than in more southerly latitudes, the coming of the spring might so much more be associated with the resurrection of our Lord? In the most Northern parts of Europe, darkness nearly overtakes the day completely in the depths of winter. Easter then is the day when light finally has defeated the dark. For Greeks and Latins this astronomical reality is not so much of a big deal because they never experienced the disparity between light and dark during winter to the degree that the Germans did.

So, where did this misconception about Easter being pagan come from? The fact of the matter is that there is only one source in existence that claims that the word has such an origin. Now that this source is quite venerable (literally, in fact) explains the stubbornness of this myth. Sadly, it comes from one of my heroes of the faith, the Venerable Bede, the Northumbrian Saint, who while otherwise a very respectable scholar and theologian mentions in one place while talking about the origin of their word for the month April that the word Eostre comes from the celebration of a pagan godess. While Bede is quite the authority on most matters, there is no other source to collaborate this claim, and the OED states that this etymological claim is “less likely” (which is academic speak for not holding much water), and that some scholars think that Bede may have made the whole thing up (for what reason we cannot guess).

If we think about this logically we may suppose that there may have been a pagan feast for the coming of spring, and if so why wouldn’t there have been? Wouldn’t you celebrate the ending of the long dark winter if you lived in Northern Europe? Yet, the word Easter is not pagan in origin, but an ancient way of referring to the rising of the Sun and the coming of spring.

Besides, feasting is biblical in origin, so it is ever as much likely that the pagans started having a springtime feast in response to the Christian festival of the resurrection of our Lord.

So, don’t be afraid of the word Easter. Gladly and loudly go about wishing everyone a “Happy Easter!” this Sunday without reservation. Because Easter is not a bad word.

Rethinking Evangelism

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This post is brought to you by a happy accident. Some might even call it providence. The gospel lesson for today is Matthew 5:17-20. By accident I turned to Mark 5:17-20 and here is what I read:

And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:17-20 ESV)

I’ve been dwelling on the topic of evangelism a lot lately. Many of us have been a part of one evangelistic movement or another in the past. Many of us have been severely burned by those evangelistic movements. Yet we cannot escape the call of scripture, and of Jesus himself, to spread the good news.

The problem most of us have these days is exactly how we are to spread it. Jesus uses  such care free metaphors in the gospels. The most care free is that of the farmer simply flinging seed through the air. If only evangelism were that easy.

Yet is it not just that easy? Have we made evangelism into something more than it is? Have we made it so large, so unattainable, that only the giants of the faith (and those with social disorders that relieve them of any awareness that what they are doing is supposed to make them and others feel uncomfortable) can do it?

In this text, Jesus tells a man simply to, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.”

So simple. So profound. How do we put this into practice?

This statement presumes that one has friends that need to hear the good news. The first task is to make sure that we are developing friendships among the unchurched, underchurched, and unbelievers. But we don’t develop these relationships simply for the goal of evangelizing them. Jesus calls them friends. This is where some past evangelistic movements have gotten it wrong. We don’t develop relationships soley for the purpose of sharing the faith. This is cheap, and everyone feels dirty afterwords. It’s all rather unseemly isn’t it?

Rather, we want to develop true friendships with folks outside our church and outside our faith, not for the purpose of evangelizing, but for the purposes of having a friend.

But this is where a lot of us who have been struggling with evangelism have left it. I have made many friends who needed to hear the good news. Have I at least done this simple thing that Jesus tells the young man to do?

We need to be bold enough simply to tell our friends what the Lord has done for us, and how he has shown mercy on us. It’s that simple. Yet we are called to do it. And no matter how they respond, we don’t simply move on to the next person or evangelistic opportunity. They are our friends after all, and not evangelistic targets. Friends are in it for the long haul.

This method certainly isn’t the most “effective” nor does it bring in results the way we would like. But isn’t it the most dignifying and respectful to the human person? Isn’t it the way Jesus implies in the gospels? And in the long run, doesn’t it bear the most fruit, fruit that lasts and bears other fruit?

So go out. Make friends. And tell them what the Lord has done for you.