The religious holidays in December create a bit of a muddle with our usual Sunday service times. The festive season also influences the subjects of our divine services as we anticipate Christmas.
Not only do we light candles during the season of Advent, but the promises and events associated with Jesus’ incarnation also shine into our time. The Sundays of Advent focus on Bible passages from the Old and New Testaments that concentrate on the Lord Jesus. The fourth Sunday of Advent is the only time during the festive season that our New Apostolic churches will remain empty.
No empty promises
God keeps His promises. This is the message of the divine service on the first Sunday of Advent. The Bible text for this is taken from a divine service that the Chief Apostle conducted a year ago on the first Sunday of Advent: “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah: in those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgement and righteousness in the earth’” (Jeremiah 33: 14–15). This is a promise that God made early on and which He also fulfilled. Even the details of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection were fulfilled as the prophet Jeremiah had predicted. Jesus Himself then also made a promise, namely of sending the Holy Spirit. And this was also fulfilled. Now the Holy Spirit is active in the church and teaches us the proper attitude towards God and our fellow human beings, and reminds us of the promise that has not yet been fulfilled: the return of Jesus.
Light in the darkness
“And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” This Bible text from John 1: 5 will be explored in the divine service on the second Sunday of Advent. The light is Jesus Christ and the darkness is an image of the world that has fallen into sin. During the divine service, we will learn that just as no one can influence the sun, the light of Jesus is also beyond human control. His light continues to shine into the darkness regardless of whether humanity accepts Him or not. The service will explore how we can grasp and comprehend Jesus the light and how we can help others do so.
Between old and new
The last prophet of the old covenant was John the Baptist. He had been chosen and sent by God to prepare the advent, or arrival, of Jesus Christ. The Bible text that will be used on the third Sunday of Advent was the basis of a divine service by the Chief Apostle during Advent last year: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe” (John 1: 6–7). John the Baptist called upon people to repent. Today, Advent is also a time of repentance. John the Baptist announced the presence of the Saviour and the new covenant. And he was not disappointed that he himself had to take a step back, but testified with great joy that a new story with God and His people was about to be written through Jesus Christ.
Preparing for Christmas during the week
Since the fourth Sunday of Advent falls on the Sunday before Christmas Day this year, there will be no divine service on that day. The focus of that week’s midweek service is on an Advent theme, namely that Jesus brings salvation. The Bible passage from Luke 19: 38 is taken from the context of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” On the one hand, Jesus enters Jerusalem as King, on the other, His entry marks the beginning of His physical and spiritual suffering. The midweek service looks at the question of how eternal fellowship with God can be obtained—only through Jesus Christ—and how this affects our conduct. Because through word and deed we profess that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour.
For the shepherds, the poor, the humble, and the outcasts, it must have been as if they had seen the glory of God when the angels surprised them in the field and said: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2: 10–11). This encounter is the basis for the Christmas Day service in our New Apostolic congregations. Jesus, the newborn babe lying in the manger, may have looked poor and needy, but the shepherds believed the angels and worshipped the child like a king. Sometimes the glory of God is already there, but we just cannot see it properly yet. Jesus, for example, has already triumphed over evil, but not all its effects are manifest yet. The same is true of the kingdom of God. It is already among us in Jesus Christ, but it will only be revealed in perfection in the future. The Christmas Day service will focus on how we can experience the glory of God already today and how this strengthens our anticipation of the future with God.
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