This post was originally published here. Follow the hashtag #cultivatedChristmas for more advent encouragement.
Recently I saw a woman post on Facebook how she wanted people to stop sharing countdowns to Christmas. Why? Because it reminded her how behind she was on shopping.
This comment from a professing Christian bothered me—even if it was meant to be jovial. It wasn’t merely because she correlated Christmas more with shopping than with Jesus. It was her perspective of the countdown to Christmas because of her emphasis on gift-giving.
To her, the countdown to Christmas did not involve a meaningful reflection on the first coming of Christ, an anticipation for the next coming of Christ, nor did it teach her the value of waiting. Instead, the countdown created more stress as it meant less days for her to get her shopping list done. It caused her to procrastinate, and it caused her to want to disregard any sort of countdown instead of using it to grow her faith.
Do We Have to Countdown the Days to Christmas?
The Bible doesn’t say anything about a countdown or an Advent Calendar. We don’t have a command from God to countdown the days until Christmas as part of our celebration as Christians, but we do we have many instructions to remember what God has done and to hope in what he will do (Psalm 77:11, Psalm 33:20).
You’ve probably heard of an Advent Calendar. The calendars come in many varieties with the most popular ones displaying a mirage of Santa Claus and a chocolate to enjoy each day leading to Christmas.
But if this type of Advent tradition leads us more to an excitement for the gifts we will receive on a given day (or anxiety to finish our shopping list in time) than the celebration of the birth of Christ, what Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection, and what he will fulfill in his second coming, we steal his glory from the Christmas season like the Grinch who stole Christmas from the innocent make-believe people of Whoville.
The word “advent” means “coming.” Today, we live in the last days where we wait for the second and final coming of Christ. Our advent brings anticipation. By tradition the first two Sundays leading up to Christmas focus on this eagerness for the return of Christ while the final two Sundays look backward to the first coming of Christ where he came to earth being born of a virgin.
A Countdown Should Turn Our Eyes to Christ
This type of countdown lifts our eyes to the future hope Christ gives, and it helps us to wait for him to accomplish what he said he would accomplish. He promises to physically raise our bodies with him into eternity (Ephesians 2:6-7). He promises to return to earth to defeat Satan once and for all (Revelation 20:7-10). He promises to create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21).
After turning our eyes to our future hope, we recall how God fulfills all his promises. Before Christ came to earth, 300 plus prophecies proclaimed a Messiah would come, die, and resurrect—all of which he fulfilled. In looking back, we see God’s faithfulness to do what he says he will do.
Like he faithfully sent Jesus to redeem us from our sins, he will again send Jesus to defeat all evil and establish his reign. More prophecies about his second coming remain to be fulfilled, but we can rest in the faithfulness of God to fulfill them as he has the others.
Find Ways to Make a Countdown
Here are a few things you can do to make the countdown to Christmas Christ-centered:
Make Your Own Calendar
I make my own calendar since the typical ones I see online or in stores are the traditional Santa and chocolate ones. Each day we take down the previous day which serves as a visual in the waiting process. It strengthens our souls to reflect and wait on Jesus.
Buy Some Candles
I have 5 candles. One for each Sunday leading up to Christmas and another for Christmas day. There is a lot of information about Advent Candles on the internet to help you understand the symbolism of each candle lighting.
Read an Advent Devotional
Starting December 1st, our family reads from John Piper’s Advent devotional, Good News of Great Joy. This helps to give us something intentional to meditate on each day.
Don’t let countdowns discourage you. Let them strengthen your faith. Remain a generous giver to loved ones but be intentional to center on Christ this Christmas. And may your countdown grow your eagerness to say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.”