The month of December has begun, which means that it is the best time of the year. But what does it mean for us as Christians to approach Christmas? Is it just an endless rat-race of shopping, decorating, and partying? Dr. Robbie Crouse of Knox Seminary reminds us that approaching Christmas means learning to wait by entering into the story of Advent. Whether you are part of a church that follows the church calendar or not, his words are a helpful and stirring call to enjoy the season to its full.
Our culture has a waiting problem. I think we all know it. We live with instant gratification at our fingertips. Our inability to wait even infects our celebration of Christmas. I saw Christmas decorations at most stores the day after Halloween. I guess we’d rather start our Christmas shopping than pause for Thanksgiving.
With this way of celebrating Christmas, it’s no wonder that we’re tired of Christmas by December 25. The secular calendar of Christmas runs from November 1 -December 25. On December 26 we start to see the Valentine’s Day decorations come out.
Does it seem like there might be a better way? I think there is.
Some American evangelicals are surprised to hear about the older tradition of Advent and Christmas from our Christian past. It doesn’t quite match the way we celebrate it now. Traditionally, Christmas doesn’t begin until December 25, and it is a season, not a one-day event. Remember that song, The Twelve Days of Christmas? The “twelfth night” is another major celebration that brings us to Epiphany (January 6), the feast of Christ’s revelation to the world as the Divine Son, represented by the visit of the Magi and Jesus’s baptism. In many places around the world, January 6 is the day of exchanging gifts (in honor of the magi) and a bigger celebration than Christmas Day.
Before Christmas is the season of Advent. Advent marks four Sundays before Christmas and is quite distinct from Christmas itself. In other words, it’s not about celebrating four weeks of the Christmas story. Many of us are familiar with Advent wreaths and Advent candles, but some funny recent traditions have come in that take away from that earlier meaning of Advent. There’s nothing inherently wrong with naming the Advent candles (“Faith,” “Hope,” “Joy,” “Love” make some sense), but naming them after characters in the Christmas story (“the Shepherds candle,” “Mary’s candle,” “Joseph’s candle) seem to take away from the whole point of Advent as a preparation distinct from Christmas.
So what is the point of Advent?
“Advent” comes from a Latin word meaning “coming.” It’s about the coming of Christ, and that makes sense to most of us. What is less known is that Advent looks primarily at Christ’s second coming, or his “comings” to us now in all kinds of ways. The tone of Advent is one of waiting, longing, expectation, anticipation, preparation, even repentance. John the Baptist’s cry “Prepare the way of the Lord!” is probably the best summary of Advent.
On the one hand, in Advent, we enter again into the situation of Israel waiting for her Messiah. A number of Advent hymns pick up on Israel’s exile and God’s promise of a glorious future. “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” follows Isaiah’s message that judgment on Israel is coming to an end and God’s return is on the horizon. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” uses a different prophetic theme in each stanza with an address to “ransom, captive” Israel “that mourns in lonely exile.” It’s still dark out, but the night is coming to an end.
The purpose of this reenactment of Israel’s longing is to remind us that, although our Messiah has come, we still wait for the consummation of His kingdom. The other aspect of Advent is a theme of Christ’s return in glory. And it’s not focused solely on joy either. There’s still pain the world, but the coming morning will swallow up the mourning. There is a note of repentance and watchfulness in Advent. The parable of the Ten Virgins, a common theme in traditional Advent observance, teaches us to be vigilant and not unprepared when the Master returns.
Advent is the perfect reminder that we are between two appearings of Christ. We can be confident about his second coming when we remember God’s faithfulness to Israel in bringing her Messiah. Because God has been true to his covenant promises in bringing salvation near, we can be equipped by that grace to wait patiently for the fullness of our redemption.
Advent is an exercise in delayed gratification. Does that seem like something American Christians need? Yeah, I think so, too. Following the church calendar is not a commanded obligation by any means. But it is helpful. It teaches us that God works for those who wait on Him. Just as it helps us build anticipation for the joy of Christmas, we can (hopefully) increase our eagerness for Christ’s kingdom to come afresh, in our lives now and on that final day.
Amen, come quickly Lord Jesus.
Here, in an article called “Can You Really Just Do It?” is a great Christ-centered reminder for us from author and speaker Paul David Tripp. I hope it’s an encouragement to you!
If you want to live productively in this fallen world, it’s absolutely critical that you humbly admit your limits as a human being, and then proceed to live within them.
You won’t get much encouragement from the surrounding culture. In fact, think about all the branded slogans, advertising campaigns, or inspirational Instagram quotes that encourage you to deny or even ignore your limits:
- Just Do It
- I Will
- If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It
- Be All You Can Be
- Impossible Is Nothing
While the Bible is filled with verses about the importance of discipline and hard work, the limits on our abilities are extensive and profound. When we consider a typical day, we’re confronted with how little is actually under our control. When we reflect on our life, we see a trail of weakness and deficiency.
We can only be in one place at a time, no matter how hard we dream. We can’t tell gravity that impossible is nothing. We can’t just do it and be all we can be without oxygen, food and water. Which, by the way, we don’t supply for ourselves.
We can’t remove our words and actions from history or redo a situation. We can’t know the details of tomorrow, let alone know where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing in five years.
We can’t accurately read the desires or predict the actions of someone else, and certainly not control them. We can’t make our acquaintances respect us, and we can’t assure that our family members will treat us with love. We can’t change our spouse or force our children to have faith.
We can’t avoid natural disasters or protect ourselves from suffering. We can’t ward off disease and sickness or keep ourselves from aging. We can’t defy the mortality of our humanity.
Discouraged? Don’t be, and don’t panic; reality is a healthy place to be.
Think about this: only when I humbly embrace my weakness, humbly admit my limits, and humbly recognize how small I actually am, can I begin to reach out for the help of the loving, powerful, and gracious Redeemer who is the true source of my strength, wisdom, and hope.
Only then can I begin to function as an instrument in his powerful hands, rather than being in his way because, in forgetting who I am and who he is, I have been trying to do his job.
You don’t have to fear your limits. They were designed by the God who is the definition of everything that is knowledgeable, understanding, wise, and true. Your limits are not a flaw in his creative plan. They are the product of his wise choice and the fulfillment of his intentions. God made you limited, in exactly the way you are.
Your limits are meant to drive you in humble and worshipful need to your Lord, who has promised never to turn a deaf ear to the cry of his children (Psalm 34:15). He has welcomed you to cast your care on him (1 Peter 5:7). He has said that he will never leave you by yourself (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Admitting your limits is not a sign of weakness; it’s an essential ingredient of mature faith.
by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)
Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o’er Nineveh’s prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.
On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden
Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;
And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold
Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;
Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,
On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,
Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,
And the sun of September melts down on his vines.
Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest;
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?
Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!
Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
E’er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o’er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!
The 5th and 6th grade classes sponsored Regents Academy’s Veterans Day celebration with patriotic observances, original poetry, expressions of gratitude, and breakfast on November 10. About a dozen veterans were present to join the celebration. We appreciate all our brave men and women who have served our great nation!
The mass shooting in Sutherland Springs is too horrific for most of us to imagine. The tragic deaths of 26 people and at least that many wounded, gathered in a church to worship the Lord God, no less, at the hands of a bloodthirsty, evil man bent on destroying as many men, women, and children as possible, leaves us all shaken and disturbed. The headline has become all too common, and the locales are etched in our memories: Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Aurora. Churches and schools should be safe places, yet, in a world we feel hardly able to recognize, they have become dangerous places.
One of the reasons parents send their children to Regents Academy is so that they will be in a secure environment. Parents want their child’s mind, soul, and relationships to be safe; a Christ-centered school offers the promise of these types of safety. But parents want their child’s physical safety to be guarded also. Ultimately, of course, no place is perfectly safe. The reality of a sin-sick, fallen world means that evil men bent on doing harm will do their harm, despite our precautions. Living in a free and open society means that we take the risk of people abusing their freedoms with perverted purposes.
The board and staff of Regents Academy know that our school’s parents care deeply about the safety of their children. We take it upon ourselves as a sacred trust to secure and guard the students throughout the school day to the best of our ability. We have many safety precautions and protocols in place: safety plans, security cameras, locked doors, lockdown procedures, 911 buttons, and others. Ultimately, our best safety feature is our teachers themselves, who carefully shepherd their students, watching for threats and staying ready to take action if the need arises. Vigilance is their byword.
Threats do exist, and no multiplication of plans and protocols can prevent all dangers. Ultimately, we pray for the Lord’s watchcare, and we trust Him to be our strong tower. “He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved” (Ps 62:6). God does not promise that no harm will ever come to us. Indeed, His sovereign purpose for us often includes danger, hardship, and suffering. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Yet the Lord calls us to exercise prudence, to fulfill our duties with foresight and courage. Please know that it is our purpose at Regents to do so to the best of our ability.
Together, we trust the Lord, and we ask for His mercy on us, our children, and our grandchildren. And we pray for the hurting folks in Sutherland Springs, who have been asked to drink a bitter cup we hope never to drink.
It was a chilly, soggy Wednesday, but 13 Regents juniors and seniors, along with 4 adults, trekked to Plantersville, Texas, to step back into the Medieval and Renaissance world and enjoy a day of jousting, lords and ladies, elephant rides, and giant smoked turkey legs. It’s a G-rated version of the TRF called School Days, and it is loads of fun.
I minored in history in college, and one of my professors was, um, memorable, in his own way. The class was called “The Age of Reason,” and we were supposed to be learning about the Enlightenment in the 18th C. However, this professor had dedicated his scholarly life to studying 18th C. French gardens, and that was all – I mean all – he lectured on. He assigned three books (all about French gardens), and gardens were all he appeared to care about. In fact, it was obvious to me that while he loved his subject, he merely tolerated his students (oddly, he hardly ever made eye contact with us). Did you ever have a teacher like that?
Arthur Holmes, in his book Building the Christian Academy, wrote,
If we consider the art or science that is taught, then it is a contemplative life devoted to the truth; but if we consider students and their needs, then it is indeed an active life engaged in the affairs of this world for the common good. It is not a choice between the two, for with a duty to both the discipline and the student, the teacher should in reality be a teacher-scholar.
So which is it: should teachers love their subject or their students? If Dr. Holmes is right, the answer is “yes.”
In the classical Christian vision for education, the teacher is a not simply a technician who has studied the science of pedagogy. Rather, the teacher is a scholar who leads “a contemplative life devoted to the truth.” Should the teacher be skilled in the science of pedagogy? Absolutely. But a teacher’s greatest trait is a love for learning and for truth (historical truth, mathematical truth, language truth, etc.). She shares that love for learning with her students. She is first and foremost a pursuer of truth and of the One who is the Truth.
And of course a classical Christian teacher doesn’t just love his subject; he loves his students. He leads “an active life engaged in the affairs of this world for the common good” – and what greater good is there than training children to live for God? Students are image bearers of the Triune God. They aren’t pupils filling desks, with teachers filling their pockets by filling the students’ heads. Teachers are called to give themselves away to their students, to invest in them, and to approach them as dearly loved children.
Teachers who love their students but don’t love their subject can never lead their students to love learning. Teaching is always incarnational, and teachers are called to model their love for truth before their pupils in order for them to be transformed into their teacher’s image.
Teachers who love their subject but don’t love their students will be distant, harsh, and self-involved. Learning is drudgery when it’s about the teacher grinding through his pet subject or it’s merely about checking off the stuff you have to do to fulfill the class requirements. That drives students away. But love draws them. Relationships are powerful things.
I can still remember those long periods sitting under my French garden professor (I struggle even to remember his name). But let me tell you about Mr. Grove or Mr. Orlofsky or Dr. Lea. They were passionate for their subjects, but they loved me, too (somehow – I don’t think I was very lovable back then).
Teachers at Regents Academy aim to properly balance passion for our subjects and love for our students. The vision for scholar-teachers, with “duty to both the discipline and the student,” is a worthy vision. It is one we are committed to.
Three Regents Academy students were recently selected for the Texas Music Educators Association Region 4/21 orchestras.