After Jesus was born, life for everyone returned to normal in many ways. This post-Christmas “return to normal,” which we all experience presents us with a challenge. It did for the characters in Scripture as well.
After all the Christmas lights are taken down, and the trees are put away, and the wrapping paper is gone, we often struggle to meet each day with the same enthusiasm and joy that led up to Christmas. We fail to walk in the freedom and hope that comes from knowing that Jesus is still on His throne—knowing that God is still with us!
Is this because we struggle to fully believe the story of Advent? It’s that or we’re allowing our circumstances to speak louder than God’s promises.After all the Christmas lights are taken down, and the trees are put away, and the wrapping paper is gone, we often struggle to meet each day with the same enthusiasm and joy that led up to Christmas. Click To Tweet
A Return to Normal – The Valley Between the Advents
“The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” Luke 2:20
In Luke 2:29-32 Simeon said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, and the glory of Your people Israel.”
And in Luke 2:36-38 we read, “And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment (as Simeon was speaking) she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him (Jesus) to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Finally in Luke 2:39-40 we see, “When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”
One of the concepts we addressed within our Advent series was that God‘s Kingdom is always increasing—that the prophet Isaiah’s words are still true even to this day. “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,” – Isaiah 9:7a
But, there’s a difficulty for us in believing this. It lies in the fact that we don’t always see God’s increase—at least not in a way that we can fully appreciate. We’re not omniscient, of course, and so we don’t see how God is moving forward when everything in our world seems to be moving the opposite way.We don’t always see how God is moving forward when everything in our world seems to be moving the opposite way. Click To Tweet
We love to quote passages like Romans 8:28 (often times talking ourselves into belief), “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” But we’d be lying if we claimed to understand how God accomplishes this good or that we always believe it. We’ve also learned in the past that God works all things together for our good, this includes even the tough circumstances of life. This becomes truly arduous.
Imagine we were like Joseph in that old story in Genesis—sold into slavery by our own family because of envy. I don’t believe for a second that we would say at the beginning of that journey, “What you meant as evil against me, God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” – Genesis 50:20 NASB
The truth is Joseph himself didn’t see this reality—not until the very end. Instead, we’d most likely echo Paul’s words. I’m thinking of those he penned concerning his ‘thorn in the flesh.’
“I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:8
Take it away Lord. Take it all away! Change my circumstances! This sounds far more like the prayers we pray, right? And all because we can’t fully see what God is doing. If we did maybe we’d trust a bit more.
Church, we don’t do very well in the valley between. We don’t do well when we can’t see what we want to see. But this is precisely why and where faith becomes so vital. And not the wishful thinking nonsense of today’s church. I’m referring to true faith. I’m referring to faith that’s based on substance and evidence. (Hebrews 11:1)We don’t do well when we can’t see what we want to see. But this is precisely why and where faith becomes so vital. And not the wishful thinking nonsense of today’s church. Click To Tweet
The people of old needed faith to trust that King Jesus was coming (this was based on a promise God made). Both they and we need faith that Jesus will return (this too is based on a promise from God). But we’re also going to need faith right now. Faith for the valley between these two Advents. The same kind of faith that Mary walked in. The same faith as Simeon, Anna, the apostle Paul and all those who truly understand Advent.
In this valley we have to deal with the reality that life doesn’t always appear to have changed. Sure we can mentally ascend to the truth that Jesus is King and that He is advancing, but the world seems to grow increasingly dark, people feel distant, life progressively gets more complicated. And we are all left wondering what’s going on? So what do we do? We learn to walk by faith and not by sight!
Lessons from History
Luke began his story in chapter 2 mentioning a man named Caesar Augustus. Somewhere in Rome, Augustus was at the pinnacle of his power. He was the adopted son of Julius Caesar, a name we all know very well. He came to be ruler over Rome after a vicious Civil War. Leaving in his wake all rival challengers to the ‘throne.’ The last person that stood in the way was the notorious Mark Antony.
After Antony’s suicide, Augustus turned the Roman Republic into an empire, of which he became the head. Declaring his dead father (Julius Caesar) to be divine he styled himself as the ‘son of god.’ This is a well documented idea in the history of the day.
Augustus proclaimed that he had brought peace and justice to the entire world. His people would announce him as the ‘savior of the world’ a ‘King of kings.’ As such he was worshiped in many parts of his new Empire—again he was supposedly a ‘god.’
But Luke isn’t telling us the story of Cesar Augustus. Instead, we’re reading about another King—our King—King Jesus. A Jewish boy, born of a virgin, arriving in a lowly manger, in some obscure town linking him to his Davidic lineage. He is the true deliverer of peace and justice. The true savior of the world and king of kings. The head, not of the Roman empire, but of every empire past, present, and future.
You see all the effort put forth from Augustus to ascend his newly established throne wouldn’t matter at all in just a single generation. Then people would begin to declare Jesus as the Son of God.All the effort put forth from Augustus to ascend his newly established throne wouldn't matter at all in just a single generation when people would begin to declare Jesus as the Son of God. Click To Tweet
But even Jesus’ journey from birth to throne wasn’t a straight shot. It was filled with doubts and questions from those who followed—what was going on or even going wrong?
We look at life through this lens all the time. The lens that receives the promise but has to live out it’s fulfillment.
The most important thing to remember about our brief history lesson here is that within 300 or so years the then Emperor of Rome no longer saw himself as divine, but professed Jesus as Lord. He even commanded his entire empire to do the same.
And yet the 300 years leading up to this profession were full of death and dismay, persecution, and times of despair for the people of God. God’s Kingdom was still advancing. It was again advancing to the point where the leader of the world of that time professed allegiance to King Jesus.
Seeing God in the Valley Between Advents
Do you see how God’s Kingdom was progressing? In hindsight. This reality is still true today we simply don’t recognize it. I assure you, it is still happening today, even in the light of current politics, pandemics, and persecution.
So, now that all the Christmas lights are down, the tree’s put away, the wrapping paper gone, do we meet the next day with the same joy? Do we walk in the freedom and hope that comes from knowing our King is truly on the throne? That Eden has in many ways been restored? Are we enjoying God with us?
Or do we fall into the trap of believing that Advent was a one-off event and now we are relegated back to normal life, letting God do his thing while we count down the next 365 days in a dejected valley between advents?
Remember in Luke 2 the shepherds had to go back to their fields. Simeon and Anna both had to watch as Mary and Joseph carried the consolation of Israel away. Mary and Joseph had to have their baby circumcised and experience years of Him “growing” and “becoming strong,” “increasing in wisdom.” At one point they even had to flee to Egypt for His protection.
The moments we wait for also come with valleys. There’s Christmas and then there’s the next day. As we just read about with Simeon and Anna, joy begins in knowing that God has come. Whether that’s displayed in having a peace like Simeon or in proclaiming the truth to all those around you like Anna, truly believing that God has come is the first step in the valley.
Mary and Joseph had to do this as well. Why couldn’t Jesus just ascend to the throne, overthrow Rome, and seize the day? After all, children have occupied the throne before. Add to that this is the actual Son of God. But what do we read? That Mary and Joseph (for as long as we have him in the story) have to walk with Jesus through a very dark valley, one that leads all the way to the cross.
Paul in the Valley
All of this takes place within the life of Jesus but what about after? What about post-Matthew 28. Let’s explore a situation with Paul and Silas from Acts 16 where they are living in the valley between Advents and yet they trusted God.
“The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.”
Matthew 28 has already occurred, right? All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ so why is it that his followers are being imprisoned?
“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.”
Paul and Silas had joy while in the midst of the valley. Consider how this parallels Psalm 23 and the fact that God has always been unshaken during any valley.
“When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!””
Understanding the valley between the Advents brings a level of joy that doesn’t attempt an escape, instead considering the life of Jailer as more important than their own.
“And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.”
The results of living joyfully between the advents are that people will see our hope and it will provoke them to understand better.
“Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, “Release those men.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.” – Acts 16:22-40 NASB
Living in the valley between the advents is filled with trial but the reason we make it through is that what we were waiting for has come. King Jesus is one the throne. The future is in His hands.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7-12