Next month will be Christmas. Yay! But first, let’s prepare ourselves in celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ by observing Advent. But what is Advent anyway? What is the history of Advent and what does it bring to the hearts of the believers? I e-mail pastor Robin Ham, author of the new Advent devotional, Finding Hope Under Bethlehem Skies, to talk about Advent, how celebrate it and about his new book.
Please tell our about yourself.
I’m Robin, I pastor a church called St Paul’s Barrow in a town called Barrow-in-Furness in the north-west of England. I’m married to Zoe and we have five kids.
Kindly tell our readers what Advent is?
It’s thought that the rhythm of marking Advent began when fourth-century European Christians put their own spin on the early church tradition of encouraging new converts to spend time preparing for baptism. Taking it’s name from the Latin, adventus, literally meaning ‘coming’ or ‘arrival (itself derived from the Greek term, parousia), this preparation season matched that of the traditional time of Lent which led up to Easter baptisms.
It is an opportunity for new Christians to both look back to the long-foretold first coming of the Messiah, and in turn to learn to look forward to his coming again.
Why do we have to observe Advent when their is already December 25 Christmas to celebrate?
I would always say it’s not that ‘we’ve got to observe Advent’, but rather that ‘we get to’!
Of course, the concept of marking Advent or even a ‘Christian year’ (with Christmas, Easter and Pentecost) isn’t commanded in the Bible. Yet many churches and denominations have found it a helpful way to engage richly in the various theological emphases of those historical events – and to see them as part of one narrative that shapes our collective lives.
Today many mark Advent from the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, after which the celebration of the Incarnation, the ‘twelve days of Christmas’ takes place. Advent is about helping our hearts to wait and long for Jesus’ return. We hunger and then we feast.
As a pastor how do you prepare your congregation for Advent?
The writer Tish Harrison Warren says that Advent helps us “lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime.” I encourage people to use the time to particularly think about the fact that Jesus is coming again – and that this is good news for a broken world.
Personally, how do you celebrate Advent?
I like to mix up my own personal Bible reading by using an Advent devotional. I listen to Advent music that helps me hunger for Jesus. We often use a resource as a family that helps us anticipate Jesus’ first coming and look ahead to his second coming.
As a taste of the celebration of the feasting of Christmas, each Sunday in Advent we’ll give our kids a treat – one year we gave them Coco-Cola for Sunday lunch, as a little pointer to the party that will happen when Jesus returns.
Kindly tell us about your new book, Finding Hope Under Bethlehem Skies? Before reading your book, I find it a bit odd to find the Advent story in the Book of Ruth. How would you react to that?
Yes, typically Advent devotionals walk us through the birth narratives in the gospels, or the classic Old Testament prophecies of Christ’s coming. But a couple of years ago at our church we spent the season journeying slowly through a seemingly surprising portion of Scripture: the Book of Ruth. I like to think of Ruth as ‘the story behind the Christmas story’. Famously, Ruth ends with the birth of a baby boy in Bethlehem, who is the ancestor of King David, who is an ancestor of Jesus.
So the whole book is driving towards that purpose. And it all happens in Bethlehem too! But it’s also a great book for Advent because it confronts us with the reality of our broken world. In a world that aches with sin, the story of Ruth liberates us from the exhausting deception that all is endless cheer.
I like it when you said in the book that this is more of a love story of Naomi and Ruth than between Ruth and Boaz. Can you elaborate more on that?
Yes, if we know the book of Ruth a little bit, then we’re probably familiar with her relationship with Boaz. But I wonder if the main character is actually Naomi. She’s the person who goes on a clear journey in the story – as she experiences and learns to trust in the sovereign kindness of our Lord.
And at the end of the book, the spotlight seems to fall on the way that God’s goodness has been shown to her through Ruth’s kindness in marrying Boaz and therefore providing for Naomi and her family.
Kindly tell us the process of writing Finding Hope Under Bethlehem Skies.
Well, it was Advent 2019 when I preached through Ruth over four weeks. And as I prepared for the series, I just became more and more passionate about this story – and how rich and deep it was. So to help us go deeper into God’s word, I challenged myself to write a daily devotion that we emailed out to the church family each day of December. These seemed to be encouraging, so with a bit of feedback I edited them into 25 daily reflections and self-published 500 copies of the first version of this book in Advent 2020, which helped us raise some money for local ministry. Wonderfully 10ofthose were then keen to republish it to a wider audience for 2021.
Another cool thing about your book is that you included recommend songs for each entry and you have a playlist of it on Spotify. I’m a bit curious of the inclusion of it. Do you listen to those songs and what’s you favorite?
Yes, I love music – I love how it provides a soundtrack to every season of life. So I liked the idea of doing something a bit different and producing a soundtrack for this book. I have to say, it’s pretty hard to choose one favorite! Right now, I’m loving Melanie Penn’s ‘Love’s Coming Down’,Lauren Daigle’s ‘Noel’, and Andrew Peterson’s ‘Gather Round, Ye Children, Come’. But I love discovering new music too!
Thank you for the opportunity. Kindly invite our readers to pick up your book and also if they want to connect to you please share your social media.
I’d love to journey through Ruth with you this Advent – you can pick up a copy through 10ofthose or TGC. Marking Advent might not have been part of your personal or church tradition. But ultimately it’s not about us needing Advent. When faced with our brokenness and depravity, it’s all too easy to turn away. But the gift of the gospel is that God doesn’t turn away. What we all need is Christ. As the old carol puts it, ‘Yet in the dark streets shineth, an everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’ This Advent, why not open up Ruth and find hope in the darkest of nights?
I’m on Twitter at @rhamage and I blog at www.thathappycertainty.com
Any last words for those who are looking forward to celebrate Advent.
Thanks for reading and I’m praying that God’s Spirit would be helping us hunger for our Saviour and that we would delight in him and his kindness would shape our lives.
Thank you Pastor Robin for this interview and inviting our readers to get your book.
(Read my favorite quotes from this book by clicking here.)
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