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Perspective: The promise of Advent

In preparing us for Christmas, the season of Advent points us to light when we need it the most

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An Ethiopian woman and her child visit the Church of the Nativity.

An Ethiopian woman and her child visit the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.

Mahmoud Illean, Associated Press

About 20 years ago, I was sitting in my study, meditating on how forgiving and how kind Jesus has been to me, when I heard a voice. I’m not saying it was God’s voice, but I did hear a voice, and it said: “Find your father.”

I was triggered. I did not have a good relationship with my father. In fact, I didn’t have any relationship with him at all. I began to curse and cry. And I found myself arguing with the voice, saying, “He doesn’t deserve me finding him. He abandoned me.”

After a few moments of sitting in my tears, I sensed God saying, “Son, you are right, your father did abandon you. And he doesn’t deserve you going to find him. But never forget — you didn’t deserve my son Jesus finding and forgiving you. Go and forgive your father.”

This moment changed my life, as it did my father’s. It was as transformational as turning on a light in a dark room, which is what Christmas does, too. But before we have the joy of Christmas, we have the blessings of Advent.

Advent, which means “coming,” gives us time to prepare for this momentous event. During the weeks and days before Christmas, we look back at the events leading up to the birth of the Messiah, while simultaneously looking forward to his return and the establishment of his eternal kingdom.

I do not know about you, but in our age of constant noise and distraction, I often lose sight of the reason for the season. I get lost in looking for the right gifts to purchase instead of thinking about how Jesus purchased me and gave eternal life. I find my eyes blinded by everyday worries: an unjust war in Ukraine, extreme poverty, human trafficking and a warming planet. Like you, I am daily reminded of all the heartbreak that surrounds us, near and far.

But when you think about it, 2022, is not that much different than the time when Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago. Then, the Jewish people were under Roman occupation. And the pagan Roman Empire ruled Israel with an iron fist. If you got out of line with Rome, you were nailed to a cross — a form of execution that was designed to humiliate, dominate and terminate. As little boy, Jesus might have witnessed his Jewish kinsmen being crucified. Times were tough. Israel hungered for a hero, the promised Messiah.

And right in the middle of this darkness, the light of the world was born. Advent reminds us that our darkest moments have been eclipsed and forgiven by the Lamb of God. Advent points us to light — the light of the star of Bethlehem, and the light of Christ.

This advent season, appreciate the gifts that are under the tree, but please take time to behold the real gift, the gift that hung on a tree, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. As I took hold of God’s forgiveness in Christ, he freed me from the hold of bitterness. Our hearts are not meant to be imprisoned in unforgiveness. When I forgave my dad, I was set free. 

Bask in the light. Let it change you, as it changed me. Merry Christmas.

The Rev. Dr. Derwin L. Gray is co-founder and lead pastor of Transformation Church in South Carolina and the author of “How to Heal Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says, and the First Christians Knew, about Racial Reconciliation.”