Advent Deeper: Hope Again

“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
Matthew 2:11

Sunday starts the season of Advent – those four weeks where Christians take time to reflect on and remember the true meaning of Christmas, and prepare themselves for the birth of Christ. If you looked into the traditions and ways that people observe Advent, you will find that each week has its own focus.

The first one being hope.
In the midst of hopelessness.

It’s a theme found throughout the Christmas story.

The children of Israel experienced hope as God began speaking again after 400 years.
Mary and Joseph found hope as angel upon angel appeared to bring reassurance.
The shepherds experienced hope in the appearance of the heavenly host.
Simeon and Anna found hope as they gazed upon the long-awaited Messiah.

But there’s another experience of hope we tend to overlook.
The arrival of the Magi.

The Christmas story reads as a consecutive list of events. The angel appears to Joseph. Jesus is born in Bethlehem. The Magi appear. One right after another.

However, Historians believe the arrival of the Magi didn’t occur right away. They didn’t show up a few hours, or even days, after Christ was born to bring their gifts. They definitely didn’t find Jesus still laying in a manger.

The Magi appeared two years after Jesus was born.
Two years of Mary, Joseph, and their child living in Bethlehem.
Two years waiting for the census to be completed.
Two years staying in a house that wasn’t their own.
Two years without any fanfare, angelic appearances, or curious shepherds.

The excitement, proclamation, and fanfare of Christ’s birth had worn off.
Mary and Joseph were living with the day-to-day ramifications of parenting the Messiah.

They were far from home.
Away from their family and friends.
Staying in someone else’s house.

And probably running out of money.

Then, out of nowhere, these Magi appear.

They weren’t just ordinary men.
They were members of a learned religious class.
Specializing in astrology, medicine, and natural science.
Traveled months from somewhere around Iran.

And were bearing gifts fit for a king.

The appearance of the Magi reaffirmed the identity of the Christ-child.
It showed Mary and Joseph they weren’t forgotten.
And provided the resources needed to finish their time in Bethlehem and flee to Egypt.

Hope appeared again years after the angelic proclamations, the reappearance of God’s voice, and the birth of the Messiah.
And it continues to appear centuries later in our lives.

So, my brothers and sisters, as we begin journeying through Advent, may you find hope rising up again in your life. May you see God moving in every aspect of your life. And may you, as we inch closer to celebrating the birth of Christ, find the hope to face whatever may come.

How has God used others to bring hope into your life?

Students have an Encounter

During the weekend of November 2-4, students from five different schools gathered together for our bi-annual Encounter Retreat.

We had 21 students total coming from Monmouth College, Carl Sandburg College, Joliet Junior College, Galesburg High School, and United High School, along with three Ignite staff members.

Students participated in sessions each day that helped them disconnect from school and work, and seek to encounter the God who created them. Sessions included: The Nature of God’s Love, Job Well Done (Being a Faithful Servant), Prophetic Prayer, Powerful Prayer, Empowered to Go final devotion, a time of silence, and numerous times of worship and prayer.

It was a powerful retreat where every student had some kind of encounter with God. But don’t take our word for it. Hear what our students had to say:

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Watch more video testimonials from the retreat on YouTube!

Register for the Next Encounter Retreat!

If you are a high school senior, college student, or young adult up to age 25, you are able to attend the Ignite Encounter Retreat! Our next retreat is scheduled for April 5-7 at Great Oaks Camp in Lacon, Illinois. Get more information and register online.

Romania Trip 2013 Plans Underway

Plans are in the making for our trip to Bucharest, Romania in March 2013. Four individuals from the States, along with 2-3 individuals from the Czech Republic will work with Biserica Agapia Bucuresti (Agape Church Bucharest) to reach out to university students and young professionals.

Preliminary ideas for team activities include:

  • English speaking workshop at the local community center
  • Painting at the local community center
  • Prayer walking at the University of Bucharest
  • Speaking and prayer night with the Baptist student group
  • Prayer and strategy night with members of Agape Church
  • Talk and pray with people in the streets
  • Free day to visit Transylvania or hike a mountain and build relationships
  • And more!

The team is excited for this trip and is fundraising to make it possible. Combined, the team needs $13,000 to cover airfare, housing, food, travel, and outreach supplies for 7 people.

If you would like to partner with our team to make this trip a reality, tax-deductible donations can be made to:

Romania Mission Trip
c/o Ignite
1007 E. Boston Ave
Monmouth, IL 61462

Please make checks out to Ignite and put Romania on the memo line.

Donations can also be made online through Paypal by clicking here.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Give Thanks in Everything

“…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 5:20

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul gives a list of instructions to help the believers grow in their faith.

He encourages them to be filled with Spirit.
Challenges them not to get drunk on wine.
Tells them to sing songs and psalms to one other.
And pushes them to sing and make music in their heart to the Lord.

But at the end of this section of his letter, Paul challenges them at a deeper level.
He tells them to give thanks for everything.

Not just the big things.
Not just the obvious things.
Not just the typical family, friends, and neighbors who push them to be better.
Not just the blessings of God.
Not just the paycheck, bank account, and American dream.

Everything.
And all the time.

He wants us to give thanks for the sunrise and the sunset.
The grass and the flowers.
The summer and the winter.
The food on our table and the lightbulb in our lamp.
The heat that keeps us warm and the spider catching flies.
The people who bless us and those who curse us.
The good times and the bad.
The miracle we’ve been praying for and the blessing that goes almost unseen.

Everything in our lives, both big and small, should be a source of thanks.

Every aspect of our lives is a gift from God
And everything is worthy of thanks.
Even when it seems too small to bother God with.

When we begin thanking Him for the little things, when we praise Him for the mundane, when we pour out gratitude for those things we easily pass by without noticing, it develops thanksgiving within us.

A heart of thanksgiving changes us.
Gives us a bigger perspective.
And draws us closer to God.

God desires a heart that always gives thanks for everything in our lives.
Whether big or small.

So, my brothers and sisters, as you journey towards Thanksgiving this week, may you be reminded that everything is a gift from God. May you find yourself thanking Him for everything in your life. And may you, as you develop a heart of thanksgiving, find Him drawing you closer than ever before.

What small thing can you thank God for today?

Should I Practice Advent?

There seems to be a belief among many Christians that the season of Advent is strictly reserved for High Liturgical churches. Most protestant, evangelical churches shy away from Advent, believing it too traditional to have any redemptive value.

History of Advent

The origins of Advent aren’t completely clear, but do trace back to the Latin Translation of the Sacred Scriptures to the Vulgate (fourth century) which attribute the term adventus, meaning the coming of the Son of God, in two meanings: his coming in flesh and his second coming. The tension between the two meanings was later was resolved and adventus referred to “a moment of preparation for the coming.”

The very first recorded instance of an Advent-like observation came in 380 AD when congregants were encouraged to attend church every day to prepare themselves for the celebration of Christmas.

By 490 AD, Saint Gregory of Tours offered a testimony of a certain sense of preparation for Christmas among the monks: “they should observe fasting everyday during the month of December, up to Christmas day” (Canon 17, Council of Tours).

The specifics surrounding the celebration of Advent underwent a number of changes over the next few centuries, with the length of Advent and prescribed observation changing until landing on the four Sundays before Christmas, which is the current practice of Advent.

Character of Advent

Advent serves as time for Christians of all denominations to reflect and prepare themselves to celebrate the first coming of Christ in human form over 2,000 years ago, and the second coming of Christ that we still await. The present Roman Calendar acknowledges that “Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation.” (Roman Calendar, Universal norms of the Liturgical Year and Calendar, 39)

Advent Traditions

There are many different traditions associated with Advent. The two most popular include:

  • The Advent Wreath: This garland wreath comes with five candles: four on it and one in the center. During each week of Advent, a candle is lit to give focus and direction to ones reflection of Christ. The four candles on it represent the themes of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. The candle in middle represents the presence of Christ.
  • The Advent Calendar: There are numerous versions of the Advent Calendar, ranging from receiving a small gift each day during the season of Advent to being given a task or reflection to focus oneself on Christ.

A quick Google search for Advent Traditions will give you a better idea of other traditions people practice during Advent.

Redeeming Advent

While Advent is steeped in tradition and can come across as lifeless to some, an understanding of the origins and meaning behind Advent can result in practice that brings one closer to Christ.

This year, Advent begins on Sunday, December 2. Ignite has put together two resources to help you draw closer to Christ and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas this year: our Away in a Manger Advent Devotion Book and our Advent Calendar. Both resources are free and will help you encounter Christ this Advent season.

View our Advent Resources page.

How do you practice Advent?