We understand that Christmas is about celebrating the coming of God to us in Jesus; remember that Advent means “arrival.” But less known is that centuries ago for early Christians, Advent also was about thanking God for his ongoing presence among us today through the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
In my particular religious upbringing, we didn’t hear much about the Holy Spirit at Christmas. He was pretty much downplayed, maybe barely mentioned. But I think one of the coolest things about God’s plan of rescuing us is the way that the Father, Son, and Spirit all colluded in what they were up to. Everything they did was done together, a shared relationship in which there was, and is, mutual giving and receiving.
The early church fathers used a word to describe this – perichoresis, the dance of love. This concept comes from a distinctive dance that is done at Greek weddings. There are not two dancers, but at least three. They start to go in circles, weaving in and out in this very beautiful pattern. They go faster and faster and faster, all the while staying in perfect rhythm and in sync with each other. Eventually, they are dancing so quickly that as you look at them, it all becomes a blur. Their individual identities are part of a larger dance. I just love this visual picture of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, coming up with their plan together.
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Guest Blog | Sandy Russell
By Sandy Russell, December 2015
Sunday, December 1st 2013 found me sitting in church in tears with a deep understanding that I was about to enter a new chapter of life. On December 2nd I would receive the dreaded diagnosis – cancer. I had gone through mammograms, ultrasounds, and biopsies prior to that date and I already knew the words that would hit me on Monday. Sitting in that pew on the 1st Sunday of Advent, the day the candle of Hope is lit, I broke down. I felt the need to define hope, a word linked to cancer awareness, a word used quickly in our everyday speech. I believed that defining and understanding hope from God’s perspective would carry me through this uncertain time.
A dictionary defines hope as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Synonyms include aspiration, desire, wish, aim, goal, plan… Sure, I hoped that the Doctors would be able to treat my cancer, I hoped I would survive chemotherapy, I hoped I would live to see grandchildren. But that hope seemed very fragile and always relying on humans. There was something unsettling about this definition. So I read further and found another definition. Hope is a feeling of trust. Synonyms include faith, belief, conviction, assurance, and promise. So, now I was closer to understanding. But I still felt like I was on the outside looking in. I did not have the rest and peace that I wanted from this misunderstood word.
What do I believe? What is the promise? Should I ask God to miraculously take this cancer away? Wouldn’t that be a test of my faith? I never did that, and not because my faith was small, but because it grew and it became clear that this cancer would give me a chance to experience the true meaning of hope and it would be an opportunity for my faith to deepen. God promised to be with me throughout the entire ordeal and he promised that I would thrive, not just survive. And that assurance came as I sat in prayer, weeping, full of fear and completely humbled to Him. In an instant, I was transformed from helpless human victim to worthy child of God. And in an instant we were walking together through the hardest thing I have ever faced, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
It is two years later and I understand the word Hope much better. I am cancer free and recovering from surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I am grateful. But the truth is, my hope went far beyond this cancer survival. My hope is not just to survive this mortal body. My hope is not a wish. My hope is a confidence that I am not alone, in life and in death, and my hope is a faith that I am worthy and loved for eternity. Hope is not a focus on what will happen, but what already has. Jesus was born to die and become our hope.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say.
2 Thessalonians 2:16–17