Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent and World AIDS Day

Advent, from the Latin meaning “coming,” is the season of the church year leading up to Christmas. Throughout church history Advent has given the people of God an opportunity to engage in prayer, meditation and sometimes even fasting in order to seek God for a spirit of repentance in preparation for the celebration of the Incarnation.

Advent isn’t entirely somber, however, and also calls the church to joyfully celebrate the most world-changing event in history: The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, God Himself, being born as a Man. Advent, historically has also involved anticipating and preparing for the Second Advent, the Return of Christ to set up the New Heavens and the New Earth when all of salvation will be revealed in the consummation.

The Incarnation inaugurated the Coming of the Kingdom of God as the God-Man, Jesus Christ, was inserted into our fallen world to accomplish the work, as C.S. Lewis put it, of causing death to work backwards. This turning back of death not only involves spiritual death which is turned back by the obedient life of Christ through which He succeeded where the First Adam failed. Nor does this turning back of death only involve the death of the Incarnate God hanging on the cross as a substitute for His people, offering propitiation for their sins.

The Incarnation also inaugurated a Kingdom where the rule and reign of Christ and His grace and love is unleashed upon planet earth in every conceivable arena of life. There are many passages that speak to this redemptive power released upon the earth through the Incarnation.

One of the more well-known and most encouraging passages along these lines are found in Luke 4:18, which quotes Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the LORD God is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor; He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”

Isaiah 61:2 goes on to read: “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the Day of Vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

Advent is a time for God’s people to not only meditate upon the realities and ramifications of the Incarnation…it is also a time for us as the Church to recommit to live incarnational lives wherever we find opportunity.

Along these lines, it is significant the World AIDS Day falls during the first week of Advent. World AIDS Day is all about “increasing awareness, fighting prejudice and improving education” related to AIDS. Statistics reveal that there are close to 33 million people living with HIV, “incuding 2.1 million children.”

Part of approaching the AIDS problem with a redemptive mindset involves recognizing that Jesus calls us to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves.” Over and over in the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that our neighbor is anyone in need, friend or foe. Whether or not the people in trouble love Jesus or mock Him, living redemptively requires us to pursue the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, those in prison (of any kind) and all who mourn.

There are many reasons AIDS spreads among the population: some reasons are in fact due to what Scripture would call a sinful lifestyle; but there are many other AIDS cases where no personal moral lapse was involved at all. However, even where sin is involved, Christians are called to live incarnationally and bring hope and healing to the world. After all, Jesus came to offer redemption to all of His people who are prisoners to sin because of personal choice. The Christian, more than anyone else, knows the reality of being an undeserving object of Divine Grace. As a matter of fact, grace has no real substance or definition unless it is love shown toward the undeserving!

Advent is a time when we recall the Gospel teaches: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him (1 John 4:9).”

Advent is a time when we remember that love has been made manifest among us. It is also a time when God calls us to continue to manifest His love in the world by serving the Least and the Lost.

In one sense, World AIDS Day couldn’t occur during a more appropriate time. May we as those who have been shown grace, both celebrate grace and show grace this Advent Season. Let’s find ways to manifest the love of God by leading our churches and all of God’s people to show kindness and compassion to the distressed, downcast, rejected and reviled. For we, too, were once, and often still are, such people ourselves.

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