Recently Wesleyan Accent spoke with Rev. Omar Al-Rikabi, an occasional Wesleyan Accent contributor and author of The Advent Mission, a new Christmastime devotional from Seedbed Publishing.
Wesleyan Accent:Why the Advent “mission”? Is this about missions? Global missionaries? Do I have to give money? Hey, is this a sneaky way for churches to take an extra offering?
Omar Al-Rikabi: I think it helps to look at the meaning of the two words “Advent” and “mission.”
The meaning of the word “mission” is “a sending to go perform a specific duty.” In the creation story, humanity was given a specific mission: to walk with God and tend to creation. But we know what happened: mission failure.
Because of this God had a new mission, a rescue mission, summed up in the mission statement of our faith, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.”
And the meaning of “advent” is “the arrival of a notable person or event.” So then, the Advent Mission is about preparing for and celebrating the the arrival of Jesus on that mission. But not just in the manger as a baby, but also his second arrival when he returns.
So yes, the arrival of Jesus’ mission should impact what we consider “missions,” which is ultimately sharing the good news of Jesus, and the book addresses that.
WA: Why are we talking about end times at Christmas? Is that like a zombie holiday movie mashup? When you mention the second coming of Christ, are you talking about Left Behind?
OAR: That’s the funny thing about the Christian Calendar: it begins at the ending, but once you see how it all fits, it makes sense. I describe it in the book like this:
Advent begins with the return of Jesus to the world in final victory, because of . . .
Christmas: the birth of Jesus into the world, which leads to . . .
Epiphany: the manifestation of Jesus to the world, which leads to . . .
Lent: Jesus’ journey to the cross for the world, which leads to . . .
Easter: the resurrection of Jesus in the world, which leads to . . .
Ascension: the enthronement of Jesus over the world, which leads to . . .
Pentecost: Jesus sending his Spirit into the world, which leads to . . .
Kingdomtide: proclaiming the good news of Jesus to the world, which leads to . . .
Advent: the return of Jesus to the world in final victory.
And as far as Left Behind, that’s something that I do address in a chapter called “Apocalyptic Anxiety.” Basically, as Wesleyans we don’t subscribe to “Left Behind” theology and all the fear it fires up. The larger goal of the book is to put together a better, and more hopeful, idea of the return of Jesus.
And to be clear, it’s not just about Jesus’ return. The last week of Advent makes the turn to the manger and gets us ready for Christmas, and so does the book. And what makes this Advent book unique is that it doesn’t end on December 25th. It goes all the way through the 12 Days of Christmas and ends on Epiphany, January 6th. I did this because I think we separate the two events, the two seasons. But that’s why the Church follows seasons and not days, because we need the time to prepare and embrace what Jesus is doing, and that takes time.
WA: What are some practical ways I can prepare for Advent besides taking advantage of Black Friday (or better yet Cyber Monday)?
OAR: Well obviously the first thing you can do is get the book! But in all seriousness, the goal of the book is to be a primer for Advent. So the first part of the book talks about what Advent is and what it isn’t, then makes a turn to how we participate through prayer, fasting, relationships, and acts of mercy and justice.
WA: Who is this book for? Grown ups? Families? Sunday morning discipleship groups? What are some of the most fruitful ways you envision it being used?
OAR: Yes and yes. Obviously we’re talking about Jesus coming back, and being born, to put an end to sin and sickness, so some of those sins and sicknesses are named in certain parts (i.e. pornography, slavery, etc.)
When I first wrote the material that eventually became this book, my context was campus ministry. And the thing about working with college students is they’re gone during most of Advent and Christmas. I imagined giving them something they could take with them to keep them connected in the season.
And when I got to the local church, I found that most folks don’t think about Advent the way I’ve described at all. And it’s hard to preach about it from the pulpit, because it takes more storytelling that you can do in a couple of sermons, especially if (as in my appointment) two of the Sundays of Advent are filled with children’s musicals and Christmas cantatas. Plus so many folks go out of town. None of these are bad things, but they do make it challenging to preach, teach, and prepare for what this season is really about. So I imagined what I could put in their hands that they can take with them that tells the story.
Prepare for the holiday season today by buying The Advent Mission today here.