Formations 11.29.2020: Tilled and Sown

Ezekiel 36:6-11; Colossians 3:4-11

In a normal year, you would find me firmly planted in the “no early Christmas decorating” camp. I love the lights, the greenery, the wrapping paper, the music, and the food. I just prefer to wait until after Thanksgiving to get into them. One holiday at a time, if you please.

You might have noticed, however, that 2020 is not a normal year. This year, my philosophy leans more in the direction of doing whatever brings you joy, because we all need as much of that as we can get.

But in our celebrating, I still think there is a place for Advent. Maybe in 2020, we may even hear the message of Advent more clearly than in years past.

Advent is a season of quiet reflection, discipline, acts of kindness, and—dare I say it?—repentance. To be sure, it is also a season of celebration. But there’s still a little bit of Lent in it. In Orthodox Christianity, the lead-up to Christmas is called the Nativity Fast or even Christmas Lent. In Western churches, the liturgical color for the season is Lenten purple.

The point is to spiritually prepare for the celebration of Christmas, just as Lent prepares us for the celebration of Easter.

Both of this week’s Scripture passages invite us to look forward with hope to what God is going to do in the future. Ezekiel 36 describes how God will restore Israel after years of oppression. God is for you, he says, and you will multiply. In Colossians 3, Paul asserts that believers will one day be revealed with Christ in glory. Therefore, they must live today like new people with a heavenly orientation. They must put to death any attitudes and behaviors that are unworthy of Christ, in whom they have been made new.

These passages describe the future blessings of the people of God, but they also suggest that struggle accompanies these blessings. That’s where Advent comes in. Before Ezekiel’s abundant harvest, the prophet acknowledges that Israel will be “tilled and sown” (36:9). The plow must first cut into the soil and turn it over to make ready for the seed that God intends to plant.

That sounds a bit painful, doesn’t it? For that matter, so does “put[ting]…to death whatever in you is earthly” (Col 3:5). There is hope, glorious hope, for our future with God. But there are no promises of a pain-free journey. Rather, the opposite seems more likely.

I suspect we all know what it feels like to be “tilled and sown” this year. As rough as this spiritual process may be, it is a necessary prologue to bearing fruit. So let me ask, how have you been “tilled and sown” in 2020? I’m not asking “What has been bad?” but “How has God prepared your heart for something new?” “How has God cut deep furrows in your soul in which to implant some unexpected blessing?”

As distasteful as it is to put something within us to death, it is a necessary precursor to being revealed with Christ in glory. That is the hope this season offers.

O come, O come, Immanuel!

Discussion

• What do you hope for in 2021? What do you hope for in your spiritual journey?
• How can hope change us for the better?
• How can hope for the future influence the present experience of believers?
• How does Christmas speak to this hope?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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