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Why Advent is important for leaders

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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Advent (Credit: Philipp via Fotolia)

The season of Advent asks a weighty question to all leaders who call themselves Christians: “are you leading from the humility of Jesus or from selfish ambition?” This particular Christmas, we find ourselves in the thick of a cultural maelstrom. Terrorism, violence, incivility; all are before us like a foul odor that won’t dissipate. In this season of Advent, we so desperately need the message of the gospel of Jesus come as a baby into our hurting world.

Our culture’s main conception of leadership is that to be a leader, you must grab control and waste no time in asserting yourself and your agenda. The Advent theme of patient waiting is dismissed as archaic and sentimental. The problems in our society loom about us, while the inner struggles we each carry clamor for our attention. The season of Christmas, perhaps more than any other time of year, becomes so crowded and cluttered that it often passes by without us taking the opportunity to reflect on the central figure of our faith: Jesus, come to us as a baby.

Why is Advent such an important time for leaders? The simple answer is that in reflecting on the birth of Jesus, we come face to face with the humility of Jesus that becomes the roadmap for how we are to see our roles in whatever sphere of leadership we may have.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in Nazi Germany during World War II for his outspoken preaching of the true message of Christianity that called out the heinous deeds of the Third Reich. While in prison for his faith, he wrote powerful reflections on how his being imprisoned shaped the way he celebrated Christmas:

“By the way, a prison cell like this is a good analogy for Advent; one waits, hopes, does this or that—ultimately negligible things—the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside… Misery, sorrow, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt mean something quite different in the eyes of God than according to human judgment; that God turns toward the very places from which humans turn away; that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn—a prisoner grasps this better than others. And for them, this is truly good news.”

The message of Advent is that Jesus emptied himself and came in humility to live, breathe, walk, and ultimately die for all of us on this earth. Our sin-soaked culture needs to be reminded of the powerful truth of Christ, but here’s the real kicker for those in leadership: the story of our lives, how we lead, will reveal what we really believe about Jesus.

Are we leading from the humility of Jesus or from our own selfish ambition? Our culture more than ever needs leadership that is rooted in Jesus’ humble, sacrificial love. We have the tremendous opportunity to be stewards and ambassadors of Jesus in every sphere that God has called us, but we must take the way of Advent, the way of Jesus’ humility, rather than the way of personal pride and selfish ambition.

As leaders we need the season of Advent to reflect on Jesus’ humble love and what it means for our lives. We need to reflect on God’s incredible “Yes!” to the world through Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:20), and how Jesus’ life leads us to pour our own lives out on behalf of others. Leslie Leyland Fields’ poem “Let the Stable Still Astonish” sums up the importance of reflecting on Jesus during this season of Advent:

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child,
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.

Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said: “Yes,
Let the God of all the heavens and earth
be born here, in this place.”?

Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts
and says, “Yes, let the God
of Heaven and Earth
be born here —-
in this place.”