Religion & Liberty Online

Advent: Dig deep for freedom, liberty, and love

(Image credit: Associated Press)

Advent is a season often neglected as we rush to Christmas morning. But take time to consider what it is we are anticipating and how we should give thanks along the way.

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Christmas is a busy season for the entrepreneur, the business owner, and the worker. There are the demands of production, the management of the supply chain (a significant problem in the contemporary business world), and the need to sell products, especially so if they are seasonal. The wider challenges of the economy loom large: inflation, interest rates, debt, and so on. At the same time as we enter the Christian season of Advent, we discover deeply moving and profound symbols, motifs, and themes that fill our hearts with love and express our true liberties in Christ and the true freedom He brings. Advent speaks to the world of business, the entrepreneur, and business owner, speaks to our role in the divine economy, and does so in an intensely spiritual manner. Let us welcome Advent, and as Christian people committed to the market, let us do so in that setting of discipleship in which we are set and to which, under God, we are committed.

Advent is a time of preparation, waiting, longing, and self-examination. We mark the four weeks from Advent Sunday (the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day) with hymns and songs that reflect the deep Christian themes of waiting for Christ’s birth, of course, but also his return and the reality of divine judgment. Advent reminds us of God’s sovereignty over all things and all aspects of life, and that we will all one day stand before the divine throne of judgment. Charles Wesley wrote of this reality in one of his great Advent hymns:

Lo! he comes with clouds descending,
Once for favoured sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
God appears, on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at nought and sold him,
Pierced and nailed him to the tree,
Deeply wailing
Deeply wailing
Deeply wailing
Shall the true Messiah see.

Advent is the season for the entrepreneur and the business owner. Business really matters to God. If this were not the case, then a significant part of our lives would be meaningless and would deny God’s very character, not least his purposes in creation. Business, however, is conducted in the full sight of God and for which we will be held to account—note the line “every eye shall now behold him.” All of us, including those who betrayed Christ, shall see the true messiah; deep wailing there will certainly be.

The beginning of business ethics is really the idea that we conduct our work and business activities coram deo—in the presence of God. Combined with the ideas of call and judgment, we have powerful motifs for ethical conduct and behavior. In Advent we can reflect upon our conduct, including our discharge of business (and consumption), in the light of his presence, both spiritually in our hearts and yet to come. We can submit ourselves to his will today and acknowledge that we will stand before him in judgment some day in the future.

Let us imagine the outcome for the entrepreneur or business owner, worker, or executive, taking time out in Advent to reflect on these spiritual realities. The individual will be better equipped for business, the entrepreneur might find the space for new God-given or inspired ideas, innovation or creativity. Profound reflection on the conduct of business may result in a more faithful, responsible, and Christian conduct of business. Thank God for Advent.

Advent is also closely linked to the idea of liberty. This is another theme that links the season of Advent with the market economy, God’s economy. Advent celebrates the liberation of the Christian from sin in anticipation of both the incarnation at Christmas and the atonement at Easter. We see this reflected in both the resonating melody and the lyrics of the ancient advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Imagine yourself in the darkness of a cathedral as the candles begin to illuminate the darkness and the profoundly penetrating notes begin to ring out. The second verse sets it out: 

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Jesus Christ, of the house of David, from the rod of Jesse, will set his people free; he will, in the atonement to come, savehis people. He will give them victory over death. Rejoice, the Lord is here!

But we also enjoy a certain freedom now, in anticipation of that ultimate freedom from sin, death, and the devil. For what has the Lord set us free? He has set us free to serve him in the world he has created, to serve him in the economy that carries his imprint. How might we serve him better and more faithfully in the year to come? How will we use the divine freedom we have received to help humanity, our families, and our nation? Will we pray more—perhaps even for our political leaders, including those with whom we might disagree? All of us find that hard, but the Scriptures enjoin us to pray for all those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-4), not just those we vote for. How will we serve him in the economic sphere? What new things does he have in store for us?

Advent invites us to thank God for our spiritual freedom, our economic freedom, and our political freedom. Advent encourages us not to take any of these liberties for granted.

Advent gives the entrepreneur time to think. Advent encourages the creative mind as a response to what the Lord has done. We must give the Lord the space to speak first—and then we can act in response.

Doctrine is important. Indeed, one might argue that the Church has played down the true significance of doctrine. However, doctrine without love is cold. The head might have the correct content, but without the warmth of the heart changed by Christian love, the outcome is meaningless, a “resounding gong or clanging symbol” (1 Cor 13:1).

Advent gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves and ask the question of how we will love. Will we show to others the love that Christ showed us? Will we really share the love of Christ we see and prepare for in the incarnation?

There are many examples and many places to show love in Advent. There will be family needs, community work and projects, and individuals needing Christian love and care.

This Advent, show some love to local businesspeople, those who work in the businesses that serve our communities, especially in light of the hardships so many have suffered during the pandemic. Begin with a “thank you.” Offer up prayers for those who serve us in the economy. Give praise for products and services you have received. Honor good customer service. Let’s be intentional in showing love, praise, and special courtesies to those who labor in this part of the Lord’s vineyard.

We should take Advent very seriously, both personally and corporately. Advent speaks in particular ways into the economy and into the lives of economic participants in the market. Many of the characteristics of entrepreneurs and businesspeople reflect the Christian spiritual themes of Advent.

Take the opportunity this Advent to give thanks for our freedoms, our faith, and for those who work and participate in the economy. In this time of anticipation and preparation, let us offer us prayer and praise for those called to work in the divine economy.

Richard Turnbull

Rev. Dr. Richard Turnbull is the director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics and a trustee of the Christian Institute. He holds a degree in Economics and Accounting and spent over eight years as a Chartered Accountant with Ernst and Young and served as the youngest ever member of the Press Council. Richard also holds a first class honours degree in Theology and PhD in Theology from the University of Durham. He was ordained into the ministry of the Church of England in 1994. Richard served in the pastoral ministry for over 10 years. He was also for 7 years the Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He has authored several books, is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a visiting Professor at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.