Advent Book Club is using Almost Christmas: A Wesleyan Advent Experience by Magrey R. Devega, et al.
Our time together will use each chapter of the book as a starting point for discussion, but may not flow exactly as each chapter of the book does. That’s OK. It’s really just a time to talk about our experiences throughout this season of hopeful anticipation while we await Christ coming in fulness and the celebration of Christ’s first coming.
Almost Christmas uses John Wesley’s sermon “The Almost Christian” as a starting place for experiencing the themes of Advent: Peace, Hope, Love, and Joy. So a quick review of that sermon of Wesley’s is a good place to start our journey together.
The sermon was preached on July 25, 1741 at St. Mary’s, Oxford University. It was not an Advent sermon, nor is there any indication of which I am aware that John Wesley observed the season of Advent. However, my heart gave a gleeful skip as I recalled the times I’ve experienced “Christmas in July,” often on July 25.
“The Almost Christian” contrasted the “almost” Christian and the “altogether” Christian. In it, Wesley describes the almost Christian as living an outward life that seems indistinguishable from that of an altogether Christian. An almost Christian may attend services regularly, give tithes and offerings, receive the sacrament regularly, demonstrate kindness to others. The almost Christian is, indeed, a good person. However the almost Christian stops short of the true inward change that comes when Christ is truly Lord of one’s life. An altogether Christian, on the other hand, has surrendered themselves to Christ, and lives a life marked by love of God and neighbor, genuine faith in God’s love for them through the merits of Jesus Christ.
“The Altogether Christian” has had some experience in life reflective of John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience on May 24, 1738. During that heart-warming experience at a religious meeting on Aldersgate Street, London, Wesley describes a moment at which he felt his heart strangely warmed, and describes receiving an assurance that he describes in this way: “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Thus it would appear that in the sermon “The Almost Christian,” Wesley was contrasting the change wrought in his own heart and life that evening at Aldersgate with his live before having his heart warmed. Prior to that conversion experience, Wesley was in every was the picture of a true Christian. A clergyman, missionary, serving others, establishing and maintaining the “holy club” which challenged himself and others to live lives of piety and devotion to God and others. Yet following that May 1738 experience, Wesley’s ministry more than flourished, as he preached with renewed passion, and established a system of radical accountability through small bands of 8 to 10 persons who meet regularly to confess their failings and receive support and prayer from one another.
This system which was intended to lead to revival and reformation withing The Church of England, and lead to the eventual formation of The Methodist Church here in the United States.
The first question from Wesley for this Advent experience (taken from Almost Christmas, introduction, page 9): Do I practice justice, mercy, and truth as even the world requires?
We will reflect more on that question and this week’s chapter, “Altogether Peace” throughout the week.
Thanks for being here. I look forward to engaging in our Advent Experience together.