“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way—a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’” Mark 1:1-3
It’s not “beginning to look a lot like Christmas” at my house. The only evidence of the approaching holiday is a new Christmas magnet on the fridge along side a beautifully hand-cut red snowflake given to me by a friend’s 5-year-old son.
Several circumstances contributed to this delay. I had great intentions last weekend to get started decorating, but ended up nursing a nasty cold. Tomorrow I leave for a short trip/long weekend to visit dear friends. The new kitty, who obviously doesn’t understand the phrase “curiosity killed the cat,” is creating new challenges!
Frankly, decorating for Christmas is not nearly as heartwarming when the one who shared appreciation of it the most isn’t here.
Don’t worry. I’ll get it done! I’ll figure out how to keep the cat from climbing the trunk of the tree and knocking it over. And on Christmas Eve when the kids and grandgirls come, the house will look like Christmas.
Because of all these things delaying the outward preparations for Christmas, God is helping me find time and space to focus on the spiritual preparations for Christmas this year, to experience a true Advent season.
One of the definitions of the word “Advent” by Merriam Webster is “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event.”
In our secular culture, this definition certainly describes our frantic preparations for all things Christmas. We decorate our homes. We bake goodies. We shop for and wrap presents. We prepare meals and rooms for visiting family.
Advent in the Christian tradition involves a preparation of a different sort. It requires a bit of a history lesson to understand the meaning of Advent.
God had promised a Messiah or savior since the beginning of time all the way back to when sin first broke the relationship between Him and His children. He assured all the people throughout the Old Testament of this coming event and special person for centuries. He sent prophets to remind the people of this excitement.
But like many of us today, the people lost interest. They became bored or got distracted. Some gave up hope that the promise would ever be fulfilled. They stopped looking for signs. They stopped telling their children and grandchildren about the special pledge God made with their ancestors. The prophets even stopped telling the people the stories about the promise. God stopped talking to the people all together. No one heard anything for four hundred years about God’s Messiah.
There were some people who remembered the Promise. They still had hope. They passed the stories along to their children and grandchildren. Others studied the signs in the heavens and the stars.
Then when the time and circumstances were absolutely perfect, God fulfilled His promise, and the long-awaited Messiah of the world was finally born–quietly and unexpectedly.
Just like the promise God made centuries ago to bring a Messiah to earth came true in Jesus’ birth, His promise to return and reign forever will be fulfilled also in His perfect time.
How many of us today believe God’s promise or even look forward to the time of His second coming?
Even if we do know the Christmas story, do we put as much time and consideration into preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of Jesus’ birth as we do into our secular and family celebrations?
For me, there is always a let-down after the holidays. It’s more fun to put up the decorations rather than take them down. Many times, our expectations of the “perfect” Christmas don’t ever quite live up to the reality. The gift wasn’t the right size. Or our family didn’t make it through Christmas dinner without the same old arguments and resentments showing up. Or the celebration was fine, but the “empty chair” where a loved one sat still breaks our hearts.
This longing in our hearts can’t be completely covered up by our busyness or culture’s glitz and glamour of the “perfect Christmas” that we see on the Hallmark channel.
Scripture shows us how we can prepare our lives to receive Jesus fully this Christmas.
David, the greatest king of all time, prayed a humble prayer. “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with thy free spirit.” Psalm 51:10-12
Wouldn’t this be the greatest gift we could ever request? Who of us couldn’t use a clean heart and a right spirit in this time of divisiveness and lack of civility? And I can always use a little more joy in my day!
This gift isn’t hard to receive. It only takes intentional focus on our part in these ways:
- By setting aside quiet time for devotions or reflections on His word.
- By making space in our busy schedules to remember the true meaning of the season.
- By sharing love and joy and hope with family and friends and others who are less blessed than us.
Jesus is the only cure for the hole in our hearts and the aching in our soul for perfect love, joy and peace. He is the long-promised Messiah. He left the glory of heaven out of love for us to come to earth, not only to provide a way of salvation, but to give us hope for today and peace that surpasses all human understanding.
This is my prayer for all of us this year—that our hearts would be prepared to receive the greatest gift of Christmas, that the Babe of Bethlehem would come into our hearts and make His home within us today and all throughout the coming year.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you left the awesomeness of heaven to come to this dark and fallen earth, not as a worldly king, but as a humble, small baby so that you could live a life like us and relate to everything we experience as humans to be able to comfort us. Help us, Lord, to set aside time everyday from now until Christmas day so that our hearts can be ready to truly celebrate and fully accept the best gift we can ever imagine—the gift of your life for us! In your name we pray. Amen