God wants so much more for us than all of the hype, to-do lists, planning, and other chaos of the holiday season. Christmas is not just a birthday party or memorial for Jesus - it's so much more.
God didn't send His son, so that on December 26 we can just go on living the way we have been (or living how we lived back in November) - He doesn't want us to go back to "business as usual." Christmas is supposed to be about a change... about something happening in our lives and in our hearts, so that we wake up on December 26 different than we were on December 24. We should be able to make a list for the things that will change because we remember Christ has been born unto us... and we must hold ourselves accountable to that list.
God wants Christmas to change our lives and our hearts. But, it takes intentional preparation to get what God wants for us. First, we must recognize / realize that we need a change... that we need something different (see Part I). Then, we must do some things intentionally so that we can prepare ourselves and the world for what Christ wants to do.
In Mark 1:1-8, there's a description of how we can prepare so that Christmas can really make a difference and transform our lives... and perhaps even the world around us with Jesus Christ as change-agent. In Mark, the people came out of the woodwork and into the wilderness to repent of their sins, to admit that they'd fallen short, and to so aloud and publicly, "I can't live this life successfully on my own... I need help," and then to be claimed, forgiven, and loved by a God who said, "I'll always be there for you."
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
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.’” And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8)
We must repent...
- of all those times we believed we were good enough on our own
- of all those times we think we have all the answers
- of all those times we think we're better than somebody else or that we've got the right way of doing something and sombody else doesn't
When times are good and we feel like we have all the answers and like we have it all figured out, Christmas may just go by unnoticed because we don't think we need the gift of Christ. But, when we realize how inadequate we really are, how we don't really have any of the answers, and how much we really can't do... the gift of Christ means so much and makes such a difference.
Individually, we must prepare ourselves by making room for the needs that we have. We have to admit that we need a gift, so that when the gift comes, it means something to us and it does something for us. In preparation, we must ask ourselves...
- Are we admitting to it (i.e., our sins, need for God's help)?
- Are we asking for forgiveness?
- Are we talking about our shortcomings?
But, Christmas isn't really about us (as individuals) - Christ came to change the world. We are responsible for preparing the world for the coming of the Christ child... preparing them to receive the good news of Jesus Christ... by helping others to be ready to understand and to know that Christ can make a difference for them, too.
"A voice of one calling: 'In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God [make straight the paths of our God]. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.'" (Isaiah 40:3-5)
Our world is full of valleys / pits / ditches - where people live so deep down that they can't see the light, no matter how bright it is. We are to reach out to those that suffer from depression, physical pain, loneliness, oppression, discrimination, etc... It's our job to raise these people up... to look for those people that the world has pushed down (those that have been told they're not good enough / they're wrong / they don't fit in)... and to pull them up and make the ground more level, so that they might see the light of Christ.
Our world is also full of mountains, where some people live so high up on mountains (thinking they've got it all figured out...) that they won't see the light either.
The glory of the Lord will be revealed for ALL to see.
Ultimately, when we allow Christmas to be about the world around us (rather than about ourselves), it becomes about letting others journey to Christ along side us.
The season of Advent has come to be celebrated as a time of expectation and anticipation. There is a hope that comes with the season, as we anticipate a King who will come and rule with peace, justice, and righteousness. But, part of the expectation that comes with the anticipation is a judgment on sin. The world will be called to accountability before God. However, we must remember that we are contributors to the sin of this world, and we will be held to the same judgment and accountability as "the rest of the world." As the prophet Amos warned, "Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?" (Amos 5:18-20).
Still, the season of Advent is celebrated as a time of expectation and anticipation, a longing for God to restore all things and vindicate the righteous. Thus, during Advent, we also anticipate the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, we begin the journey (as the disciples did) with the anticipation and joy of Advent, which slowly fades into the realization (and subsequent repentance) of the sins that we have made... leading to the awful reality of Good Friday. And, it is through this realization that we can be ready to receive the Good News on Resurrection Sunday.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins expresses the spirit of Advent well (Matthew 25:1-13). The ten virgins await the coming of the bridegroom, with joy and anticipation. And, yet, the parable provides a warning of the need for preparation.
Stay tuned for Part III (Knowing Our Part) of "Journey to Christmas"