As I get older, it seems time flies by faster and faster. We find ourselves again at the beginning of another Advent season, that special time before Christmas. Wasn’t it just yesterday when we put the Advent wreath away? Now we’re lighting it again, one candle every week, until it’s burning brightly at Christmas as we celebrate the coming of the Light of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. Advent means, “He comes.” Advent reminds us to prepare ourselves for the celebration of our savior's arrival as a baby at Christmas.
It’s really sad how the secular world around us has perverted this holy season. But really, can we expect anything else? The world has corrupted Jesus' birthday so much that the Savior is basically missing in the secular celebration of this holiday!
In order to counteract the secular influences on us at this time of year, let’s hear what God's Word says about Preparing for Christmas. But first, let's see how the secular world does it.
It's the middle of October and you’re watching the news on television. During a break there’s a commercial for a unique Christmas gift. The day after Halloween you walk into a big-box store to buy something, and the Christmas wrapping paper and the artificial trees are already on display. Throughout November, the Friday after Thanksgiving is hyped as the biggest shopping day of the year. I wonder how many people actually feel guilty if they’re unable to join the maddening crowds in the stores and the malls. The media tells us it will be a good Christmas if the stores sell more than last year. The children are checking websites like Amazon, hoping for larger and more expensive gifts. Fathers and mothers line up at the mall so their little children can sit on Santa's lap. Adults are trying to ideally decorate their homes, based on something they saw online or in a magazine.
But many find that all the work only leaves them disappointed! There are more suicides in December than any other time of the year. The waiting rooms of psychiatrists' offices are full. I once read a newspaper article where the columnist wished the secular celebration of Christmas would come only once every 5 years, because of all the hassles and disappointments.
I think you’d have to agree this is very different from what the Bible teaches us. One of the things we center our attention on during Advent is not the commercial message of the secular world, but on the message of John the Baptist, recorded for us in Holy Scripture.
Let's clear up some misconceptions people have about Advent, Jesus' birth, and John the Baptist. John was just a few months older than Jesus. He did not prepare the Jewish people for Christ's birth in Bethlehem, but he prepared the people for the start of Jesus’ earthly public ministry some 30 years later. The reason John is mentioned so much during Advent is because what he said is so appropriate for this season.
John's message was a simple law and gospel proclamation. First, he showed the people their sins by preaching the law: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” (Mt. 3:2). He proclaimed words of condemnation like these Matthew recorded in his book: “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire,” (Mt. 3:10). Such words should send fear down the spine of every sinner, even to this very day!
But John the Baptist also proclaimed the gospel, the comforting message that God forgives us our sins in Christ Jesus. “Look!” John declared as Jesus walked toward him. “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 2:29). John was especially famous for his baptism, which he administered in the Jordan River for the forgiveness of sins. Yes, John the Baptizer was a “hellfire and brimstone” preacher. But what is more important, he was a minister of the gospel. He pointed those who were sorry for their sins to Christ, our forgiving Savior!
So how do we properly prepare ourselves for Jesus' birthday, the way God wants us prepared? We get ready by remembering who this little baby is who’s coming to the manger in Bethlehem. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God! He is God and man in one person! He comes to carry our sins! He comes to bear our punishment! God himself comes to share our flesh and blood, so that through his death on the cross he might destroy the power of sin, death and the devil over us!
Keeping all this in mind, how are we going to conduct ourselves during the next several days before Christmas? We don’t have to bury our heads in the sand and avoid all the worldly trappings of the holidays. As we purchase and wrap and share our gifts, let's remember the greatest Gift of God's own Son given to us in the stable. As we arrive home all worn out after a day of shopping and we collapse into our easy-chairs, let's recall that Christ came to give us true rest—the rest of forgiveness—rest for our souls. As our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren talk about Santa Claus, let's remind them of the true meaning of Christmas, and how God became man and lived among us. As we set up our Christmas trees in our living rooms, let's look up to heaven where it points. As we gather with family and friends and coworkers, let's be reminded of the wonderful fellowship we have in the Church, and the joy we will have in heaven with our fellow believers.
How should we prepare for Christmas? In our Lord's own words, “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).
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