Around this time of year there are always lots of Christian messages about how the greedy materialism of our culture has perverted the true meaning of Christmas. And all of them are true. But there is at least one way that the worldly aspect of this season actually focuses us on the gospel.
Like many of you, in late November, as I begin to see municipal Christmas decorations and commercials for Christmas movies and when I hear Christmas music playing at the bank or the grocery store, I find myself saying, “Is it really that time of year already?” And then I think about all that I have to do at church, like decorating and caroling and preparing the Christmas Eve service and figuring out my Advent messages. And then I think about all I have to do at home, like buying gifts and getting a Christmas tree (that’s if I can finish raking leaves first). And then I think about all that the people around me (at church and at home) have to do, and how their actions (or inactions) affect me . . . you get the idea.
In short, given the nearness of the Big Day and all the preparations that need to be made for it, I don’t feel ready.
Which is exactly the point of Advent.
When the Son of God took on human flesh, some were ready for him, and some were not. Mary and Joseph were ready, having been warned by angels. Simeon and Anna in the temple were ready when Jesus was brought in to be dedicated, because they were “looking for the restoration of Israel” (Luke 2:25). But the inn at Bethlehem wasn’t ready for the birth of a new King; there was no room for him. Herod wasn’t ready for a new King to displace him either, so he unsuccessfully tried killing him off.
The church has traditionally observed Advent season with eyes backward to Christ’s first coming and forward to his second. As with the one, so with the other: some people are ready and some are not. With one voice Jesus and the apostles urge us to get ready for the Lord’s coming: “Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matt. 24:44); “Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet. 1:13); “Therefore, remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come against you” (Rev. 3:3).
What would you do if you knew that Jesus was coming back on December 25 this year? Would those preparations take priority over the other items on your to-do list? For all we know Jesus will come back this Christmas, or even before. By repentance, faith, and obedience, we had better get ready!