Christmas Shopping Lessons

Luke 3:1-6

The Second Sunday of Advent

December 9, 2012

I don’t mind telling you that Christmas Shopping is not one of my spiritual gifts. And, while I suspect that some of you may fall into the same category, I also am sure that we have some Christmas shopping savants within our midst this morning as well!

Having said that, over the years, I have come to the conclusion that there are basically three types of Christmas shoppers. First, there are the folks who shop for Christmas all year long. My sister-in-law Carla falls squarly into this classification. Carla buys Christmas presents January through December. Her eyes are peeled for certain things that specific people will enjoy at all times. As a result, if Carla sees the perfect gift at the fourth of July crafts show, she is going to buy it and put it away until the holidays.

Second, and I think this is where the vast majority of us fall, are the people who do most of their Christmas shopping between Thanksgiving and December 25. This group simply maximizes the monthly shopping season and does their best to take advantage of the various holiday bargains that come along. Here and there throughout the month, these folks work diligently through their list making their purchases and preparing for the big day.

Finally, there are the last minute shoppers. These are the folks that wait until Christmas Eve to do any of their shopping. With the clock ticking toward midnight, these folks make their mad, hurried dash to the stores in search of presents. While I think many of those in this group actually thrive on such insanity, they are like a group of college students cramming for exams by pulling an all-nighter on the evening before the big test.

Why do I make all of these pastoral observations about shopping for Christmas? The reason is that John the Baptist himself, who happens to be the main player in today’s Advent text also focused on the work of preparing. No, John didn’t come to give the Israelites holiday buying tips. But, he did come to encourage them that the Messiah, the Son of God, was on the way and that they needed to get ready. Likewise, just as with the different methods I mentioned of shopping for Christmas, John the Baptist, also called the people to realize that get reading would take on different shapes for different folks but the message was the same for all of them — be prepared.

John invited them to ready themselves by using a very interesting metaphor as he says to them “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.” In the New Testament world, the roadways were poor at best. In fact, there were only a few roads in ancient Palestine at the time that had any type of surface on them at all. These roads, which were at least somewhat devoid of ruts, were known as the King’s Highway. The reason they were given this name is that they had been originally built for the exclusive use of the King. Interestingly, these roads were only repaired or resurfaced when the King needed to use them. When travel was necessitated by the King, the word went out and the people in those areas would come together and prepare the surface for the upcoming royal visit.

So, when Luke says that John the Baptist went around the area of the Jordan shouting these words “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him” it was as if John was putting the word out. The King of Kings was on his way and there were preparations that needed to be made for the Messiah’s coming. No, these preparations did not involve the readying of physical roads or highways. Rather, the preparations that John spoke of involved preparing and readying human hearts so that when Jesus traveled their way, those who heard him would be ready to hear and receive what the Son of God had to say.

In the same way, I cannot overemphasize the fact this morning the word Advent literally means “arrival”. We too have been reminded that Jesus is again coming into our lives in a special way during the holy days of this season. As a result, just as we go about preparing our homes, our trees, our holiday meals and our shopping lists, we must not allow ourselves to fail to do the most important preparation of all. We must not allow ourselves to become so busy and inundated with everything else that we fail to prepare our hearts and lives for our Lord’s coming.

As I mentioned earlier, as John the Baptist spoke to his listeners, he made a very important point about such spiritual preparations. As the people asked John how they should prepare themselves for the Messiah’s coming, he answered their questioning individually rather than collectively. How John responds in verses ten through fourteen, the section of Luke 3 just beyond our focal text, is very significant. “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none and the one who has food to should do the same.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized, “Teacher”, they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required he told them. Then the soldiers asked him, “and what should we do?” He replied, “don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.’” You see, John the Baptist realized that preparing for the coming of the Messiah would not involve the same thing for everyone who was present that day. Instead, getting ready would involve different things for different folks. For some, preparing would involve giving out of their wealth in order to help meet the needs of the poor. For others present, such as the tax collectors, getting ready would entail ending business practices that involved using others in order to line one’s own pocket. For yet others there that day, such as the soldiers, finding ways to live more simply and honestly was the key to a readied life for the coming of the Messiah. Again, all of the people were different and thus the prescriptions for preparation of their individual lives would need to be different as well.

John’s words to those early listeners remain the scriptural and Advent word to twenty first century ears today. How do we get ready to experience God anew during this season? Well, the answer to that question depends on who we are and at what stage we are in our lives. For some of us preparing to experience God in a fresh way during the season means simply taking time to slow down and make space for prayer, scripture reading and reflection during this busy time of the year. For others of us, catching a new glimpse of God’s presence may mean setting aside funds and time to help and care for the needy in our midst. As we look into their faces, it just might be that we see the face of God. For some of us, truly experiencing God’s peace may be the result of restoring the peace in our families through rectifying broken relationships or addressing hurt feelings. For still others of us, preparing for Christ’s coming this Christmas may include resolving to finally do some things or address some issues that God through the Holy Spirit has long since been speaking to us about.

The bottom line is this — we are all unique individuals at different places on our spiritual journey just as was the case in John the Baptist’s day. While I cannot tell you exactly what getting ready for Christmas means for you, I can say, that all of us have something that we need to do to be prepared. I can also say that I believe with all of my heart that if we are faithful to listening for God’s voice and leadership, it will become clearer what that might be. In turn, our responsibility becomes being faithful to doing the preparing that God expects.

We were in Greenville yesterday afternoon and evening. Based on the parking lots, traffic and people scurrying about in countless directions, it was obvious that lots and lots of folks are doing everything that they can to get ready for December 25.

Let me ask you, what would happen if on Christmas day you said to your spouse, children, parents or someone else that you love deeply and who is very, very significant in your life, “you know, I meant to get you something for Christmas but to tell you the truth, the holiday just kind of snuck up on me this year.” Tell me in all honesty, how do you think that would go over?

In the Advent Season, this is the Sunday of love. Without a doubt, God has shown us his rich, rich love for by doing everything possible to prepare for us. Have we, out of love for God, taken the necessary time to do those things needed to prepare for him? Amen.