November 30, 2014
With expectations often comes the need for preparation. What I mean by that statement is that much of the time, when there are events on the horizon that we are looking forward to, part of our anticipation involves the need to also prepare for those same future activities.
Christmas dinners are a classic example of this truth. Just like the experience that many of us just enjoyed with Thanksgiving, Christmas meals with family, friends, neighbors, coworkers or members of our Sunday School class involve both lots of anticipation and preparation.
First, we have to decide when and where we are going to get together—a weeknight, weekend, lunch, dinner, my house, your house or maybe a restaurant followed by dessert and coffee at a second location.
Then we have to decide what we are going to have to eat. Traditional holiday fare or something a little more out of the ordinary? A full meal? Finger foods and appetizers? Or, maybe just desserts? And, how about paper plates? Or, should we use real china?
Then, if all of that wasn’t enough, there is still lots to do—there are groceries to buy, a house to get ready, a house warming gift to stop and pick up, a baby sitter to arrange and an extra table and chairs to borrow from the neighbors or the church.
Without question, again there are lots of options. And, I can tell by the expressions on your faces that you have just been there and done that!?!
Again, as we all know from life, with expectations comes preparation. We look forward to what is ahead, we are excited about the opportunity but it will not simply happen on its own, we’ll need to do some things in the midst of our anticipation in order to be ready.
This all hits on some of the basic themes of Advent that are all highlighted on this first Sunday of the Season in this day we call the Sunday of hope or expectation. As we have already said, Advent reminds us that just as we anticipate Christmas in general and thus do countless things to get ready so that we can have the best holiday possible, we must also anticipate this season from a spiritual standpoint as well and ready ourselves accordingly for this yearly time to focus on the coming of Christ to earth as the child of Bethlehem.
The passage that is used for this day is Mark’s story of Jesus’ sharing with the disciples the news that one day, he would come again, an event that we refer to as Jesus’ Second Coming or ironically as his Second Advent which is to say his second arrival. Jesus basically said, I am telling you it is going to happen. It is going to take place. You should live in expectation of this event. So, as you anticipate what is ahead, be prepared. Don’t let my return, whenever it happens, catch you off guard. Live ready.
Without question, readiness is the key word for Christmas. These four weeks are among the most holy of the year but we have to prepare daily for this season if we are to really experience Jesus fully this season. How? Let me offer four basic thoughts. First, our being prepared spiritually for Christmas means slowing down. One of the things I am more and more aware of as a minister is how busy we all are. We completely overwhelm ourselves and our children with things to do and quite honestly a good portion of it is a waste of our time and resources. Please, whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to be so overbook these days ahead that you schedule your faith right out of the season. Don’t laugh, it is much easier to do than any of us want to admit.
Second, our being prepared spiritually for Christmas means a personally commitment to being here. I can’t say it in any more simplistic way. Be here. Make Sunday School, Worship and the events of December at our church a priority for your family. Our time together will help all of us to focus our minds and our thoughts in the right direction.
Third, our being prepared spiritually for Christmas will be enhanced by using a devotional guide that daily calls us to the themes of this season. We have one for sale at the church. There are others available online for free such as d365.org. You could simply read Luke’s gospel, a chapter a day. If you start tomorrow, you would finish on Christmas Eve. Or you can certainly use another resource that speaks to you. Whatever you choose to use, commit yourself to a few minutes each day of reading, praying and reflecting on the significance of Christ’s birth.
Fourth, our being prepared spiritually for Christmas will be helped by doing something for someone other than ourselves. Find a way to give to others as a way of expressing your love for them and your love for God in light of all that has been done for you.
Without question, this is a time for us to celebrate, to enjoy family, to share gifts, to relish the beauty of this time of year and to listen to Christmas music 24 hours a day. I love all of those things just like you do and I embrace them and enjoy them. But, if we are not careful, we can easily allow ourselves to thoroughly enjoy all of the Christmas trappings that focus on us and forget the main point which is Jesus’ birth. The call of this day in the midst of our hope for this season is to keep the focus of these weeks on the right things and on the right person.
When I was at Samford, where Ann Marie and I went to college, we had chapel three times a week. Over the course of each semester, we were required to go to chapel a certain number of times. It was not an option, it was a requirement. I suspect that’s just what a good Baptist college does. In fact, I checked with Adair, and they had to do the same thing at Furman!!
Well, one of my class mates was a fellow by the name of Mike. Ol’ Mike was the Barney Fife of chapel. We were college students after all and plenty of our classmates were prone to use compulsory chapel time to study, read a book or do things other than pay attention to the speaker. I know you are all shocked by this revelation.
Mike, would go around before the service and snatch papers, grab pencils or give stern looks while reminding the guilty party that chapel was God’s time. His common phrase was, “this is God’s time, God’s time—it is not your time.”
Our ability to live expectantly by preparing for Christmas means taking the same attitude toward the four weeks ahead. Let us not forget, these are God’s weeks for the strengthening and renewing of our lives. This is God’s time—not our own. May we prepare for this seasonin light of this truth. Amen.