Christmas is the most wonderful time of year. This we know. What most don’t know is Advent is a wonderful opportunity, it comes every year, and we let it slide by, or often rush by without much notice. Oh, we notice the decorations that need to be put up. We notice the crowds in the stores and on the roads, the music in the stores which is not exactly the music of the spheres –far from angelic choirs. No, what I mean is we do not generally give God much notice in the process of all these Christmas preparations.
Advent is a time when we prepare to receive the glory of God on Christmas morning, not simply the gifts and too much food. Last week we talked about searching for him in expectation. We expect that the light of the world will be a light unto our feet. We expect to find the Prince of Peace who will lead us all in the ways of peace. But Isaiah said there is something more we need to be doing to prepare for his arrival. Listen:
The voice is calling in the desert, not in the malls or music. It calls to us in the still and quiet moments, in the empty spaces that come in our overly busy days. It calls in the car between here and there, in the morning when we sip our coffee, in the evening when the sun finally goes down. It calls and says Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths – the path into our lives and hearts. But how? Listen to the words of John. He is the one who gave sound to that still and quiet voice at the coming of Christ.
1. John said to Repent = turn around and go the other way, which is to say, go toward God.
Advent is an opportunity to look at the year and turn away from those things that turn us away from God. There are so many activities, so many options in the world these days, so many things to do, but have we acted wisely, have we made good choices? Have we given him our labor? Have we included him in our times of enjoyment? Or have we let the distractions, especially at this time of the year pull us away from him?
Repent is not just a turn from evil sort of thing. It is a turn to God idea. It is an encouragement in this coming year to be involved in all that brings Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace, good will toward all. Repent is an advent opportunity to examine our lives and in some cases to change our direction. Jesus is coming on Christmas day.
2. John said to confess our sins = open your heart and mind in abject honesty to the Lord and to yourself.
Christmas is a time for relationships. Sadly, sin is generally a matter of relationships. We have sins of omission, where we neglect to do or say the good we know we should. We so often drag our feet on offering the hand or word of encouragement that is most needed. Let this advent time be an opportunity to be open and honest about our neglect. Send a note. Send a card. Enclose whatever needs to be enclosed. Return what you borrowed. And don’t be afraid to apologize and say, I am sorry I was not there for you when you needed me. This is true confession.
Then there are also sins of commission. Whom have we hurt in this past year. Whom have we offended, even if we did not mean it. Now is the time to make it right. These days of Advent are the time to restore our relationships to what they were meant to be under God. Again, do not be afraid to say, “I’m sorry.” Again, send the note or card, make that call, be restored. You see, the thing is to not leave anything hanging that might put a barrier between you and Christ. Leave no stone unturned. Be sure everything is made a clean slate, because Christ is surely coming on Christmas morning.
Repent and confess. This is how we prepare for the coming of the Lord.
3. Then John said to be baptized in Water = let this be a sign of your cleansing and a sign to the world that you belong to God.
For most of us that means remembering that we are baptized, and that means we are one of the people of God, part of the house built without hands, part of the household of God which is built on the solid foundation of Christ, our rock. And what does that mean? It means we are not alone. Sometimes, though, it does not feel that way.
You know, not everyone feels the joy at Christmas time. There are those who suffer, feel excluded, unwanted and will spend Christmas day alone. It isn’t always a Wonderful Life. We who are Christ’s ambassadors on earth, who stand as a physical presence, a representative of God can make a difference here. To our friends, neighbors and those we know who may suffer in the silence of loneliness at Christmas can be touched by our hands, our words, our making the effort to visit and say, God loves you, too and wants you to be part of the celebration. God wants to include you and make you feel welcome.
Above all, to those who are members of the community, we can take the time to see, yes, even on Christmas day, and say simply: you are not forgotten, God has not abandoned you, and we love you, too. We are not in this alone. We are part of a whole community of people who belong to the one due to arrive on Christmas day.
4. John said we are to Produce fruit = Do good, love mercy, walk humbly before God. Advent is a wonderful opportunity to focus on all that is right, good and true. In these days we have the chance to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit those who are sick or in prison. How many passages must I quote? Please understand:
Works follow God’s grace, they do not precede it. But the spirit of Christmas is not found in trees, or wreaths or all the little Christmassy nick-knacks we so cherish. It is not in the music or the old movies that still bring tears to the eyes. Because, you see, Christmas is not judged by what we have, and not by what we get. The true Spirit of Christmas is judged by what we give. We can give all year, it is true; but especially at Christmas time and especially in these days when the need is so great. We all have the opportunity during advent to show the world that we belong to the one born in the manger.
If we really want to be prepared for the coming of the Lord, we have much to do. Repent, confess sins, be baptized and produce fruit. And there is one more thing John mentions and we need to pay close attention to this. John was gruff and downright rude to the Pharisees about it.
“Do not think you can say to your selves, “We have Abraham as our father….”
5. John said, Do not Assume. This is always the saddest note for me at Christmas. If we are anything at all in America, we are assumers even more than consumers. Our society, culture, civilization is one of assumption not just consumption. We assume God’s blessing. Why not? We are Americans. We have belonged to God since our youth. We have never seriously strayed. But the truth is, we have been incredibly blessed by God, and most of the world has not.
There is hunger in this world. There are wars and rumors of wars, there is pestilence, disease, disaster in many places. Like the song written to raise hunger awareness said, “do they know it’s Christmas at all?” Feed the World. Yes, Christmas is judged by what we give, and while we may not be able to fix all the ills in this old, broken world of ours, there is one thing we can do.
This Christmas, allow me to suggest before you open any packages, before you empty stockings, before you consume mass quantities of food, take a moment to count your blessings. Lift up your hearts and give God all the praise and glory you have within you, and say a little prayer for this old world as you remember the one who came to be born on Christmas day.