December is a time of preparation. For a number of weeks my wife, Natalie, has been ordering Christmas cards which we will have to start writing soon, and making a list of potential Christmas presents for the various members of our extended family. No doubt, you or your partner have been doing much the same thing. We prepare like mad for Christmas, and if we do it well, then there are Christmas presents wrapped and ready to be opened on Christmas morning, all the cards have been written and posted - in time for the postal deadlines - and the turkey pops out of the oven just in time for Christmas Day lunch. We plan and prepare like mad for one day of the year, so that it will be - we hope - perfect. December is a time of preparation, a time to prepare for Christmas.
For the Church too, December is a time of preparation, a time to prepare for Christmas. The season of Advent - meaning coming or arriving - is all about preparing for Jesus’ arrival, His advent into the world. But, you might say, why prepare for something that has already happened? Why prepare for Jesus’ arrival when we all know He arrived in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. Well, of course, the season of Advent *does* encourage us to look back to the prophecies in the Old Testament which predicted Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem, but not so we can get ready for that arrival, but rather as a way of getting ready for another advent, another arrival. We look back to Jesus’s first advent, His first coming, in order to help us to prepare for His second advent, His second coming. One of the famous Advent readings is of course, the cry of John the Baptist, who we are told in Matthew’s Gospel came:
preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
John the Baptist, the one sent by God, to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ was telling God’s people to get ready for Jesus, and to get ready for Jesus by turning their heart to him, by cleaning out their lives of all that might get in their way of loving Him. Perhaps you have prepared the house in a similar way, cleaned out the junk, the rubbish, the old toys in order to make way for whatever might arrive on Christmas Day; so John - and so the Church in Advent - is encouraging you to get rid of whatever is hindering your Christian life so that you’re ready for when Jesus comes, when He appears for His second Advent, His second coming. After all, we spend so long preparing for the giving of presents and the arrival of the family, and in the grand scheme of things it is of small consequence if things go wrong. But when Jesus arrives for His second advent, that will quite literally be the end of the world, so we ought to make sure we’re ready!!
I don’t know about you, but I often find that Christmas Day itself isn’t quite what I had hoped it might be. I always enjoy Advent, I always enjoy the getting ready, the preparing for Christmas, but somehow Christmas Day itself never seems to quite live up to the hype, and I wonder if it isn’t because I wasn’t really prepared. I prepare for the party, I prepare for the presents, but so often I forget to prepare my heart. I miss out on the real meaning of Christmas, the love of God shown in Jesus, because I haven’t prepared to receive it. Each year in our shops ‘Christmas arrives earlier’ and by that we mean the opportunities to shop for presents, the opportunity to get ready for the party seemingly arrive a little bit earlier. And because the world starts preparing for the party we feel rushed into doing the same. But this year, I hope you’ll join me in holding off Christmas a little longer, and instead make the most of Advent. Use the season of Advent to prepare your heart for the second coming of Christ, and I’m convinced that we’ll find that Christmas actually turns out to be even more special as a result - perhaps as special as you’d hoped. Sure, buy your presents, and prepare the tree, but be sure to spend some time in prayer, giving to God all that you feel guilty about, all that you worry about, and all that you can do nothing to change. Prepare your hearts this Advent and find that Christmas is better as a result.
God bless you this Advent. God Bless you this Christmas. And may the New Year find us closer to God than we’ve ever been before.