Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken!” [Isaiah 40:3 (NLT)]
Yesterday was the third Sunday in Advent – the church season of preparation leading up to Christmas. Back in the 4th century, Advent was a 40-day season spent in penance, prayer and fasting in preparation for the baptism of new Christians on Epiphany (January 6). On that day, the church celebrated the gifts of the Magi, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and His first miracle at Cana. By the 6th century, Advent was tied to the promised second coming of Jesus but, by the Middle Ages, Advent was tied to the celebration of Jesus’ first arrival and Christmas. Today, Advent is a time the Christian church commemorates Christ’s first coming while anticipating His second. It’s a time to prepare our hearts and minds both for Christmas, when Jesus came as a suffering servant and arrived in a manger, and for Christ’s return, when He will come as the conquering King who makes all things right.
Indeed, most of us use the four weeks of Advent as a time of preparation, but for what? Rather than readying our hearts for Christ, we’ve probably been busy making lists and checking them twice, searching for the best deals on line, decorating our homes and yards, trimming the tree, going to or hosting parties, making travel arrangements, baking holiday treats, planning menus, wrapping packages, addressing Christmas cards, and standing in line at Fed Ex or the post office, all of which have little to do with that first Christmas when God came into our chaotic world and even less to do with anticipating His glorious return.
Last night, after lighting the candles of hope and peace on our Advent wreath, my husband and I lit its third candle—the shepherd’s candle of joy. Admittedly, even though we’re having a relatively quiet Christmas, I felt more stress than hope, peace, or joy. I had allowed the preparations for this holiday keep me from focusing on Jesus!
Pause for a moment and remember how 2,000 years ago, the people of Judah longed for the promised Messiah. Recall how God recognized mankind’s need for a savior and answered their prayer that night in Bethlehem. That helpless baby in the manger, the infant who needed to be fed and burped and changed, was God incarnate!
As Christians in the 21st century, we long for Messiah’s return and, someday, God will make good on that promise, as well. As we remember Christ’s first coming, let us look forward to His return—a time when peace and justice will prevail and there will be no “death or sorrow or crying or pain.” We must never allow our holiday preparations keep us from preparing our hearts for the promises of hope, peace, joy and love that Jesus brings to our lives.
With only 13 days remaining until the 25th, we probably wonder if we’re ready for Christmas. Let’s get our priorities straight and make sure we’re ready for Christ!
The immense step from the Babe at Bethlehem to the living, reigning triumphant Lord Jesus, returning to earth for His own people – that is the glorious truth proclaimed throughout Scripture. As the bells ring out the joys of Christmas, may we also be alert for the final trumpet that will announce His return, when we shall always be with Him. [Alan Redpath]