“How Are You Preparing for Christmas?”
Earlier this fall, we heard the story of the Exodus. It is the story of God bringing people out of slavery and into a brand new way of life. They moved from a life of isolation to community, a life of chains to freedom, a life of worshiping kings and gold to a life of worshiping the living God who hears their cries, who knows them by name, and who will always be with them, even in their wilderness moments. It is the story of a people rescued by God and brought into a life where God’s love and grace are all around them, guiding them and showing them a better way to live.
At the end of the Exodus story is the Jordan River. It is the final step into this new way of life. It is here at the Jordan River that Joshua and the priests carried the Ark of the Covenant across dry and safe land into the promised life God had for them, and stepped for the first time into a true freedom, into fullness of life, into the future God was creating for them.
And here, along the banks of the Jordan River, 1,400 years later, stands John the Baptist. The Biblical scholar N.T Wright says that John the Baptist was turning this story of the Exodus – this story of freedom and salvation “into a drama, a play, and telling them that they were the cast. They were to come through the water and be free. They were to leave behind Egypt – the world of sin…the world of rebelling against the living God….It was time to wake up to God’s reality.”
“Prepare the way of the Lord,” John is shouting. Pass through this water again and remember the promises of God. Remember God’s steadfast faithfulness. Know God’s forgiveness and freedom. And live into this new way of living God wants for you.
Yet John adds one more element. Not only is he reminding people of how God helped us in the past. He is pointing all of us to what God is doing next:
“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
God is doing something brand new, sending someone who lead us fully to know hope, peace, joy, love, and salvation. And we have a part to play in it. Prepare yourself for this new message, new work, new way of life. Prepare yourself so you can join in, so you can follow, so you can announce this good news to the world.
Growing up in the church, I have heard this message from John the Baptist pretty much every Advent season. God’s love is coming. Get ready. Join in. But if I’m honest, I don’t think I do a great job of preparing the way of the Lord. I preach it. I sing it. But I don’t know if I live it out.
Most of my Advent seasons look just like everyone else’s. I get too busy. I buy too many things. I get angry at shops and malls and traffic jams. I spend more time shopping and stressing and worrying than being around the people I love.
When I hear people say, “There’s a war on Christmas,” I think maybe there is one. But not from the outside. Not from clerks who say “Happy Holidays” or from people who practice other traditions. The war on Christmas is one we have brought upon ourselves. It comes from spending these weeks ahead of Christmas just like everyone else.
Christmas is God coming to earth, taking on our very flesh, doing the most crazy thing possible to show us the fullness of God’s love. No other religion or tradition around the world has ever proclaimed a similar story. Because it’s too crazy, too amazing, too unimaginable that the God who created the universe, who made the stars and the planets, who breathed us out of dust, would come and live as one of us. God chose to become one of us: ate and drank, pooped and peed, got sick and hungry, suffered and loved, healed and touched, hugged and embraced, lived and died and rose again, all for us.
And yet we spend these weeks ahead of Christmas so busy, so frantic, spending so much on things we don’t need that we miss this message completely. Instead of worshiping Immanuel—God among us – we worship commercialism and goods. Instead of growing in our faith and love and hope, we grow more and more impatient and stressed and busy. Like the Israelites at the base of Mt. Sinai, we are missing the God right above us, giving us a new way of life, while we worship our own golden calves at malls and stores.
If we want people to remember the full miracle of Christmas, it needs to start with how we live it out as Christians. Maybe there is a better way:
Check out this video from Advent Conspiracy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtyA5bKvClU
There are some great ideas in that video. But those don’t need to be exactly what you do. If you are like me and terrible at making things with your own hands, crafts will not be the best presents to give. But there are other ways. Maybe call or visit someone you haven’t seen in awhile, bringing them a card or a homemade dish. A number of you ring bells for Salvation Army or serve in food pantries or soup kitchens or thrift stores. Last year, instead of asking for gifts for ourselves, Hannah and I asked our families to donate to some of our favorite charities. Sings songs as a family or friends. And before Christmas Eve, read Luke 1 and 2 or Isaiah 9, and remember who it is we are celebrating.
Before Thanksgiving, Diana Carroll, our preschool director, was setting up this room for a preschool Thanksgiving feast, with her own kids helping her. And while they were setting up, they saw that the Angel Tree still had some tags on it. Now Each of her kids has a set amount of money for them for Christmas. Diana told me that out of that amount they can either receive gifts for Christmas or donate that amount charity or other people. And each kid who was with her, said, “I already have plenty of toys and games and clothes.” And they went up and each grabbed a tag and said, “This is where I want my money to go this Christmas.”
May we have that same generosity, hope, and love this Advent season, and truly “prepare the way of the Lord.” Amen.