It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! I love Christmas lights on houses and Christmas wreaths in store windows. I wait anxiously every year for Christmas music to start playing on the radio and there is something delightfully peaceful about sitting in my living room with only the Christmas tree lights to illuminate the house. So why isn’t the church getting into the Christmas spirit? Are we just a bunch of Scrooges? Not at all! The church loves Christmas. We also love Advent.
Just like the song says, there are 12 days of Christmas, but these days don’t begin until December 25th. The time leading up to Christmas is a separate season called Advent. The word “advent” refers to a coming into being and it is a special time of preparation in the life of the church. However, we often get confused as to what we are preparing for. Many Christians assume that Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas. I can’t tell you how many “Advent” devotional guides I’ve looked at over the years that talk about Christmas, and baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. And while there is nothing particularly wrong with that, it misses the real point of the Advent season.
Allow me to use an analogy to explain what I mean. My daughter Ally came “home” from college for Thanksgiving. Since she went directly from Colorado to California for school, she had never been to our new house in Nixa. So before she came, we had to prepare for her arrival. Now imagine if we had gone to “Babies ‘R Us” and bought a new crib and a changing table, a couple of cute onesies, and a state of the art stroller and car seat for her. That wouldn’t have been very practical because she is not a baby anymore. Sure, we reminisce about those days and we remember the stories fondly, but we can’t really prepare for an event that has already happened. Instead, we prepared for her to come home by putting clean sheets on her bed, stocking her bathroom with shampoo, towels, and soap, and buying all of her favorite foods at the grocery store. As a result, we were ready to receive her as soon as she walked in the door.
In a similar manner, Advent is not so much a time to prepare for Jesus first coming, but rather we are meant to focus on getting ready for his second coming. As Christians we remember the past, but we live for the future. We know that God has a plan not just for individual believers, but for all of Creation. We know that we live in a fallen and sinful world now, but we also rejoice that God will one day redeem this fallen world, that our relationship with him will be fully restored, and he will reign for ever in his established Kingdom.
As I said in a recent sermon, our job is not to predict Jesus’ return, but rather to prepare for it. We do this by developing Kingdom habits like worship, service, prayer, humility, and kindness. As you contemplate Christ’s return this Advent season, consider ways you can develop these habits in your own life. Make weekly worship with the body of Christ a top priority for yourself and your family. Look for ways to serve others at church and in your community. Take time every day to communicate with God, making sure to listen as much as you speak. Put the needs of others in front of your own, and seek to treat all human beings as you would like to be treated.
In the coming weeks, enjoy the majesty of the season, but don’t forget to make it a Holy Advent as well. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Let us prepare now, so that when Christ does return, we will be ready to receive him with great joy. Happy Advent!
The Rev. Eric Zolner
Father Eric is a 3rd generation Anglican and the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO.