Reflection by Kirkwood Chaplain, The Rev. Richard Hanna
Remember the game we used to play as children – “Hide and Go Seek?” The person who was “it” would cover their eyes and count while all the other children would run and hide. Then, when the counting was done and as a final warning to those hiding, the seeker would call out, “Here I come – ready or not!”
Well friends, Christmas is coming and will soon be upon us – ready or not!
Are you ready for Christmas?
Unquestionably, it is a busy time of the year. Gifts have to be bought, wrapped and delivered, Christmas cards have to be sent to family and friends, and, of course, we’ve got to get out all our Christmas decorations. But there are far more important preparations for Christmas than getting gifts, cooking food, and decorating our homes.
As John the Baptist began his ministry, he exclaimed, “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make His paths straight!” You see, we can prepare our homes with all the beautiful decorations of the season, but if we don’t prepare our hearts, then they are all just pretty trinkets. We can give and receive many gifts during Christmas, but if we miss the greatest gift, then we have missed Christmas. We can participate in all the events of Christmas, but if we don’t really focus on its true meaning, then we have simply been busy.
I want to lift up four important things that we can do – we must do – to truly prepare our hearts for Christmas.
The first thing we must do is stated clearly by John the Baptist. We must repent. “Repent! For the Kingdom of God has come near.” Usually, when we think of Christmas, we don’t think of repentance. Repentance is what we do for Lent and for Easter. It is what we think about as we gather around the Communion Table. But anytime we think about God’s coming into our hearts, we must think about repentance, because until we get ourselves right with God, until we confess our sins, we simply cannot experience the full measure of the joy and commitment of the Christian life.
Remember the visit of the angel to Joseph? “Mary will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21) The very name, Jesus, in fact, means “one who saves,” but for us to experience the salvation which he offers, we must recognize that we are sinners in need of that salvation.
As C.S. Lewis put it, “Christmas has no message for those who do not realize they are sinners.” Oh, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re awful, evil people, but it does mean that no matter how good we are, sin will always have a claim on our lives. We cannot earn our own salvation. Only by confessing our sin and turning from our sin will we be enabled to fully experience God’s grace.
As we sing in the words of that beautiful Christmas hymn, “No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin; where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.” Friends, if we are to truly prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ we must repent.
The second thing that must happen if we are to prepare for Christmas is that we must renew our commitment to Christ. You see, it’s so easy to get comfortable and even careless about our faith. It’s so easy to take Christ for granted and to lose the wonder of what a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is all about. My hope and prayer is that, during this Advent season, we will experience a renewal of our relationship with God – that we will draw close to Him again, that we will rekindle the intimacy of our relationship with Him. Let’s fall in love with the Lord all over again as we reflect on the blessing He is in our lives!
Remember that wonderful intimacy expressed in that great hymn of our faith, “He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known!” As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, may we renew our relationship with him.
Repent. Renew. And third, if we are to truly prepare for Christmas, we must reach out.
If Christmas is just about meeting our needs, if Christmas is just about what we get, if Christmas is just about taking care of our own, then we will never really be prepared for Christmas.
“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that whosoever would believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” As God gave to us, we are to give to others – and if we are not inspired by the spirit of Christmas to reach out to a world that is hurting, then we have missed the true spirit of Christmas. The question that we should ask the day after Christmas is not, “What did I get?” but “What did I give?” As Steve Maraboli wrote in Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience, “Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Then feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, love the stranger, forgive the wrong-doer and inspire the hopeless.” Let’s make sure, dear friends, that we reach out to those around us with the love of Christ during this Christmas season.
Repent. Renew. Reach out. And finally, the last thing we’ve got to do to really prepare our hearts for the birth of Jesus Christ is that we must rejoice! It is so obvious and so clear that Christmas is about rejoicing, about celebrating, about the festive sharing of joy and laughter with friends and family and even with strangers. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” But sometimes it’s hard to rejoice during the Christmas season. Sometimes we get so busy and worn out with the season that there’s just not much energy left for rejoicing. Or sometimes sadness weighs heavy in our hearts because loved ones have died or because of loneliness or depression. Or sometimes we’re worried about our health or the health of loved ones – or we’re living with illness and pain. And there are many who are worried about paying their bills, whether they will have enough to provide for loved ones and to take care of financial obligations. Christmas can be a time of real sadness and stress and strain for many people. But the message of Christmas can help us overcome all of that.
If Christ had not come into the world, we would have no New Testament, no Gospel, no Church, no Lord’s Day, no forgiveness of sin, no abundant life, no eternal life. When we stop to really think about all that Christmas means, it should fill our hearts with gladness and joy!
Christmas is coming, ready or not! Let’s make sure that we are truly ready for it – not by just doing our decorating and shopping and cooking – but by preparing our hearts as we repent from our sins, as we renew our relationship with Christ, as we reach out to the world with the love of God, and as we rejoice with gladness and celebration.
Let us pray: Almighty God, this truly is a most wonderful time of year – a season of beauty and joy and spiritual renewal, of love and of generosity. Help us to claim it, help us to truly live it, and help us to share it, that we and those all around us might truly experience the wonder and joy of the birth of the Jesus Christ. Amen!