"Are you ready for Christmas?" I think I've heard that question a dozen times this Christmas season. It seems to be the common question in December, a lot like "How's the weather?" Customary answers are, "I'm not even ready yet!” Or “I've got so much to do!" Christmas cards, cookies, decorating, gift buying, gift wrapping, church-going (hopefully) and any number of Christmas-related tasks can make up a long, long list. It seems that you're supposed to answer that you're exasperated, overwhelmed, scrambling, and still need to buy presents.
What if, instead, our answer is, "Yes, I'm ready! In fact, I'm more than ready! We've waited in great anticipation for Christmas." Isn't that what Christmas or, more specifically, Advent, is all about?
For those of you who may not be familiar with the concept of Advent, Wikipedia says "...(it) is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas." Your next question might be, "What is the Nativity?" We've heard that term used so many times, it's become a part of our Christmas speech. Do we really know what it means? Here’s another definition for you: "(Nativity) refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus, primarily based on the two accounts in the gospels of Luke and Matthew." The Nativity is not the beautiful scene from movies, books, and displays around the world of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, kings, cows and sheep, adoring the baby Jesus. Nativity is the story or, more accurately, the report of Jesus' birth.
If you were raised in a liturgical church such as Catholic, Lutheran, or Episcopalian, for example, you may have celebrated the Advent season every year. My experience growing up as a Catholic is that, during Advent, the music changes and becomes more somber and expectant (for example “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”), the church changes in appearance (purple and pink, the traditional colors of Advent, are draped around the church) and even the order of the service changes because, among other things, the church may add the ceremony of lighting candles in an Advent wreath.
Today, I am no longer Catholic and choose to worship in a non-denominational Christian church, but there are times when I miss that quiet expectation of the Advent rituals that reminded me that, before Jesus, the Jews were waiting in great anticipation for their Messiah. They were persecuted, attacked, and imprisoned. At the time of Jesus, they were oppressed by the Romans and ruled with a heavy hand. They cried out for a Savior. It was a lament spoken by a nation united by discouragement.
How many people today are discouraged? How many feel oppressed, persecuted and downtrodden? The trials and tribulations of this world can make us feel as if we have shackles on our wrists and are surrounded by prison walls.
In the midst of all that, the world would throw at us is a glimmer of hope. No, it's more than a glimmer. When you've had an encounter with Jesus, you are flooded with peace, hope, joy and love. These are the gifts that were given to us for Christmas over 2,000 years ago.
On this Christmas, may your heart be ready and waiting in great anticipation as we reflect on the joy and amazement that Joseph, Mary, the kings, and the shepherds must have had when they beheld the face of God.