By Pastor Michael Cofer
Second Sunday in Advent

You know what drives people crazy at this time of year? It isn’t Christmas. It’s the run-up to Christmas. Christmas eve will be magical and wonderful and moving. The stars will shine brighter. The cookies will taste sweeter. The tree will be ever-greenier. The children will be transmuted into angels – asleep in record time. And we’ll all say Merry Christmas and mean it.

No, Christmas is great. It’s the getting ready that drives you nuts. The shopping and wrapping and baking and organizing parties and the traffic and the checkout lines and the list making and the extra hours at work and the cleaning the house for those out of town relatives coming in and the…

I’m not going to lie, I get pretty stressed this time of year. There I just so much to do and it never seems like there’s enough time. And when I say that Christmas is less than 3 weeks away… rest assured that freaks me out more than you.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth all of the fuss. I mean, how much can we leave undone and still have a Merry Christmas? Would it be Christmas without presents? Would it be Christmas without a tree or lights on the eaves? Would it be Christmas without the eggnog and ugly sweaters and Jimmy Stewart movies?

It’s funny to think how much importance we layer on to traditions that we made up for ourselves. Tinsel and wassail and advent calendars are great… but how much of it really matters? And how much stress do we put on ourselves to make those things perfect?

Our advent theme for this week is “Prepare.” So, I’m obviously not saying that we shouldn’t prepare. But I want to ask the question: “Prepare for what?” See, how you answer the question will ultimately decide what we can and can’t do without. It’s that question that will shape your next 18 days.

Of course, we all want to answer with “Christmas!” Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas; it’s true. But what is Christmas? Why celebrate it at all?

I hope the answer is obvious to all of us here today. Christmas is the celebration of God sending His only Son into the world to bear its sins and be its savior. It is a celebration of God’s decision to be meek and lowly, poor and vulnerable, approachable and adorable. The King of Kings, the infinite and eternal God of the Universe came to earth as a little baby. And in so doing, He showed us that He wants to be near us, He understands us, and He loves us so much.

How do you prepare for that? How do you celebrate that?

It was, of course, John the Baptist who sounded the call to get ready for Christ. “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance… The person with two tunics should share with him who has none, and whoever has food should do likewise.” His advice for Advent preparations was simple, direct, and actionable. Stop living in sin. Stop living for yourself first. Repent, and then live repentantly.

Now, I hope you understand, I’m not suggesting that we need to abandon all of our Christmas traditions. But what I am saying is that in the first place, we should put the emphasis on those things that point at Jesus.

Rather than worrying about showing up our neighbor’s Christmas light display, maybe we can think about decorating in such a way as to point at Jesus, born in Bethlehem. Maybe instead of spending fortunes on giving gifts to folks who have no real material needs, we can give extra generously to people in need. Maybe when we stand in those interminable lines at the store or sit in bumper to bumper traffic, we can make good use of the time, showing love to the people around us or in a moment of prayer.

After all, it isn’t just a celebration of Christ’s first coming that we need to prepare for… If you happen to sleep through Christmas this year, life will go on. No, it’s his next coming that we must be ready for. And maybe our Advent preparations should reflect that.

I don’t know if this is possible, but what if we challenge ourselves to make every bit of Christmas preparation be an act of worship to Christ?

Even as we sweep our houses clean, we should examine our hearts to see if they are clean too. Even as we buy and wrap gifts for our friends and family, we should ask what Jesus wants for His birthday, and pursue that. As our excitement grows with each day bringing us closer to Christmas, so should our anticipation for Christ’s return continue to grow.

Or how about pondering? Sometimes we’re so busy doing that we don’t take the time to take in the significance of it all. Pondering the mystery and majesty of Christ’s coming is a great way to prepare for Christmas. It requires more than just reading the story, though. As you read it, try to visualize it as vividly as you can. Think about Mary and Joseph as real people – tired, desperate, scared. Imagine the smells and the sounds in that stable. Count the angels stretching across the sky, and try to hear the song they sing.

Experience the story with as much clarity as you can, and ask God what each part means – because the Christmas story should never be so “familiar” that is ceases to impress us.

Advent is less about preparing our homes as it is preparing our hearts. It’s less about spending time with family as it is about spending time with Jesus. It’s possible to do both, of course – doing both is probably the best way. But part of our Advent preparation is keeping it all in perspective and choosing to spend our energy and time on what matters and reducing what does not.

If you think you’re stressed out right now, know that you are surrounded by people who are struggling in the very same ways. But if the cookies burn and the presents get lost in the mail and the bulb goes out on your Christmas lights… understand that those things are peripheral. Christ came to redeem it all. And that one fact will supply you with peace that is unrivaled in all the world. Hope as you look forward to a new and better world that the messiah will bring. Love enough to share, because God so loved you that He gave his one and only Son.

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