This week marks the first week of Advent.
For the uninitiated, that means that the Church is in the process of preparing for the Christmas holiday, emphasizing through this season of time the “true” meaning of this very significant holiday.
Over the course of time, retailers have discovered that this season is a most profitable one for them, and, therefore, they avidly and actively promote anything that points to the “spirit of the holidays.” The Church then finds itself often seemingly fighting against this spirit and attempting to point people away from the commercial.
If I may, I would venture another option.
Rather than constantly engaging in warfare with the retail establishment, may I suggest that we simply concentrate on developing a new way of thinking: My bride spent over years in the banking industry, most of it in the retail side of the business, the customer service arena. She dealt with customers like you and me every day.
Part of “the training” in that area of service was the recognition of counterfeit money when it crosses the counter. Every bank teller must be able to recognize the true from the false. And even the worst bank teller will tell you that the best way to know when something is counterfeit is to handle what is true – to know what it feels like, to handle it often.
Concentrating on what is true rather than what is false is always the best way to carry on each day.
The same is true for Advent. Rather than concentrate on what everyone around us is doing to detract from the spirit of the season, this Christmas I am committed to concentrating on what the season is all about and sharing the fruit of that concentration with you.
The whole reason this season is called “Advent” comes from a statement about John the Baptist, the prophet who preceded Christ, preparing the way for Jesus.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read of John that he is “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’.” (Matt. 3:3).
The main task of John was to encourage his listeners to prepare for the Lord’s coming. In a very positive sense then, that is what Advent is all about.
During this time of the year, it is the calling of all who are trusting Christ to prepare for His coming – both the celebration of His coming the first time and the anticipation of His coming again, just as He promised.
When Laura Demarest was trapped with a group of friends deep underground in a dark, flooded cave in Indiana for days on end, thinking they were perishing but hoping they were not, she later recalled the incident along with the feelings they experienced as a group of friends, family, and trained rescue personnel came to their aid.
She reported that one of the rescuers commented later that, when he reached their little isolated oasis, and opened the air passageway so that they could get out, the smell was fantastically terrible from the group all being clustered together for so long in such a tight space with all of their stinky cave gear.
But he described that smell as the best thing he had ever inhaled! Demarest went on to describe the trip out of the cave as a long and arduous four-hour journey, but as they emerged they were greeted on the surface by relieve and jubilant family and friends, bright lights, medical personnel, fried chicken, and a very inviting campfire.
That experience which she endured is a very similar one to the very first Advent.
Think about it. Jesus left the confines of His perfect heaven to be where each of us is now, in order to rescue us. Without any doubt, the world he entered stunk literally way more than the heaven he left behind. But He came just the same to be with us, to help us, to give very temporary comforts to those whom he found.
The comforts He provided were indeed only meant to be temporary because they merely pointed to the party (the fried chicken?) and the celebration awaiting us once we “get to the surface”!
So how do we prepare for His coming?
May I suggest several steps of action which you and I can actively pursue to prepare for the coming of the Savior THIS Christmas?
First of all, we need to make sure that we are all “’fessed up”. We need to approach this time of year with a renewed commitment to face our sins and repent of them.
That was the spirit of David’s prayer when he said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
Second, we should live expectantly, anticipating good things from the Lord, even daily, and including the coming of His Son, and waiting hopefully for His return to earth.
Third, during this Advent season, we should also quietly wait for and enjoy His presence. That means setting aside a time each day to sit in His presence, to think of the good things that the Lord has done for you, praising Him for them and allowing His presence to enter in and satisfy the needs of your soul.
My friends, whether it is Christmas or not, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. That plan includes the Christmas story of Jesus coming into this world to save us from our sins.
This Advent, won’t you prepare yourself for His coming?
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Hillsboro Times-Gazette and the Wilmington News Journal. He is also the former Pastor of Faith Community Church in Hillsboro and Port William UMC.