In the words of the old Bing Crosby song, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”
No, this is not one of those grumpy War on Christmas columns. I love Christmas with all its trappings, though I do wish it were more about the spirit of giving and less about the price of the gifts.
But, we’re not there yet. Much as it may look like holly-jolly, be-tinseled, commercialized Christmas out there, we still have some business to tend to before we get to Christmas.
This festive season is Advent, not Christmas.
Advent, the first season of the church year, is a time of preparation, of reflection and prayer for the coming — or second coming — of Christ.
The meaning of this four-week season is foretold in Isaiah 40: “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
As we worry about gift lists, festive dinners, whether or not all the relatives will get along and paying for it all, we also (or primarily) are meant to prepare our hearts for the Christ whose arrival we celebrate on Dec. 25 (the beginning of Christmas).
How do we prepare ourselves for such an important occasion? If it takes all week to clean the house for the cousins, what effort must we undertake to clean house for the Messiah?
Mary shows us the way.
As a mere teenager Mary was entrusted with perhaps the hardest, most important and most dangerous task assigned in Scripture.
Unwed pregnancy carried with it the risk of being disowned by her family, disavowed by her community and suffering a gruesome death in the street.
The Angel Gabriel offered reassurance: “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” Still, she must have felt uncertainty and fear at the awesome task being asked of her.
Yet, she did not waiver. She offered herself completely — physically and spiritually — for the coming of Christ.
In one simple prayer, in Luke 1:38, Mary tells us how to prepare for Christmas: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”
None of us will carry Christ in our physical body in the way Mary was blessed to do. But, each of us is called to accept Christ just as she did — with selfless submission and love — and to carry Christ in spirit with just as much care and expectance.
It’s natural we want to get to the fun part of this season. It’s fun to give and receive gifts, to enjoy large family gatherings and perhaps a bit too much food. And that’s all fine.
But, let’s not skip over Advent. Let’s not skip this season of preparation and anticipation. Our King is coming, to give us the first and last Christmas gift, and to call us into service.
In preparation, as we await Christ with and within us, let us also see ourselves with Mary, and share in her song of praise:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
I pray a fruitful Advent and a joyous Christmas for you all.