“Hurry up, Sarah, run upstairs, take your soccer uniform off and get your dress on! We’re going to be late for the Christmas concert!”
“I still need to bake the cookies for tomorrow’s Christmas party, and the house is still a mess!”
“Jerome, if I have to repeat myself one more time, you will lose all privileges for the rest of this week… You need to clean your room before your cousins arrive for the family Christmas party!”
Do any of those sound familiar? Oftentimes, we catch ourselves feeling busy, frazzled, and rushing around frantically to master our overflowing schedules this time of year. There are gifts to buy, parties to attend, tests to study for, cookies to bake, and all of our normal responsibilities to contend with. In what is supposed to be the most festive time of the year, we often find our emotions on edge and stress levels high. Is this how we are to prepare our hearts to celebrate Christ’s birth?
In the fast-paced world where we live, it is counter-cultural to consider how to slow our agitated pace and savor the miracle of Christ’s birth. Yet Advent is a season of waiting and preparing. In the four weeks before Christmas, we take time to remember that Jesus came to earth. We look forward to when he comes back again, and we are thankful that he is with us even now. Christmas is a reminder that God’s promises are all sure to come true (2 Corinthians 1:20).
During this Advent season, what are we waiting and preparing for? Are we waiting for the next party to attend, gift to wrap, costume to make? Preparing lists and checking them twice? Consider what Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, when he said to them, “Don’t live the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed. Then you will be able to test what God wants for you. And you will agree that what he wants is right. His plan is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NIrV).
How can we change our thinking about the Advent season? Is there a better way to approach this time of anticipation and remembrance?
For Christians, it should begin with us abiding in the Word of God and remembering the lengths our Lord went in order to dwell with us and to rescue us. Instead of becoming completely absorbed in gift lists, party schedules, and travel plans, we can take time to be with Jesus and to savor the good news of his coming. Because Jesus came to this earth, conquered sin, and will one day return, we can live with hope and thankfulness this Advent season and all year long. It is then that the peace of Christ will rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15). From this place of rest, we can savor the sounds of our children belly laughing or the sights of fresh snowflakes falling from a cloudy December sky. We can take time to enjoy that warm beverage from the coffee shop downtown or a friendly embrace from a dear friend. We can relish the aroma of freshly baked Christmas cookies waiting to be decorated. These simple gifts are also a mark of God’s grace in our lives.
Look for ways to enjoy your friends and family around you. Share a special movie, play a game, or drive around to look at Christmas lights. Also take some time to focus on the promises of God together. Make a list of the ways you see him at work in your lives, and encourage each other with these observations.
In keeping with this idea of remembering, looking forward, and being thankful, recall with me the words to a classic Christmas hymn many of us know and love, “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus” by Charles Wesley. This classic looks forward eagerly to when Jesus will return to earth. During Advent, we wait. We don’t wait anxiously; we wait with hope. God always keeps his promises. He sent Jesus to earth long ago on Christmas Day, just as he promised. Jesus will come back again, just as he promised. And one day, everyone will know Jesus is the Branch of Jesse who will bring peace and goodness to the earth (Isaiah 11:1). This is the day that we long for.
Reflect with your friends and family and share some things you are waiting for. Acknowledge the joy and the pain that often accompany waiting. Turn the words of Wesley’s hymn into a prayer this Christmas season.
“Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in thee.”
Jesus, you are . . .
“Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art,
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart,”
Jesus, you were . . .
“Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now thy gracious kingdom bring,”
Jesus . . .
“By thine own eternal Spirit,
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all-sufficient merit,
Raise us to thy glorious throne.”
Amen. This Advent season, let us look beyond our frenzy-filled schedules and let us find rest in the reality of the work Jesus has done. Let us pause, be thankful, and share this gift with others.