A time to prepare

Published 11:13 am Saturday, December 2, 2017

by Andrew Book

Before December was the “Christmas Season” we called it “Advent.” Some people still use the term, but by-and-large, Advent has gotten swallowed up in the expansion of the Christmas themes around Santa, winter wonderlands, lights and, on occasion, a nativity scene or play about Jesus’ birth. Whether we call the time we are currently in “Advent” or “the Christmas Season” or something altogether different, it is a season of preparation for the big day coming on Dec. 25th. Christmas Day is less than a month away and many of us are preparing for the day.

How we prepare for Christmas depends a lot on what Christmas is all about for us.  The idea of Christmas is rooted in the celebration of God’s great gift to us in sending Christ to the world.  Christmas, originally, was a celebration of Jesus’ birth, but over the years as gift giving (and receiving) became more and more important, celebrating the gift of Jesus has taken a back seat for many people. In fact, many people celebrate Christmas as a time to give gifts, spend time with friends and family, and enjoy the lights and idea of Santa without a focus on Jesus at all. And yet, even if Christmas is not about Jesus, this is still a season of preparation as we get ready for gift-giving, prepare holiday meals and parties and decorate our homes.

So, with a few exceptions, most of us are preparing for Christmas. At Courtland United Methodist Church, we are preparing for our Children’s Christmas Musical (We’d love to have you join us Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. or Dec. 10 at 11 a.m.;) we are preparing gifts for those in our community who are in need through our Angel Tree; we are preparing turkey baskets for those who regularly are part of our food ministries; and more. As the pastor, I have been preparing a series of worship services focused on how we can follow Jesus’ mother Mary in serving God faithfully and a series of Wednesday night Bible Studies on her husband Joseph, who was Jesus’ adoptive father. A lot of preparation is going on.

As much as we are busy preparing, I’m not sure we always stop and ask ourselves what we are preparing for. Why do we put so much time, energy and effort into this season? What are we hoping for, celebrating or looking forward to?

As I have been learning about Mary, I have been struck by the way she was preparing — even before she knew she would be bearing the Son of God. She was preparing for God’s coming before the angel Gabriel showed up on her doorstep because she was part of God’s people who had been waiting and preparing for God for hundreds of years. The final words of the Old Testament — written over four hundred years before Mary’s day — had promised God’s coming. Malachi’s words were this:

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed — roots, branches and all.

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant — all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel (Malachi 4:1-4.)

Mary was in the daily business of preparing herself to be the kind of person who “fears God’s name” and lived following the commands of God. She was in a time of preparation, but not just for a single day of celebration. Instead, Mary was preparing to be the kind of person God could use — and her preparation meant that when God was looking for someone to be God’s own vessel in this world, God’s eyes rested on Mary and God chose her. Two thousand years later, we still remember Mary because she lived a life that prepared her for Christmas!

So, as you continue your preparations for the great celebration that is Christmas, take time to ask, “What am I preparing for?” and “Who am I preparing to be?” The way we prepare shapes not only the celebration of Christmas, but our very souls. Are we going to be people like Mary who was ready to serve the mighty God of whom she sang:

His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.

He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful (Luke 1:51-54.)

May we truly prepare this Christmas. If any of the happenings at Courtland United Methodist Church will help you prepare, please come join us. Sunday worship is at 11 a.m. (where we will be focused on Mary,) Wednesday Bible Study is at 6 p.m. (after potluck supper at 5:30), and we would be happy to pray with you and for you any time.

May the celebration of Christmas truly make you into a person after God’s own heart!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.