The snow that arrived Tuesday night, the Christmas lights that adorn many houses and stores, the Christmas tree that was lighted Saturday evening and then a Christmas Parade are just a few of the ways of how the holiday already has started illuminating our lives.
Growing up in a large family, I have many special memories of preparing for the season of Christmas. As a small child, I remember that we didn’t have a real nativity scene to put out, but we had a type of pop-up book made out of a heavy-duty cardstock, which had the entire nativity scene in it. Every year, we opened up the cardstock book and displayed the nativity scene. We probably used it until it fell apart. Decorating the tree was a significant part of the preparations. Of course, just the ritual of going to find a pine tree in the woods was quite exciting. And then the smell of the fresh pine being brought into the house brings back those same memories every time I smell fresh pine. As I got older, I think singing in my church’s Christmas choir, and the narrations we read have been more significant for me. It was all part of the preparation. We were preparing for the celebration of the first coming of the Christ at Christmas.
I refer to the first coming of Christ, because as we live out our present-day Christian faith, we celebrate Advent, which in Latin the “Ad” means “to” and “vent” or “venire” means “come.” As Christians, we are anticipating the second coming of Christ’s return. For the first three Sundays and the weeks that follow these Sundays we are sort in a holding pattern as we wait and watch for the return of Jesus. But it is not a time to just sit by and twiddle our thumbs. We are to be watching and vigilant for the return of the Christ. During the three weeks of Advent, we are to be preparing our hearts through repentance and good works by living lives that demonstrate our expectation that Jesus is returning soon. In some churches, there will be an Advent wreath with four candles to be lighted. Each Sunday, an additional candle for the wreath will be lighted. These candles usually will be blue or purple, some churches will have one pink candle, along with the other three as blue or purple. This act of lighting the candles each week is significant in reminding all Christians to prepare for the second coming of Christ, as well as the first.
Throughout the Old Testament, there is much emphasis placed on the coming of the Messiah. Prophesying is done especially in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, as in Isaiah 11:1 NRSV, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Or the verse from Matthew 3:3 NRSV, which is a quotation that John the Baptist cites from Isaiah 40:3, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”
Whether Isaiah says it, or John the Baptist repeats it, for me it is an announcement of birth. As our son and daughter-in-law prepared this year for the arrival their new baby, we all know the amount of preparation it takes for the arrival of a new child. My hope for us during Advent is that we will be making those same kind of preparations in our own lives, so that in our hearts we may “receive God’s Spirit anew within us.” I encourage you to join with others this Advent Season to worship with anticipation and expectation.
The Rev. Karen Gibson is the co-pastor of Friendship United Methodist Church.