Christmas is a time of gifts - even in strictly spiritual terms. It offers many opportunities to be touched by the Lord, both through His Word and through the sincere, often pleasant, interactions we enjoy with our family and community. During this holiday the Lord gives new and real ‘presents’ to us, that sustain and uplift our spirits, beyond the ‘daily fare’ that we receive at most other times of year. Christmas is a spiritual feast!
Every year when I sit down to think of the Christmas season, I wonder how to help the Lord feed people’s spirits in classes and sermons. I sometimes ask myself, “Well, what do I want and need? What Advent messages from the Word meet that want/need?”
I’m always fed by the Advent messages of comfort, hope, and peace. We are aware of how far we fall short of the ideal. But He comes with mercy and forgiveness, to help us start anew. He comes ‘to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ (Luke 1:79)
We need this message, because life is not perfect. We face challenges. And it’s easy to feel inadequate about ourselves and downright crippled by our faults and long-standing counter-productive patterns of thinking. If Christmas was only about being ‘worthy’, that might just push any joy it may bring out of our reach.
But it’s clear that the Advent is not about a merely ‘surface’ kind of comfort, hope, and joy. The Lord asks us to prepare ourselves for His coming. We cannot become sensitive to the joy of His presence, unless our hearts are receptive. And our hearts can only become receptive in the measure that the ‘mountain’ of selfishness that looms over our unregenerate lives has been reduced; also the great ‘hills’ of worldly preoccupation and concern, which block our access to the Lord. These things are reduced by our being willing to see the truth, take it to heart, and live it. By repentance.
The message of the Advent is one of judgment and decision as well as comfort and peace. The ‘Word made flesh’ came ‘full of grace and truth.’ (John 1) The advent message is a message of truth as well as grace, because the truth is the means by which the Lord’s Divine love can become a present reality in our lives. The Lord’s boundless compassion is behind His every coming. He extends His pardon and comfort to us, without reservation.
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.
“Speak comfort to Jerusalem,
and cry out to her,
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned;
for she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins.”
He longs for us to receive His mercy.
All that remains is for us to heed the voice that cries.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted
and every mountain and hill brought low;
the crooked places shall be made straight
and the rough places smooth;
the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”