This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on December 6, 2015.
Each year after Thanksgiving, my family and I start our preparations for the season of Christmas. We have our “traditions” if you will. Naturally we start with the tree, which is decorated with a menagerie of ornaments collected over the last 30 years: the felt Snoopy I made in kindergarten, the ornament we bought at Disney World in 2002, paper chains made by our kids several years ago, and ornaments with baby photos of each child from their most cherub-like years.
We play Christmas music, drink our only cup of eggnog for the entire season, and as a family we hang our memories on the tree. This is how we begin the preparations for Christmas.
Your family and mine have certain practical and traditional tasks that we engage in as we check off the days to Christmas on Advent calendars – one tiny piece of chocolate at a time. There are presents to be purchased, seasonal baked goods to make, decorations to be hung, Christmas cards to be sent (or as they became one stressful and busy year in our family – St. Patrick’s Day cards), and preparations for the arrival of company.
It is these preparations for company that seem to add the most stress to this time of year, because each meal to be served, each clutter-free counter, seasonal Pinterest decoration, and festively wrapped gift under the tree is one part of a collective testimony, “This family has it together. Stress has not won in this house – it has been beaten back by hard work and good ethics.”
But inevitably this perfect Norman Rockwell presentation of seasonal festivity and hospitality has come at the expense of frayed nerves, harsh threats of punishment, arguments, conflicts, and somewhere in the house a large transplanted pile of hidden clutter which was unable to be cleaned up in time. All so that the house and thus our lives may be presented as being faultless in the eyes of friends and family.
This is the preparation for Christmas. Or rather, this is the preparation for Santa.
Santa is the symbol of superficial winter holiday. Christmas is the evocative term for the celebration of the birth of the Christ. Santa is presents, cookies, “Jingle Bells,” The Night Before Christmas, and the perfect facade of preparations. Christmas is worshipful anticipation and preparation for the celebration of the incarnation.
The great irony is that the words of John the Baptist in Luke 3:1-6 are precisely focused on the worshipful preparations for the arrival of a King, so that “all humanity will see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6 NET).
These words do not exhort us to simply be patient and reverently wait for the King’s arrival with quiet reflection, nor do they ask us to occupy ourselves with busy work devoid of meaning and purpose. These are words that call us to action. But the action is directed towards preparing “the way for the Lord” (Luke 3:4 NET).
The problem we face is that Isaiah and Luke have not given us a list of tasks to be accomplished, but rather a series of metaphors that seem better suited for the Department of Transportation (verses 4-6):
- make paths straight
- fill every valley
- level ever mountain and hill
- straighten the cooked
- smooth the rough ways
And without clear instructions, and tantalized by the bright and shiny festivities of the holidays, we occupy ourselves with the stress of all of the things that don’t truly matter. This is not to say that clutter-free counters are not wonderful, but that there are more important matters to be attended to.
Much is made of the “war on Christmas,” but the battle is not over “Happy Holidays” replacing “Christmas,” but rather over the stress and empty work of the season so occupying our minds and hearts that the words of Luke 2 arrive on Christmas Eve and Morning without any preparation made for their arrival. The incarnation becomes merely the “icing on the cake.” Icing on a seasonal cake that we have baked according to our own recipe
But the incarnation is the birth of salvation. A meal of substance and meaning. It is bread and wine. It is living water. It is the nourishment of souls and eternity. Christmas is not about empty calories, but about full meanings.
Which means that as Christians we have to buck the cultural expectations and norms. We are to have a longer and deeper view of things. The world twists Hope into dissatisfaction, views Peace as the vanquishing of foes, commercializes Joy with the getting of the newest toys, and empties Love of all beauty until it is nothing but sex or romance.
The words of John the Baptist call us to prepare for what is to come – the arrival of the Liberating King. And as we busy ourselves with the seasonal tasks, we would do well to prepare our hearts for the worship and celebration of Christ’s first coming.
And leading up to this long anticipated Feast of Christ, is the season of Advent – a season of expectation and preparation. A time of being reminded that we prepare for something that is far greater than one day in December. Greater than twelve days of Christmas. Greater than all the trappings of this world.
This is the time of year when we remember that our timeline as Christians extends far beyond the present season, as we anticipate the day when “all humanity will see the salvation of God.”
We yearn for the great feast of the Kingdom of God (Luke 14:15-24) when the joy and celebration of Christmas becomes but a memory of an appetizer.
J. David Tate
Coordinator, Certificate of Ministry Program
George W. Truett Theological Seminary,
Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Tags: Advent, expectation, preparation, Kingdom of God, parousia, Christmas