Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ
Everyone is getting ready for Christmas. If you go out today after church to do a little shopping, get ready for long lines of people queuing up to pay for all of their purchases. Wreaths, lights, presents, and food. It seems that every store is filled to bursting with people – all of them getting ready to celebrate the holidays, and most of them not looking particularly carefree and calm.
We know the stories – beeping horns and aggressive driving to find that one parking spot; running around with arms full of stuff, hoping you’re the first to hear and react to “register 2 is now open without a line.” Your nephew’s new girlfriend is now coming to Christmas dinner, too – so you have to buy more food. And should she get a present? And what was that about her being a vegan?
Welcome to Christmas in 2017.
We know what Christmas means – it means warmth and candles; pine trees and garlands; presents and good food; and favourite carols being sung. Oh, and it also marks the birth of Jesus.
And sadly, that last part – the most important part – is often forgotten amid the hustle and bustle of the season. Are we really preparing for His coming, or the coming of a holiday that just happens to occur in December, and be near and dear to our hearts?
But to be clear: There’s nothing wrong with that. Our culture and our traditions are an inherent part of Christmas, and we should definitely do what’s precious to our hearts and our fond memories. Christmas without carols and trees and garlands and gifts just doesn’t feel right. But so often we allow it to become an all-consuming obsession to get it “just right.”
I’m sure that it comes as no surprise that the weeks leading up to Christmas are considered some of the most stressful for many people. Or as an article on the website WebMD said: “Holiday stress has become as much a tradition as the Christmas ham.”
Article after article, and TV show after show cover ways to reduce holiday stress. It seems that the Prophet’s call to ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, and make His paths straight,’ seems like the last thing we are ready to do.
How do we make the Lord’s path straight, when we’re not even able to make our own paths straight?
But that’s what God wants us to do: to prepare a way for Him. He wants us to make the path to Him straight and smooth. But with all the difficulties we face in life, it’s increasingly hard to do that. And that’s where the lesson of John the Baptist is relevant. He was sent to prepare for the coming of Jesus.
He helped others to get ready for the coming Messiah. In a sense, he helped that do what Pastor called us to do at the start of service: “cleanse the thoughts of our hears.” And in that way, if we open our eyes and our hearts, we find that there are those around us who can help us prepare.
Like a family gathering to prepare a Christmas meal, it is infinitely easier if everyone pitches in: some cook while others clean; some prepare drinks while others set the table; and others play with the kids and keep them occupied until its time to open presents. There’s always something that needs to be done.
So as we approach Christmas, we should keep in mind the call to make straight the way for Jesus. And that helping others prepare for His coming is not just another added burden or stress that we should endure – but, much like preparing with friends and family – is a part of the joy of this season.
We may be worried that the tree isn’t bought yet. But there are those who won’t be able to afford a tree, much less presents this year. They won’t get caught up in choosing between ham or turkey – or maybe some other kind of poultry this year. They are just hoping that they can provide anything for their families.
We prepare the way for the coming of Christ by reaching out to these people. Whether it’s our hospitality guests who arrive tonight, or the sharing tree we had; whether it’s our soup kitchen, or tutoring at St. Stephen’s Grace in Newark; maybe it’s the coat drive here, and at many of our places of work; or gift collections. The list goes on and on. When we participate in these things – in the countless ways of helping our fellow human beings – we clearing the way for the coming of Jesus into our world, helping to make this world a place of care and consideration; of tolerance and understanding; and where the love and peace of God lives.
And when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, by not only focusing our own minds on what Christmas really means, but also helping others make their lives straighter and less bumpy, we find that our own lives become smoother. And then we look up and find that path leads directly to God.