Each year, when we get to September or October, someone will mention something about Christmas and we get shocked - surely it’s not that time of year again!
We think it’s too early - and maybe in those months it is! - but while we whinge and moan, I think for many of us, we just love the idea of Christmas. The anticipation of the whole thing just makes it more exciting.
But as exciting as it is, when we get to about this time, being just a few weeks out, the excitement of it all can become overwhelmed by the thought of all the preparations that need to be made.
If we take a fairly standard Christmas celebration for an Australian family, we would wake up, do the presents with the immediate family. If it’s a Christian family then there will hopefully be a church visit in there as well, before trooping off to the extended family for a vastly over catered lunch.
The problem is, that doesn’t happen by itself. The lunch needs to be organised, and when the extended family is involved, undoubtedly it will be far more complicated then it needs to be.
But not only is it the food, but there’s all the other trappings as well.
Now if it was just the lunch, we might be right, but it is far more than that.
You see, we also have to that dreaded place - the shopping centre!
That dreaded feeling hits the moment you turn your car into the car park. Now, I presume you’ve all been to those car parks with the automatic sense to tell you where you can find a park. In theory, I think they sound like a wonderful idea, but in practice I find they just seem to fill you with false hope.
But even once you’ve miraculously found a park, you then have to step into the centre itself with countless people in a frantic rush to get to the next shop.
But you just stand there completely lost in trying figure out exactly what you should be buying. It would seem you have endless opportunity, yet nothing springs to mind.
But here’s the thing. Here I am talking about the stress of the shops and sorting out the particulars for Christmas lunch, but they can feel like a distant dream, what with all the other stresses that need to happen before then.
There are Christmas parties, award nights, projects to finish, working back late at work because everything needs tying up before you go on leave.
It can all become suffocating!
So… how are your preparations for Christmas going?
Does the picture I just painted sound a bit familiar?
Maybe your picture might be a bit different, but certainly I know for many, it is a time of great busy-ness.
But in all of this busy-ness, what actually happens?
Hopefully there might be some real fun moments in there, and the Christmas day lunch is something you can really enjoy… but what are we actually preparing for?
You see, in life there are a lot of different things that we need to prepare for.
But sometimes we lose sight of exactly what it is we are doing.
Sometimes (maybe even often), the busy-ness can be the main thing, and the final product is almost lost from view.
Now, starting last week, we’ve started a focus on Advent. Advent is actually a word that we’ve become familiar with when we put it in front of the word calendar. And they’ve become quite popular lately, largely due to the fact that these advent calendars typically give you a piece of chocolate each day in the lead up to Christmas.
But the word Advent actually just means “coming”, and in the context, it refers to the coming of Jesus.
Now a significant aspect of this is actually about preparation, in other words, preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ.
Now, it’s important to remember that while Advent is something we typically associate with Christmas, as we considered last week, it is also about the return of Christ as well.
And so this morning, I want us to be able to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of those large shopping centres, take a step back from all that frenetic work trying to finish those projects, and take a step back from all the other things that make December perhaps the craziest month of the year, and instead ask - am I preparing myself for the right thing?
Earlier we read from , where John the Baptist comes into the picture, baptising people in the Jordan - a baptism that we are told is a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Now what you might notice is that John the Baptist is actually playing a very important role. You see, John the Baptist comes just a short time before Jesus is about to start doing his thing, but John, well, he knows that someone like Jesus can’t come without a bit of a preparation.
Just imagine if the Queen of England was going to make a visit to Australia and the whole country just say here and thought, oh, it’ll be nice to hear what she has to say when she’s here.
The reality is, if the Queen of England was going to make a trip to Australia, there would be extraordinary planning done. It would start months, if not years before she comes, with probably every minute of her visit carefully planned.
Well, when Jesus comes, the planning might be of quite a different nature, yet nevertheless, preparation is just as important and this is what John the Baptist did.
Now as we step back from that December craziness that I spoke of before, and think about what we are actually preparing for, we would do well to reflect on what John the Baptist is saying.
My intention is actually to only really briefly highlight this message, but you would do well to take the time and reflect for yourself what this means in more depth.
Call of repentance
Call of repentance
Firstly, I want to highlight one of John the Baptist’s main roles, and that is a call to repentance.
As we prepare for to come before Christ, one of the most important things to do is to recognise our sinfulness. And the reality is, we all still sin. We all fall short and in our own strength, we are incapable of living how we should. For this reason we need to fall on our knees and confess to God that we have done wrong.
The wonderful news however is that we don’t need to stay in our sinfulness. Christ coming also means forgiveness, and so as we confess we also know that we are forgiven as well.
But part of preparing for Christ means repenting.
Making straight paths
Making straight paths
But in this short passage we also get a quote from Isaiah the prophet.
I don’t have time to explore this link in depth, but it is just amazing when you explore how the Old Testament leaps out and speaks directly into the New.
But from this quote, what we learn is that John the Baptist also calls out for paths to be made straight as we wait for the Lord.
So what does that mean?
Well, making your paths straight does not mean that the path in your garden is not allowed to make a bend.
What it does mean is thinking about the things that are blocking us from getting to Jesus.
Ironically, many of the things I spoke about before when our December’s become crazy, become the very things that block us from Jesus.
I’m talking about excessive busy-ness. I’m talking about an all consuming consumerism. Unfortunately Christmas can produce greed, gluttony, envy and pride. All things that block the path to Jesus.
My intention this morning is not try to infer that we shouldn’t prepare for Christmas. Rather to be careful about what happens in that preparation.
What we so desperately need to avoid is letting the preparation for Christmas stop us preparing for Christ.
That means taking note of when the greed, gluttony and envy is becoming a problem, and repenting when it does.
We are not perfect. Unfortunately our sinfulness is deep within us, but there are things we can do to help us prepare for Christ.
So as your Christmas preparations begins to ramp up, take the time to reflect on what John the Baptist says - repent, and make straight paths for the coming of Christ.