On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, our time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth draws near its end.
Standing on the threshold of Christmas Eve, I ask: What is the meaning of Christmas and how do we prepare?
I bid that we look not to the commercial culture that consumes our dollars and cents and, if we overspend, consumes our commonsense. Nor to the secular culture with its sentimental seasonal summons of “peace and goodwill,” as if such was possible by human effort alone.
Rather let us look to Micah who prophesies the coming of the Messiah and to the author of Hebrews who proclaims that the eternal Christ came in human flesh to be the sufficient sacrifice for our sins and to Luke who professes that the child Mary bears is the Lord.
Christmas, then, is no midwinter social celebration to be commemorated by commercial, even ceremonial preparations. Christmas, in the words of Charles Wesley, declares that two millennia ago, there was the first advent, the first appearance of the “long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free.”(1)
And, more Wesley, “Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art.” Jesus, as the fulfillment of ancient Hebrew prophecies, appeared in his earthly ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, dying and rising.
And, even more Wesley, “dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.” Jesus appeared in the ministry of the apostles, the good news of Jesus being spread through all the world to every nation.
And, still more Wesley, “by Thine Own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone.” Jesus daily appears in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
And, finally Wesley, “by Thine Own sufficient merit raise us to Thy glorious throne.” Jesus will appear on the Last Day to fulfill his great promise: “I will come again and take you to myself that where I am you may also be.”(2)
This is the meaning of Christmas. Jesus has come to redeem us from sin and death, Jesus does come to rule us in righteousness, Jesus will come to raise us to life everlasting.
Now, whilst we remain in this world, we prepare for Christmas by allowing Jesus to “rule in all our hearts alone.” And Mary’s Song, proclaiming what God had purposed and has perfected in the first advent of Jesus, gives us a glimpse of what this looks like…
God “scattering our pride in the thoughts of our hearts,” leading us to confess afresh our great confidence in our human wisdom and will, though, always, faulty and frail and, thus, profess our continual need for God’s guidance.
God “bringing down the powerful from our thrones,” leading us to renounce any belief that we, to paraphrase the poem, are masters of our fates and captains of our souls.(3)
God “lifting up our lowliness,” leading us, especially in those moments when deeply aware of our failings, to be able to acknowledge our God-given dignity that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”(4)
God “filling our hunger with good things,” leading us, in the words of the Beatitudes, to “hunger and thirst for righteousness;”(5) right relationship with God, with everyone, and with everything.
God “sending our rich away empty,” leading us to forsake any acquisitive spirit within us that measures our worth by the things we possess.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. We have bare spare hours to complete our preparation to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Pray God do all these things within us that, when hearing, the Christmas proclamation, “Alleluia! Unto us a child is born!”, truly, we will know how to say, “O come, let us adore him! Alleulia!”
(1) From the Advent hymn, Come, thou long expected Jesus; words by Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
(2) John 14.3
(3) Based on the fourth stanza of Invictus (1875) by William Ernest Henley (1849-1903):
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
(4) Psalm 139.14
(5) Matthew 5.6