The Gift of Advent
by Tommy Overton
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Have you ever refused to receive a gift? I almost did. It was a few minutes after 9:00 pm on December 1 when a group of Christmas carolers came through my neighborhood and stood outside my house. Inside my house was a host of teenagers and a flurry of activity, making it impossibly loud in my tiny home. In fact, there was so much action happening downstairs that I did not realize that someone had opened my front door and given the green light to this happy group of carolers to burst out in song. But at that moment something wonderful happened—as the harmonious voices of Christmas increased, all other noise in the house decreased. When I heard the beautiful singing of the carolers, it compelled me to come to the front door.
True confession—my first thought was to ignore it; a knee-jerk reaction to brush off the carolers. There was homework to finish, dishes in the sink, and the Cowboys were fighting for victory against the Vikings. But the sound of Christmas persuaded me to come and listen. The result was joy and gratitude, and I almost missed it. If Christmas carolers came to my door five years ago, I would have been the first to the front door and had them sing two encores. What is different in 2016?
Advent, derived from the Latin word for coming, is the season to prepare our hearts once again for the coming of the Messiah. The season of Advent is an ancient gift to the modern Church because it helps our overscheduled, stressed out souls to stop, listen, and prepare for the coming of Christ the King. Here’s the question: how are we preparing?
Meditate on the first Christmas. What do you think the shepherds were doing before the arrival of the heavenly host? I bet none of them were preparing for glory of the Lord to invade their field and overwhelm their souls. They were not busy taking selfies or checking email. Can you imagine what that night was like? Look again at Luke 2 and place yourself in the sandals of the shepherds. We can safely assume that the concerns of their day were vanquished as they, “were filled with great fear.” Notice that the only time the shepherds were in a hurry was when they left the field on their way to Bethlehem.
If you are still reading along then you know where I am headed. As sojourners during Advent, let us all be intentional to stop, listen, and prepare for this Christmas! May our haste be on the road towards Christ and not the mall. We schedule everything else in our lives for December 25, so why not prepare our souls with the same priority? Then we may respond like the shepherds as they left Bethlehem, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard.” Another way to prepare is to do what Blake Schwarz candidly modeled in last week’s Every Thought Captive devotion: [Communication in Prayer](http://www.etcdevo.org/entry/2016/12/02/communication-in-prayer/).
We may be so familiar with the hymns, the special music, and the typical rhythm of church activities that we actually miss God revealing His glory in fresh ways. As we sojourn on this side of heaven, let us admit that we don’t fully understand the mysteries of the Incarnation. Honestly, does your mind drift when Luke 2 is read aloud in church? May we all continue to be in awe with the shepherds, lay down our gifts like the wise men, and treasure all of it in our hearts like Mary. As one pastor noted, “In Advent, Christians embrace the groaning and recognize it not as hopeless whimpering over the paucity of the present moment but as expectant yearning for a divine banquet that Jesus is preparing for us even now.”
How is Christmas 2016 different from 2006 for you? Has your marital status changed? Do you now have children, or is this your first year to experience an empty nest? Are you struggling with depression, grief, or a growing cynicism? Most of us have Christmas traditions that don’t change, but how have we changed? When Christ comes to knock on the door of our hearts this Christmas, will we stop and listen or just keep striving to multi-task before midnight?