Posted by: Philip Rushton | December 6, 2011

Christmas Preparations

What do you do to prepare for Christmas? What sort of traditions do you have? I am a Christmas minimalist. Julie and I prepared our house for Christmas in under 2 minutes. It involved a quick trip to the basement to pull out the 2 foot plastic tree with the lights and decorations already on it. I quickly placed it on the corner table, vacuumed off the dust, and just like that, Christmas had arrived at the Rushtons! I am thinking we might need to make some changes once the baby arrives!

Whatever your Christmas preparations look like, I think it important that we do not overlook the importance of preparing ourselves spiritually. Advent literally means ‘coming.’ It is a season that marks a time of preparation as we anticipate the celebration of Jesus’ coming into the world. Historically this has been a season of spiritual focus and commitment. Like the season of Lent, Advent is a time to turn our lives back to Jesus.

John the Baptist gives us a biblical precedent for this season. In Luke 3 we read:

John went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

To be honest, I think that we often overlook this part of our Christian journey. Our culture has shaped us to expect instant gratification and instant access to the things we need or want. This same logic often transfers into our faith. We expect spiritual growth to be easy – something that will not require preparation and work.

Recently a man came to my office in an almost manic state. It was as if he suddenly realized that he needed to figure out who God was. Within the first five minutes of our conversation he probably asked me over 20 question about all sorts of theological issues. He wanted answers to the major questions about life, and he wanted them quick! I attempted to slow the conversation down, but I did not have much success. I did not want to get into a theological debate, but rather get to the root of what was driving these questions. We were not going to be able to solve all of these questions in a short one-time conversation. There was some ground work to be laid, some baggage to address. This was not going to be an instant fix.

I did proceed to talk about God’s plan of salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We prayed together and I invited him to ask Jesus to be his Lord and savior. However, at the end of the conversation he said he didn’t feel any different. He got back into question mode. All I could suggest was that he start to read the gospel of John and come back again so we could start building some foundations. I hope he comes back!

Receiving God into our life, as I have discovered, is never as simple as the standard Christian track seems to suggest. I do not think it is realistic to expect that people will quickly give their lives over to God after a forced 10 minute conversation about the four spiritual laws. Some of the research I’ve read recently suggests that the average conversion process for people takes numerous years. Conversion is often built on a foundation of relationships, trust, discipleship and interaction with a faith community.

John the Baptist reminds us that we have to do some groundwork if we hope to experience the coming of God into our life. In Luke 3 we discover that this groundwork involves repentance – a turning from the thoughts, patterns and practices that prevent us from seeing God. To borrow an image from Jesus, we need to prepare ourselves like good soil if the seed of the gospel is to take root and grow.

So in the midst of all the other preparations we are doing this season – shopping, decorating, cooking – let us not forget to make room for God in our life. Advent is an opportunity to turn from the rhythms and practices that prevent us from experiencing the transforming work of the gospel. It is a time to slow down so that we can hear what God has to say.

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