The Christmas season is now upon us and we can see decorations and other signs all around. Our holiday to-do lists have heated up as various deadlines close in and we often find ourselves swept along by the hustle and bustle of the season. There are gifts to buy, Christmas cards to mail, meals to prepare for, travel arrangements to be made, and many other things. There have also been some changes at church as we have turned the corner into the end of the calendar year. Last Sunday marked the beginning of Advent and we have begun to anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth as well as his eventual second coming. In the spirit of this anticipation, Advent is also a time of preparation. As we anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth, we also prepare ourselves and look to Christ’s return.
One of the ways that we prepare during Advent is by taking time for self-examination. In many ways Communion is a good analogy to help us wrap our minds around the Advent season. In 1 Corinthians, Paul admonishes the Corinthian church and us to examine ourselves so that we may eat the bread and drink the cup in a worthy manner. (1 Corinthians 11:23-34) Are we receiving communion with a heart that respects it for what it is or do we take it for granted? This self-examination involves both repentance and thanksgiving as we ultimately seek to be spiritually realigned.
This is the same idea that guides us as we prepare during the Advent season. One of the benefits of Advent being at the end of the calendar year is that we are able to look back upon the last 11 months and take stock of our lives and how we have been living for Christ. We can reflect on the trials and the blessings we’ve experienced during the last year with the benefit of hindsight. We are also able to see more of the big picture of our lives than we do when looking at it from day to day. Both of these considerations help us as we ponder the question of whether we’ve been living our lives in line with the new life we have in Christ.
With all of the preparations we are making for the celebration of Christmas, it is easy for Advent to get lost in the shuffle between Sundays. This is why having our daily time set aside for devotion is so important: it protects and maintains a time in our regular schedule for God. During these times we can offer prayers to God to guide us in our self-examinations and to give us clarity of vision to see where we have fallen short and to show us the ways in which we have been blessed. It is also during these times that we converse with God and lay before him the contents of our hearts. For we do not prepare ourselves solely through our force of will, but ultimately come to God so that He may continue to grow us and increase our faith. Our self-examination is a cooperative process that we engage in with God and our improvement as Christians is a grace we receive from Him.
Just as we prepare a Christmas tree for gifts to be placed under it, we also, during Advent, prepare ourselves to receive the gifts of God’s grace.