Close your eyes for a moment and think about Christmas morning. What do you see? A tree alight with presents underneath; a warm meal with family; children smiling over the magic of Christmas; maybe it’s an empty chair, and the hurt felt in that absence; or a sense of estrangement and discomfort, possibly even loneliness. All of these things and many more likely come to mind. For me, it’s my first Christmas with my husband, but also concern over my father’s health and the loss of family traditions, and to be honest, I also think about presents. There is nothing inherently wrong about all of these things, we’re human with a complex array of feelings, but in every scenario there is something important missing. An essential part of Christmas, that in our modern traditions we have lost (or even put aside). Something so important, that without it our Christmas experience becomes dominated by the good and bad things we feel and experience, rather than the joy we are meant to have. That joy being the Savior who’s coming we are meant to wait expectantly for.
Some may attest this though, citing the Christmas Eve service they plan on attending or the Advent study they have been diligently going through since December first. But upon further reflection and prayer, you realize that like me, we’ve only given Christ a small part of our heart and celebration. And although all of things are important to the development of our faith, this small space we’ve allocated for God, isn’t what He has asked of us.
What are we waiting for?
The time leading up to Christmas, known as Advent, is a time of expectant waiting for Christ’s three comings: His Birth, His resurrection, and His coming at the end of days. It is with this in mind that we can begin to prepare our hearts for Christ:
His Birth: Found in both Matthew and Luke’s Nativity Narratives, the prophesied birth of God in human form, can be traced throughout the Old Testament, which is often highlighted in the Gospel of Matthew, due to the predominant Jewish audience he was writing to. This is usually the topic covered in most Advent studies and highlighted in church services throughout both the Advent and Christmas seasons.
His Resurrection: Found in all four Gospels(Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and discussed in the Epistles, Christ’s passion and resurrection is at the core of the Christian faith. Although a Lenten and Easter focus, it is crucial to meditate and prayerfully reflect on these scriptures, without it, there would be no reason for Jesus to come to us as an infant to begin with and we would have little hope of salvation. Christ died a brutal and humiliating death, despite his sinless innocence. When He was resurrected three days later, He proved that he had accomplished His ordained mission to save humanity from their sins and conquer death. He is our advocate and without His sacrifice,we would be dead in our sins, trapped in the desires of our flesh.
His Final Coming: This is referenced in both the Old and New Testament, with the key book being Revelation. At the end of days, Christ will return to to take control of His earthly kingdom. This will also be the time of judgement. It is important to remember this, for we must always be prepared for His return, making sure our hearts and souls are entirely His, and that we have repented of our sins. To reject this free gift of salvation in favor of languishing in our sins, leads only to damnation. For those saved, we must endure tribulation patiently, but wait for His return as King with an expectant heart.
This is only a brief synopsis and the truth can only be found in the Word of God, and I could never do it justice in one post, but it will be a recurring theme throughout my time on this blog.
What does this mean for Christmas?
Now with Christmas in mind, we need to focus our hearts completely on Christ. Its normal to think of and desire our Christmas traditions, but those things should be secondary, if not tertiary, to Christ. God asks for our whole hearts and to come first in our lives. He doesn’t ask for just an hour every Sunday, or a fifteen minute interlude each day during Advent. Although these are can all bring us closer to God in obedience, our time with God and our relationship with me should define us as people. We should be giving our whole heart and every part of our day to God. Our faith, shouldn’t be dependent on what building we’re in, what day of the week it is, whether or not we have a book open in front of us, or a worship song playing on our radio. It should just be a part of who we are, all of those things may be a result of our faith, but they do not define it. As it says in Isaiah 64:6:
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and our righteous acts like filthy rags: we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
This doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to do good things and practice our faith, it just means that they do not justify our faith, only Christ can justify us (Romans 3:28, 5:1; Galatians 2:16, 3:24).
Our whole heart
A small part of our hearts, a small portion of our time, this isn’t what God desires from us. A list of great acts, although an outcome of our faith, isn’t what gives us salvation, it isn’t even what makes us ‘good’, since more often than not, our motivations are wrong. Take an example from one of my old philosophy professors, if a man donates to the poor to impress a woman, even if the poor benefit, is the action still classified as a good act? Not really, good may have been done, but it wasn’t born of heartfelt goodness. Everything good in this world comes from God we are not good on our own (James 1: 17-19). This is why we need Jesus to advocate on our behalf, because without Him we really have nothing to offer, thankfully God cares for enough to make up for our shortcomings.
God desires our whole heart. He desires our faithful obedience. A faith, that isn’t just about belief, for even the demons believed (James 2: 19-26), we need to live for God first, follow His word, be obedient to His commandments, submit to His will, and be genuinely repentant of our sins. With this as our goal and Christ sincerely in our hearts, the true joy of Christ can be found regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in.
You see, Christmas isn’t about the perfect gift or the perfect moment, it’s about the perfect Saviour, who came to earth to save us from our sins. Remembering this, meditating on the associated scriptures, that is how we prepare our hearts for Christmas. Only by giving our whole hearts, can we be assured of our salvation. Christmas is only a small part of the year and we need to have our hearts prepared for Christ’s final return all year, everyday, because that time is closer than you think. Almost isn’t enough, a part of isn’t enough, as this quote by Charles Spurgeon says:
“To be almost saved, is to be altogether lost! There are many in Hell who were once almost saved, but who are now altogether damned! Think of that, you who are not far from the Kingdom. It is being in the Kingdom that saves the soul, not being near the Kingdom.”
There is nothing wrong with looking forward to time with family or feeling grief in the absence of it. We’re human, we feel, but our faith cannot be dominated by feelings. A time meant for joy in the Lord, shouldn’t be cast aside for gifts, food, or difficult circumstances (see the book of Job). God is in control. He is the creator of all things and we need to have God in every moment of our lives, lest our time come unexpectedly and we are left unprepared and without the hope only Christ can give us (Matthew 24).