Too many Christmases and Birthdays I am sneaking out the day before trying to buy really meaningful gifts for people. There is really no way to get a meaningful gift at the grocery store or pharmacy on Christmas Eve. My first Christmas with Sarah I bought her a build a bear and wrote her a poem, in which I think I said I would write poems for her forever…I’m pretty sure that was the last poem I ever wrote.
Quit while you’re ahead, right?
These last minute gifts, these empty promises, these last minute checks off the list in the last minute leave us feeling a bit unprepared and unsatisfied. We end up mailing it in, getting whatever is convenient, or making up coupons or IOU’s and calling them presents. Many of us have learned over the years, that is not the best way to do things. It is much better to think and plan ahead…but thinking something is a good idea is one thing, taking action is another.
There is a good chance over the past few days many of you have purchased some presents for Christmas. Maybe you woke up before sunrise on Friday, maybe you went to your favorite local business on Saturday, maybe you are furiously shopping online today. Likely, you have purchased something or at least started thinking about purchasing something for Christmas in the past few days.
You know, Christmas is a month away.
Like almost a literal month.
How many of us buy things a month ahead of time for other events and holidays?
Rarely is anyone in September buying Halloween candy.
Rarely is anyone in October buying cranberries and stuffing.
Rarely is anyone in May buying a new flag.
Most of us are like me where a week or two ahead of a holiday or birthday, we figure out what we need, order online and pay for rush shipping…and also pray everything shows up on time.
But what would happen if we prepared?
I don’t mean make to do lists or shared google docs or spreadsheets…but that isn’t a bad idea either…I mean we spent time preparing our hearts, our minds, and our bodies for things. It seems like preparing in a meaningful comprehensive way would change everything.
The birthdays when the present got to the house day of, may be filled with relief or satisfaction…but likely there was more concern, anxiety, and stress that was unnecessary.
So what would happen if we prepare for Christmas now?
In the Christian calendar, the season leading up to Christmas is called Advent.
Historians can date back to just a few hundred years after Christ, followers of Jesus would spend about 4 weeks following the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas Day preparing for the celebration of his birth and looking forward to his return. They would spend time reading scripture, fasting, praying, focusing on the ideas of hope, love, joy, and peace as they prepared their heart, mind, and body for Christmas.
Many people like the idea of Advent…but the idea of doing readings or prayers or starting a new thing for 28 days feels a bit daunting, so must people don’t even start. Maybe they get an Advent Devotional, but about a week or so in, they hang it up because of the busyness of life.
This is a unique year. It is the longest time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so lots of time to shop and prepare and listen to Christmas music and watch terrible Christmas movies. And yet it is also the shortest Advent Season, because it doesn’t start until December 3rd and will end on December 24th. Just 22 days, not including Christmas.
So this is good news for you.
Not just good news of great joy that will be for all the people…but good news for the timing of things.
You have the most amount of time this year to get all your shopping and planning and whatever else you need to do…and you have the shortest amount of time to dial in to Advent. I know that may sound weird, coming from your pastor, but do you know how you learn to run a marathon…by going on a walk. You don’t start by running 26.2 miles. You’d quit before you got to the end of the block. You start by walking. Then you run a few blocks. Then you run a few more. And more. And more. Over time, that first walk, then those first runs, lead you to the point of preparing your body and mind to run a marathon.
So no matter if you have been following Jesus your whole life or you’ve never cared for him.
No matter if you have been practicing Advent or you’ve never heard of it.
Let this year be that first walk that will prepare you.
We are doing a few things to help prepare you.
First, we have an Advent Guide. This is a simple guide that will walk you through several different scriptures leading up to Christmas. This year we focused it on the idea of God being with us. The fancy word for that is theophany. We will have physical copies available this coming Sunday, December 3rd and you can access digital copies now at thechapelatseaside.com/christmas
Second, we will share in communion this Sunday, December 3rd at 9am at The Chapel before our normal worship service. This will be a brief 15 minute or so time of reflection, prayer, and sharing in the elements together. There is something about gathering with other believers remembering this beautiful meal and looking forward to the heavenly banquet. It’s a bit like Advent. It’s a time where we remember people anxiously awaiting Emmanuel, God with us, and a time for us to look forward to Christs return.
Third, each of the Sundays (December 3rd, 10th, 17th, and 24th) will be Advent Sundays where we will prepare our hearts and minds for the birth of the Christ child. I hope if you are in town and healthy, you’ll join us at 10am. And if not, you can worship with us online through our website, thechapelatseaside.com or from our Facebook page, facebook.com/thechapelatseaside. You can also listen to our sermons most places where podcasts are available; Apple, Spotify, and more.
Finally, we will conclude Advent with a special Christmas Eve service on Sunday, December 24th. We’ll have 3 services that day; 10am, 4pm, and 5:30pm. Each of the services will be the same and will end with Candlelight. We will have indoor and outdoor seating to accommodate you and your loved ones.
You certainly don’t have to do the Advent Guide, or join us for worship, or come to Christmas Eve service for it to be Christmas.
But I believe when we prepare, something happens. When we think ahead, we have space and margin to slow down and listen. We have time to hear, to be changed and to change the world around us.
What will you do this Advent Season?
Fly in at the last minute or spend time preparing for Christmas morning?
Let this year be different.