What comes to mind when you hear these three phrases? Is it the “run of the mill” section at the beginning of any proper owners manual? Is it the brightly colored stickers that are placed strategically all over heavy machinery to avoid some accident or damage? Is it memories of all sorts of “disaster preparedness” materials?
I want to challenge the traditional use of these three different phrases- and apply them to something that recalls a season of warmth, family, friends, and tradition- Christmas. Christmas- the tangibly magic time of year; that season filled with joviality, carols, fine food, gifts, and the like. It is such a busy and blissful time of the year, that it seems rather easy to forget all of the struggles and typical trials of day-to-day life.
Something is missing in this picture, however…
If we look through the piles of gifts, through the prim and proper table, through the comfort of a roaring fireplace, and past the blinding light of hundreds of thousands of tiny lights, what is left of our Christmas season? What is that very reason that we celebrate to an almost seemingly absurd degree?
The answer, in all of its splendor and glory, is quite simple. It is the “thrill of hope.” It is the “new and glorious morn.” It is that which defies all time, all reason, and all that one would consider normal. It is the promise of salvation- God becomes man in the Christ child.
In all of the excitement and wonder of the Christmas season, the very core of the reality of this situation is often lost. The fact of the matter is this: we have sinned, and we have done, quite bluntly, nothing to deserve what is presented to our minds time and time again during the Christmas season. Can we do anything to prepare ourselves better for the mystery of the Incarnation, as Christ becomes man?
Yes- celebrate Advent.
Why? Imagine this: man has been dwelling on the earth for some time. God has selected his chosen people. Eventually, as it happens, God’s people experience centuries oppression and slavery through slavery, through heavy burden, and ultimately through sin. These loads are so ponderous and so hopeless that God’s people cry out and plead to God for His intercession into their sorry plight. They yearn for freedom from their captivity, and long for something better. This is something they cannot obtain on their own.
And through some undeserved act of mercy, God grants this to them: He sends His Son.
What does Advent have to do with this? It gives us that very same ability to experience the joy of the Incarnation. It affords us the chance to take an honest look at ourselves and see that we are, ultimately, in a need not unlike that of the people of Israel. It gives us that chance to come clean of ourselves, and after realizing our inability to gain the hope, peace, and joy that we desire, we wait for the coming promise of a Savior.
The simple fact of the matter is this- if we have not recognized our fallen and poor state and if we have not recognized our need for a Savior- nor recognized our own sin- the Incarnation cannot do what it has set out to do for each of us. It becomes little more than a historic event, which is a sorry state for the greatest act of mercy that man has ever seen. We are afforded an opportunity of a season to grow in our own humility and holiness, and to realize the greatness of a gift that we are so unworthy to receive.
Be Alert! Pay Attention! Be Prepared! Do not allow the thrilling carols and messages of good tidings fall onto ears that are not ready to hear them. Take time to meditate on what we long for in our tired and weary state- so that we can celebrate again what God bestows on man, and the hope and joy that come with a fuller appreciation of such a gift. We long for happiness in Eternal Life, and through Christ our Lord, it is all made possible- but only if we wait patiently for Him.