It is only December 6, and my house is decorated and I am well on my way to amassing the gifts for my family. But am I prepared for Christmas? No, not by a long shot.
God prepared for Christmas with angels. Not only did He send an angel to announce the birth of Jesus, but months before that, an angel announced the birth of another child who would come before Jesus and prepare the way.
While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” (Luke 1:11-17)
Before Jesus' birth was announced, the Lord first brought John to prepare the people for the coming of their Messiah. John, the baby son of Zacharias, who became John the Baptist, spent his life urging the people of Israel to repent, to turn from their evil ways, and to follow God. Specifically, John came to reunite fathers and children. Broken relationships with fathers can destroy the children's belief in a loving God.
As I looked back in scripture, I found God prepared much longer for the coming of Christ. In fact, 400 years earlier, in the book of the Old Testament prophet Malachi (4:5-6):
“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
John the Baptist is the Elijah foretold to come. John had to come before Christ, to prepare because people were not ready for His coming. Zacharias, a righteous man and priest of Israel, was burning incense at the temple with people praying outside. Yet He was surprised and afraid when the angel appeared. Instead of expecting God to show up during worship, Zacharias startled when confronted with an angel.
During this month we will be surrounded by reminders of Christmas. There will be decorations, music, activities with special food, and presents, all pointing to Christmas, and yet, like Zacharias, we can be unprepared to actually experience the presence of Christ. In the midst of our religious traditions, do we expect the coming of the most holy God?
What can we do to remind ourselves of the real message of this season? How can we be more aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the hurry of the holiday?
This week, as our small group discussed this question, we came up with the following ideas:
- Read the story again. Not just any story, the original one, that the "beloved physician" Luke and Jesus' disciple and dear friend Matthew wrote under the inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit. Don't have a copy? Click here.
- Listen more closely to the words of Christmas songs. The songs contain a sense of wonder, joy and peace. They remind us of the courage of Mary and Joseph. Sing along and get swept away in the awe of the shepherds as they listened to the angels sing.
- Look carefully at the decorations. Be reminded that Christ came into the world to bring us the light and a fuller revelation of who God is.
- As you shop, be reminded of the long journey of the wise men, and their desire to bring gifts and to see something amazing.
- Do good and care for the poor. Find a special activity to share the love of God. Expect to see God in the faces of those you serve, and in those who serve beside you.
- Remind others of the true reason for this wonderful season. As you remind others, you will be encouraged yourself, even if they do not believe. Truth sticks and we never know when the Holy Spirit will use our words later as they remember what we spoke.
Note: Who is Elijah, you ask? He was a great Old Testament prophet who performed powerful miracles. For two great stories about Elijah, see 1 Kings 18:16-39, 2 Kings 2:1-11.