Summary: We can learn from John the Baptist in preparing for Christ coming: 1) Don’t follow the world; 2) Do follow the Word, in a) different lifestyle, b) forward outlook, and 3) constant repentance.
Have you put up your Christmas tree yet? Last night, a bunch of you guys gathered at my house after the college group’s ice-skating and I should have brought out the Christmas tree for you guys to decorate. To some people, Christmas season will not arrive until you have the Christmas trees up. According to that standard, the Christmas season officially started on the day after Thanksgiving, when all the shopping malls started displaying their Christmas decorations. To drive up sales, some stores even started Christmas decoration even earlier; when we came to Japan in early November, I was surprised to see Christmas displays in the mall, and then it dawned on me that they don’t have Thanksgivings, therefore merchants could start preparing for Christmas as early as they want to.
But businesses are not the only one preparing for Christmas, people do too. A good sign of preparedness is if you have your Christmas list ready by Thanksgiving. Then you could line up as early birds for after Thanksgiving sales and start buying presents for people on your list. You could line up as early as 3-4am, as soon as the doors open; you just zoom in for stuff on your list. Teamwork would help too: have one person line up for the cash register while everyone else get everything on their list and you can save tons of time waiting in line! And that just for the shopping for presents. The Christmas preparedness also including getting cards for everyone, making sure you have everyone addresses, making sure you send cards to people who sent you cards last year. Then arrangement for parties, avoiding all scheduling conflicts, coordinating all the food options, racking your brains and searching the net for the latest party games. And if you are on any kind of ministries, there are a bunch of other things you have to juggle between choir practices, outreach activities, and winter conferences. On top of that, let’s not forget that many of you are having finals a few days before Christmas too.
One of my friends captured the spirit of the season so well in this version of “Deck the Hall”:
Deck the Halls with silly nicnacs, fa la la la la la la la la!
Let us be commercial mimics, fa la la la la la la la la!
Join we now in shopping debit, fa la la la la la la la la!
Swipe the card and use our credit, fa la la la la la la la la la!
See the retail spending craze, fa la la la la la la la la!
Shop until you’re in a daze, fa la la la la la la la la!
Follow Santa and his deer, fa la la la la la la la la!
To get all your new gear, fa la la la la la la la la![i]
And so, this is why I don’t like Christmas too much. Last year, as I shared about my “problems” with Christmas, some of you were showing your “concern” for me. One person bought me this great book on “The Prayers of Christmas”, which is the bible study on every prayer in the Christmas stories. Another person was cheering me up to look beyond the consumerism as people prepare for the Christmas season. But the best thing so far for me to prepare for Christmas was to meditate on the Word following the lectionary calendar.
For those of you who are not familiar with the term, the lectionary calendar is a Bible reading schedule where you would cover 80% of the Bible over three years. The reading was arranged according to the Christian Holiday. The weeks leading up to Christmas are called the Advent season, where it helps us to focus on the coming of Christ. The weeks following Christmas are called the Epiphany season, where they help us to see the Light of God in the World. Similarly the weeks leading up to Easter are called the Lent season [… fill in later …]
So, as Christians prepared for Christmas, this is the recommended reading for this week, Matthew 3:1-12…
1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." 3This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, ’Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ "4John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9And do not think you can say to yourselves, ’We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 11I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."