Summary: Christmas preparations make it easy to get distracted, but Christmas is a celebration of life, and to truly experience that gift, we have to awaken to Christ's offer of abundant life!
Here we are, at the “most wonderful time of the year!” Last Sunday several of us gathered here at the church to put up the Christmas decorations. Perhaps some of you have decorated your homes as well in recent days. Indeed, Christmas decorations are beginning to appear everywhere. Heck, they were in Wal-Mart the day after Halloween! And as more and more decorations appear, the children get more and more excited. Children love this time before Christmas because it gives them something to look forward to with great excitement!
I was recalling a few days ago Christmas-time around the Travis household when my sister and I were growing up. Every year, we would watch the mail for the Sears and JC Penney Christmas catalogues. I’m sure many of you know the ones I’m talking about, the really thick ones that were at least half full of pictures of the latest and greatest toys? And as soon as the catalogues came, my sister and I would get a piece of paper and a pen, and we would open up those catalogues and one page at a time, we would work our way through the toy section, writing down every toy we wanted to get for Christmas. I would do that several times before Christmas, adding to and revising my list, perfecting it so that I included exactly everything that I wanted.
Certainly, kids get really excited about Christmas, perhaps more than anything else. They talk about it for months and months beforehand, even in the dead heat of summer! I know that many adults look forward to Christmas as well, perhaps not with quite the same enthusiasm as the youngsters, but with excitement nonetheless. We anticipate not only toys and gifts, but time with family and friends, gatherings, and dinners, and perhaps even a few days of vacation. Still, all of the Christmas activities can make it easy to get distracted.
Although the apostle Paul wrote this passage to the Romans long ago, it perfectly describes the challenge for this season. Day-to-day obligations increase as Christmas nears and people think about the entertaining, shopping, decorating and all those various duties that have come to define a perfect Christmas. But the point remains; a perfect Christmas is one that anticipates Christ above all! And Paul’s message is clear: we have to be awake! Christ is coming, deliverance is near! Dawn is about to break!
Two days ago was Black Friday. How many of you celebrated Black Friday this year? I mean, the day before that was Thanksgiving, but after that Turkey is eaten, the next most important thing is getting ready for Christmas, right?!? And that means jumping out of bed at 4 a.m. to make sure we are the first in line for the big sales. The Black Friday mania never ceases to amaze me. People awaken at the most ungodly hours of the morning so that they can stand out in the freezing cold in a line a mile long for a chance at getting one of the ten computers that Best Buy has on special! Now, I exaggerate perhaps a bit, but the simple truth of Black Friday is that if we’re not awake, we miss the deal!
Paul is telling us this morning that the same is true in our relationship with Christ; except in this case, it’s not just about a special price on a computer, this is a matter of life or death. God in Christ Jesus is offering us our very salvation, but if we are not awake, we might miss it! So what exactly does Paul mean? Well, let us consider our salvation as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism did: as a journey.
There was a time in our faith journeys where we were not aware of the love of God. During this time, John Wesley tells us, God watched over us with prevenient grace – the grace of God that arrives before we are even conscious of it. The next step on the journey is justifying grace – it comes when we realize we believe – the moment we first open our eyes to God’s reality because of Jesus’ teachings. The rest of the journey is sanctification – or as Paul would identify it, our salvation coming “nearer.”
Once we are awake to God’s loving grace at work in our lives, we cannot go back to sleep. We cannot pretend that it doesn’t exist or push the pause button while we have our good time shopping, decorating, or simply celebrating Santa’s gifts under the tree. During this Advent season, or any other time, we cannot afford to doze off on this grace because to do so would mean missing the deal and living in spiritual darkness. And if we are so consumed by all the distractions, by the darkness, how can we possibly recognize the light when it greets us in the morning?