By: Jenni Walker
“Christmas is fast approaching. And now that Christ has aroused our seasonal expectations, He’ll soon fulfill them all!” ~St. Augustine
“You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’” ~Isaiah 40:9
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The church that housed the small Christian academy where I attended elementary and middle school stood just a few minutes by highway from downtown Minneapolis. Each winter, it nestled into the snow that fell regularly throughout the Minnesota winter, and the parking lot was plowed in such a way as to create a giant snow hill piled up against one of the gym’s exterior brick walls. At recess, those of us who remembered to bring our snow pants hastily tugged them on, zipped up our coats, shoved our hats and gloves onto our heads and hands, and raced outside. What anticipation as we approached, already rosy-cheeked from the cold, at the base of that enormous snow hill! Many winter recesses in elementary school were spent climbing, rolling, sliding, and jumping up and down that hill made entirely of the winter wonderment that had fallen from the sky.
It is at this time of year that the embers of Christmas anticipation begin to glow inside each one of us. Barren trees tell us that fall is nearly gone, the evening darkness arrives earlier, and the night air grows colder. It is within this seasonal departure, darkness, and cold that we experience, like the children preparing for recess on a grand snow hill, a sometimes unexplainable yet glorious sense of expectation inside our hearts. Within the departure of the beautiful fall leaves arrives a clearer view of brilliant sunsets beyond the leafless, silhouetted branches. The early arrival of darkness adds to the beauty of light displays and moonlit nights. And the chilly weather draws us inside together toward cozy fires, mugs of hot chocolate, and glowing Christmas trees.
The season of Advent is here. It is a Latin word meaning “arrival” or “to come.” It is not only a countdown to Christmas but a time of intentionally preparing our hearts in remembrance of the true meaning of this season. The literal changing of seasons, the beauty and mirth of snow, the decorating of homes, and wintry nights at home with family all stir our hearts, pointing us to the arrival of our Savior. My teacher for both second and third grade, Miss Hildebrandt, used this season masterfully as Christmas break would draw near each year. We made a paper chain as a class of red and green construction paper. One of us each day would ceremoniously tear one of the paper links off, assuring our young minds and hearts that Christmas break indeed was drawing closer.
But the most special time in that classroom was when we would all sit in a circle around her white, sparkling classroom Christmas tree and daily recite Luke 2:1-20 together. In chorus, our young voices recited the events of Joseph and Mary’s travels to Bethlehem to be registered for the census, the onset of Mary’s labor, and the arrival of baby Jesus who was laid in an animal feeding trough because there had been no room to stay anywhere else. The story continues, and the anticipation grows as Luke continues his account of the events after Jesus’ birth: an angel of the Lord bringing the good news to the shepherds as the glory of the Lord shone around them, the sky being filled “with a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,” and the shepherds responding in haste saying, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us” (verse 15).
How can we direct the anticipation of Christmas toward Jesus Christ? He is not just a part of this season; He is, indeed, the reason for the season! As you are filled with the delight of childhood memories, as your mouth waters with the tantalizing smells of cookies and treats, and as you prepare beautiful presents for loved ones, be intentional to let your soul be stirred in love for your Savior who “will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33). Our majestic Lord is the One who has redeemed us from darkness, has filled us with His enduring love and truth, and who is Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23)!
Let the excitement and expectancy of the Christmas season lift your heart toward the majesty of the arrival of our Savior. Read the biblical accounts of deep anticipation experienced by nearly every person that first Christmas. Take time to prepare your heart through intentional time in His presence and to allow your soul to be touched in a fresh way by His deeply personal love. Cultivate a quiet heart, and rejoice in Him!
Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 6:13-15 of the entire purpose of the coming of Christ a little over two thousand years ago, of His promised return one day, and of the glorious and holy calling we have in serving Him in the present and all throughout the year: “I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate [before His crucifixion], that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate [Sovereign], the King of kings and Lord of lords…”
May this Advent season be a tangible and wholehearted reminder of the coming of the One who is not merely a part of your life but who IS your life (Colossians 3:1-4). Let the embers of the Christmas season’s natural anticipation be stirred into an unquenchable flame that burns with holy expectancy through the work of Christ in our lives. May we let our hearts gaze upon our Savior as the shepherds did with baby Jesus. May our love for our Savior be renewed afresh as we take time to ponder in our hearts all He has done like Mary the mother of Jesus in Luke 2:19. And as Anna did in the temple (Luke 2:38) when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to present Him to the Lord, may we use the many beautiful reminders contained in the Christmas season to help others to also look for, and to find, the Savior of the world.
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Note: Don’t just move on to the next thing; quiet your heart before the Lord right now. Long for, hunger for, and rejoice in, HIM! Continue to lift up your heart to the Lord in this way throughout the Christmas season…