We’re well into December. You know what that means. The Christmas Parade was Saturday. The bell ringers are out. The radio stations have converted their music. The newspapers are full of all the ads. Christmas is coming.
Do you remember that feeling, as a child, getting ready for Christmas? You start asking in July how many days. The wish list is set by Labor Day. You can’t wait for the Christmas tree, because that means it’s really close. And there is so much to do to prepare.
Now, when I say that, if all you’re thinking about is parties and gifts and decorations and travelling, you’ll never be ready for Christmas. You see, in the middle of all the decoration and celebration and friends and family and fun, you and I both know that, for some people, even for us at times, the Christmas season can be a bummer. The holiday season is a prime time for depression and suicide and well, just unhappiness — even with all the pretty decorations.
So, even more important than preparing the externals, we need to make sure that our hearts are ready for Christmas. And really, when you look at our reading from 1 Thessalonians 5, our preparing for Jesus’ coming is not just getting ready to celebrate his birthday at Christmas. That’s not really even the primary purpose for it. Our preparation is primarily so that we are ready to celebrate when he comes back for us.
That’s what our Scripture reading is describing, preparing for the CHRIST of CHRISTmas. First, our attitude: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.” We all know that the wrong attitude can ruin the most festive of occasions, whereas the right attitude makes all the difference in the world. So that’s where Paul starts. Be joyful…always.
That can be a tough thing when you’re thinking about Christmas lists. You know the danger of having your kids make Christmas lists, right? It’s the same danger as having your wife give you a honey-do list. There are bound to be disappointments.
That’s a fact of life though. Just like we might not get everything we want for Christmas, we might not get everything we want in life. But Paul puts it in perspective and reminds us that no matter the time, no matter the circumstance, we have reason to give thanks. We have reason to rejoice, because our lives are about so much more than some wish lists. Paul writes that this rejoicing and giving thanks is “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It is Jesus that makes the difference. That’s who we have. That’s our reason to rejoice.
The one whose birth we’re preparing to celebrate is the one who was born to die, born to sacrifice, born to defeat death and bring us life. So as we are preparing for Christmas, remember that it is a CHRISTIAN CHRISTmas you’re preparing for and you will have the proper attitude — joy and thanksgiving.
And then, when you remember that it is a CHRISTian CHRISTmas you’re preparing for, you’ll be able to keep the right purpose in everything, too. The next verses in our text remind us of the great irony in Christmas: The celebration of the very holiday that celebrates God stepping into our world and taking our place to save us, the very celebration of God’s greatest gift is the very same thing that Satan most effectively uses to try to get us to forget about the very thing we celebrate. And the parties and the decorations and the gatherings and the gifts hide so deeply in plain sight the truth, the focus our hearts ought to have.
Think about it. It is physically impossible to say “Merry Christmas” without proclaiming the name “Christ.” Even the generic Happy Holidays testifies that this is a Holy Day we celebrate, yet all of that is used to get us to forget its holiness and ignore the Christ of Christmas.
And you can’t for a minute convince me that your celebrations and preparations don’t from time to time forget their purpose. Satan is too good at his job. So, our Scripture reading says: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”
What’s the solution? What’s the key in your preparations for a CHRISTian CHRISTmas? Have the proper purpose. Remember what it is all about, not putting out the Spirit’s fire by removing the kindling of the word. Don’t ignore God’s promises of what this day means. And everything you do — test it. If it helps you keep the proper purpose, hold on to it. If not, avoid it. It’s as simple as that:
- So the time you spend in God’s word being reminded of what he has done — keep it.
- Midweek Meditations at church — hold on to it
- The Christmas festivities at church: Christmas4Kids tomorrow, the Christmas Concert on the 17th, the Sunday School program on the 18th, Christmas Eve Candlelight Service and Christmas Day Communion — those are things that keep your hearts on the proper purpose.
And so many of the other things you do can accomplish the same thing, whether it’s putting up the evergreen Christmas tree with the angel or star up on top reminding us of the announcements of that first Christmas and their eternal results, or the nativity scenes reminding us of the history of it all, or the candles we light for the light of the world, or even just our greetings of Merry CHRISTmas and Happy Holyday!
With the right attitude and the right purpose, you will have a very Merry CHRISTmas! Next week we’ll look at the right help for that!
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.