BY CLINT LOVEALL - SPIRIT LAKE FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
As you read this there are less than two weeks until Christmas. With the way the calendar fell this year, that means we are about halfway through the season of Advent, which is the period of the four Sundays before Christmas. Historically, Advent, which is taken from the Latin word for "arrival," is a season of expectation, reflection and anticipation, intended to keep us from rushing headlong into Christmas without doing any soul-searching first. That’s a tall order, given that Christmas decorations come out the day after Halloween and Black Friday now starts on Thanksgiving afternoon — which is exactly why we need a few weeks to slow down and prepare our hearts as well as our houses and trees.
The unofficial main character of Advent is John the Baptist, the herald who announces the coming of the savior. John stands outside the status quo of the world to speak into it of the one whose arrival will change everything. He announces the coming Christ and calls people to turn their lives toward what God is about to do, to orient themselves according to the kingdom. John sets the stage for Jesus, though he had his own significant following, yet when asked about his own place in the story, he said this; "He must increase, and I must decrease (John 3:30)."
I’m indebted to Walter Bruggeman this Advent for including this verse in an Advent devotional that I have been reading titled "Celebrating Abundance." He suggests that this theme of increasing and decreasing is a beautiful framework for getting ready for Christmas. One of the central tasks of the Christian life is making less of ourselves so there is more room for Jesus — decreasing so he can increase in us. As we move toward celebrating his arrival again, we recommit ourselves to make large the things of His kingdom and make small the barriers to it.
This Christmas, decrease selfishness and increase generosity. Decrease fear and anxiety and increase faith and hope. Decrease poverty and hunger and increase our care for the hungry and poor. Decrease our consumerism and increase our gratitude for what we already have. Shrink the secret struggles of our lives that hinder our discipleship and expand our love of neighbor and service to others. Shatter and grind the grudges we carry in our hearts and magnify the grace of God by forgiving those who have wronged us and praying for those who have hurt us. Throw out the idols we bow to and the false gods we worship and set Christ alone as king of our hearts and lives.
There are less than two weeks until Christmas. Are you ready? Are the big things of your life and your Holiday (literally Holy Day) Kingdom things? Or are they things you have let get too large? Shrink everything but the things of Jesus this Christmas. Let Him increase in us that he might be known as the one who has come to save. It’s not easy work, but it gets us ready for his arrival. Let each of us be willing, as John was, to decrease that Jesus might increase. Merry Christmas.