“I will send my messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way”‘–“a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight paths for Him.'” — Mark 1:2-3
Preparing to Receive The Perfect Gift
Last week we began a study for Christmas focusing on Advent, a celebration of the coming of Jesus into our world. He came so that God could give us the greatest gift we could ever receive–forgiveness of our sins and eternal life with Him in heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” What a gift indeed! It is the reason we give gifts at Christmas; or it should be–because of the greatest gift ever given, the one God gave us in His Son, Jesus. This gift given from Love–the gift of LOVE. Have you received this most precious gift? If not, please read all about Jesus and the gift He is offering you at this link.
Advent will help keep us focused on this true meaning of Christmas. In this sin-stained world it is so easy to take our eyes off of Jesus and place them on ourselves, on the gifts, the lights, the parties, the food.
How many gifts have you received at Christmas that you still remember? Oh, there may be a few special ones. But most are soon forgotten. But I guarantee that if you have been saved by faith in Christ, that is a gift you will always cherish.
I remember vividly that little church in Hiahleah, Florida, where the preacher spoke God’s Word and the Holy Spirit convicted me that I was a sinner headed for hell. It was there I realized my only hope was the gift God was offering me through faith in His Son, Jesus, for what He had done for me on the cross. The joy I received that day when I accepted His gift is still with me today.
And as a boy, I remember my mom always getting nervous as Christmas drew near, and her sweet spirit began to turn a bit sour. I didn’t understand it then. After all, Christmas was fun! But now, looking back, I get it. She had to prepare for Christmas. Everything had to be perfect. The entire family, on both sides, came together at our home. The house had to be clean, neat, well-decorated, and smell great, too. There had to be the right food for everyone’s palate. And one of my grandmothers was so picky she practically came in wearing white gloves to test for dust. How do you cook a roast that is half blood-rare and half well-done like leather? Is it any wonder my mother was a little on edge? All this on the day we’re supposed to be celebrating the birth of our Savior–the One who brought the greatest gift ever.
A couple of weeks ago our family got together to make plans for our Christmas Eve gathering. It took awhile, for in that gathering of thirteen we have two vegans, one vegetarian, three modified pescaterians, and a whole slew of preferences. There has to be just the right food for everyone’s tastes, everyone’s diets, everyone’s special requests. We want everyone to enjoy it, but it can get stressful trying to make the celebration pleasing to everyone. All this stress for the day we’re supposed to celebrate the birth of our Savior–the Man who was the most humble and grace-filled man ever and who brought the greatest gift ever.
Preparing to Celebrate the Perfect Gift
Advent is a time of preparation. But for what? Stress-filled meals? Lovely decorations? Gifts that will soon be forgotten?
We are told in Mark 1:1-8: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare the way–a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’ And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judea countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.'”
Of course, John was preparing for the coming of Jesus. Was he preparing for a big meal fixed just for his fine taste buds? Mark tells us “he ate locusts and wild honey.” Was it that wonderful new outfit in that beautifully wrapped box he was preparing to open? Mark says he “wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt tied around his waist.” He didn’t dine on fancy fare or wear festive clothing. John cared about one thing only–the Messiah and preparing people for His coming.
Mark also says when John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, he preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from all over Judea and Jerusalem went out to see him. They confessed their sins and were baptized in the Jordan River. Now, that’s preparing for Jesus’ coming!
Real preparation for Christmas happens when the focus is not on us. It’s not on what decorations we’ll put up or what food we’ll eat or what gifts we’ll place under the tree. Real preparation for Christmas comes when we place our focus on Christ Jesus and prepare our hearts to celebrate His gift of love…of grace…of salvation.
For as we rejoice and give thanks for the perfect gift of Jesus–our Savior–we will strive to please Him by following His example of grace and love. Our hearts will be filled with gratitude and joy. We will treat each other with kindness and patience. Our focus will be on sharing God’s love and grace with each other instead of stressing out about appearances. And our homes will be filled with peace.
Preparing to Give the Perfect Gift
As we focus on the true meaning of Christmas, our marriages will testify to His love and grace and draw others to Him. We won’t have to worry about whether we’ve picked out the perfect gift, for there is no greater gift than that of gracious love. No present under the tree–no matter how expensive–could match it.
Loving with God’s gracious love is the greatest gift we can give to our spouses. And it is also the greatest gift we can give to our children–parents who love God, love each other, and love them with the same love Christ has for us.
So this Christmas, let’s prepare our hearts by cherishing this greatest gift of Love–Jesus Christ our Lord. Let’s spend more time giving of ourselves and less time trying to impress. Let’s share God’s love and offer grace to everyone–beginning in our homes and radiating out to everyone around us. Let’s celebrate this season more blessed than stressed by preparing a path straight to the manger and kneeling before Him.
Enhancing the Advent Celebration
Just look at what our precious Savior is doing for us! Is it any wonder we should keep our focus on Him this Christmas season–and always?
“‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.'” — John 14:1-7
Reading a passage each day as a couple or family is one way to help keep your focus on Jesus’ birth this Christmas. Here are some suggested Scriptures for every day this week…
Sunday – Luke 2:15-16
Monday – Luke 2:17-18
Tuesday – Luke 2:19
Wednesday – Luke 2:20
Thursday – Luke 2:21
Friday – Matthew 2:1-2
Saturday – Matthew 2:3-6
May God bless you in all His wonderful ways,
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Header photo by mike.bendetti via flickr (CC BY-2.0), text added.
Candle photo by melly95 via pixabay (CC0), text added.
Quotes from a wonderful little book, Christmas: On This Holy Night by Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011.