When you grieve, the Light enters into your darkness. When you feel hopeless, the Light fills your darkness. When you wonder if you can make it through all that’s going on, the Light rushes into your darkness. When you despair because you cannot be with family for the holidays, the Light penetrates your darkness. This is not something you hope happens. It is fact. And it absolutely changes everything. Because the Light that comes into your darkness is Jesus, who has come/is here/will come yet again.
Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birth long ago in a stable in Bethlehem to two homeless parents. Christmas proclaims God’s incarnation that transcends time and space to save us today. Christmas anticipates Jesus’ promise to return in the future and wrap up his work of making God’s will just as real on earth as it already is in heaven. My conclusion about all of this? Christmas is complexicated! Which means I have a choice. I can spend my time and energy between now and Christmas making Christmas make sense to me. Or I can invest in getting ready to hear the Good News of a Great joy the angels proclaimed, run to find the Christ child and then humbly share what I have experienced. It’s an easy choice for me. I’ll spend my time between now and Christmas getting ready to run.
By Gary E. Mueller
Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference
I don’t need to tell you that life is tough right now. You know how much COVID has disrupted and destroyed so much. You have seen too many people ready to move on and not wrestle with issues of racial injustice. You struggle with the diagnosis of an illness that is debilitating, and may well take your life in the coming months. You watch people you care about deeply struggling on a daily basis with depression that zaps their joy until it dries up and blows away.
This deep pain causes many people to look at you in disbelief as you once again prepare to celebrate the coming of the One you believe changes everything about everything. They cannot comprehend how you can so naively believe God became human to give people what they absolutely need, but can never get on their own – a whole new life in God that begins now and lasts forevermore. They are convinced you have lost your mind because you believe the birth of a baby to two homeless parents temporarily finding refuge in a stable in a small town was a cosmic event that has fundamentally altered heaven and earth.
However, you don’t believe in God’s initiative at Christmas because you have seen enough evidence that conclusively proves it. You begin to see more and more clearly what God is up to because you choose to take a leap of faith to believe. And once you do, you discover how Jesus’ birth at Christmas blossoms into a sacred mystery that so defines your life it is to be cherished, nurtured and shared.
I have lived a long time and experienced a great deal; some of it on the mountain top and some of it deep in the valley. I am far from perfect; those who love me most know this best and yet still love me. I have diligently tried to be faithful with my mind and my spirit; I still fall far too short far too often. Here’s what I’ve discovered on my life’s journey. I need a Savior. The best decision I have ever made was to take that leap of faith to stake my life on Jesus Christ as my Savior who came, lived, and died to give life that is both abundant and eternal. This choice has changed what I see, know, understand, believe, and do fundamentally and forever.
No wonder I’m excited about getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth – no wonder I hope you are excited, too!
“You’ve gotten started on getting ready. The tree is up, the lights brightly illuminate the front of the house and those cherished Christmas decorations you put up year after year are in place. And you have a lot more to do. Including getting ready spiritually. Get ready spiritually so you don’t just commemorate a birth long ago, but celebrate the birth of the One who was/is/forever will be God. Get ready spiritually so you don’t just see Christmas as a holiday that gets packed up until next year, but a time of once again welcoming Jesus as your Savior all year long. Get ready spiritually so you don’t just focus on Jesus’ birth, but on what he promises to do as Lord of your life. Yes, you do have a lot of spiritual getting ready to do. But there’s still time. And it matters. Because Christmas without Christ isn’t much of a Christmas at all.
The premise of Advent is simple. You use these days leading up to Christmas to get ready to celebrate Christmas. This doesn’t mean you jettison all your cherished traditions or the things you most love about this season – especially in this year of a COVID Christmas. Rather, it means you intentionally go beyond them to dwell in the heart of Christmas – the reality that God has become one of us right in the middle of the muck of human life to save us. And when you take the time to get ready, you’ll be ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth like you’ve never celebrated it before.