What is “His Encouragement?”
Thursdays are always a really long day of the week for me. Since I’m a pastor, Sunday feels like the natural beginning to my week. By the time I get to Thursday, I am tired and drained. That’s why I’m excited to join with a group of blogging friends in order to offer you a weekly devotional which will be posted every Thursday. We are calling the series, “His Encouragement.”
It is my prayer that these words of encouragement inspired by scripture will help to carry you through the rest of your week My prayer is that this weekly series will be a much needed reminder that God loves you.
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’
-Luke 3:5-6 (NIV)
Complete suggested lectionary reading: Luke 3:1-6
Preparing for Christmas
My friends, I would like to confess something: I have a complicated relationship with Christmas. On the one hand, I absolutely love and adore the Christmas story. I rejoice in the eager anticipation of the advent season. My heart aches with longing, just like the hearts of the three wise men as they searched far and wide to find the baby Jesus.
However, on the other hand, this season is one of the two busiest times of year in the church. The only season of the year that is busier than Christmas is Easter (and I could tell you stories about what it’s like to not sleep a wink during Holy Week!)
It just seems like there is so much to prepare at the beginning of the Christmas season. There is the hanging of the greens at the church, advent sermon series to write, community outreach to plan, Sunday School classes to teach, end of year reports, Bible studies, church council meetings… the list goes on and on.
Right now, the church looks beautiful (I have a wonderful congregation who helped to decorate after church on Sunday!) but in my own home, we have done very little to prepare for the coming of Christmas.
If you walk down the street in my town, you will see that all the neighbors already have their lights up and their homes decorated. Last evening, there was even a gentle snowfall. The entire neighborhood looked like something out of a Hallmark movie.
It was after seven o’clock and I had just returned home from music rehearsal at the church (we’ve hired a pianist for our contemporary worship service, hooray!) . My spouse hadn’t eaten yet and we both were starving. I rushed through the door and, while still wearing my coat and earmuffs, filled a large pot with water in order to make spaghetti.
(Side note: We eat a lot of pasta at the parsonage. I am not renowned for my culinary expertise, but at least I can boil water!)
I had just removed my earmuffs and was adding some salt to the water when my spouse entered the kitchen through the garage door. He was carrying carrying a large black plastic garbage bag slung over his shoulder and was bundled up against the frigid night air.
“What are you doing?” I asked incredulously. “What’s in the bag?”
“All the neighbors have their lights up,” he said gruffly as he made his way past me toward our front door.
“So? What does that have to do with anything?”
He shot me a look over his shoulder as he went outside. “The neighbors are making us look bad! It’s a social obligation to put up Christmas lights. Besides- you can’t have a parsonage with no Christmas lights! They’ll think the preacher doesn’t believe in Jesus or something!”
As I finished dinner, I couldn’t help but think how right he was.
(Side note: Please don’t tell the preacher’s husband that he is right. She will never hear the end of it.)
Preparing the Way of the Lord
We do a lot to get ready for the coming of Christmas. During the holidays we make cookies, buy presents, cook meals, plan parties, and get swept up in the hustle and bustle; however, after my conversation with Jeff, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “How many things do we do during Christmas time because we feel as if we are “socially obligated?”
Even more importantly, we must ask ourselves, Do all these preparations really get us ready for Christmas?
The scripture for this week is a reading from Luke 3.1-6. In it, Luke puts the words of Isaiah into the mouth of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus and his birth was also miraculous. John was born to Elizabeth in her old age, despite the fact that she had previously been unable to bear children.
John was born shortly before his cousin, Jesus. The two would have grown up together and known one another. They were family. I’m certain that they loved and cared for one another.
John, like every one of us, was called to prepare the Way of the Lord.
“Prepare the Way of the Lord,” is a phrase that we hear a lot this time of year; however, do we ever stop to think about what it really means?
Does “preparing the way of the Lord,” mean purchasing Christmas presents or baking cookies? Does it mean writing letters to Santa or buying material items that we don’t need?
Luke tells us that to prepare the Way of the Lord means something much deeper. John speaks of a coming new world order. John’s message depicts a world turned entirely upside down, where the “mountains shall be made low,” and all the crooked ways “shall be made straight (Luke 3.5).” Even more miraculously than that, John speaks of a world in which all “people will see God’s salvation (Luke 3.6).”
How Do We Prepare the Way?
From Luke’s description, preparing the way of the Lord sounds like a daunting task. I love Jesus and have committed my life to the church, but even I am hesitant to go out into the middle of the dessert and eat locusts like John the Baptist!
Luckily, although we are all called to prepare the way of the Lord, we are not all called to a life of such deprivation. What we are called to do is to prepare the way of the Lord with small but significant acts of kindness.
Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22.36-40). One of my favorite hymns boldly proclaims, “They will know that we are Christians by our love.”
We truly prepare our hearts for Christmas by making time to show love to God and one another. That is the true meaning of Christmas. Acts of love don’t always need to be large and lavish. Jesus already completed the most truly awesome act of love for us when he died on the cross.
Our acts of love only need to be genuine, earnest, and heartfelt. Simple acts of kindness, compassion, and mercy can help others to see the light of God’s love in ways we cannot possibly even begin to imagine.
The Light of God’s Love
Jeff exemplified the beauty of simple acts of love when he called me outside to see the Christmas lights. I had just put the spaghetti on the table when he stuck his head in to the kitchen. He was still wearing his hat and coat.
“Come outside and see this!” he said.
“It’s cold outside and I’m hungry. Let’s just eat.” I responded.
“Come on, just come look! Seriously- I think I over extended my shoulder doing this for you. The least you can do is look.”
Reluctantly, I put my coat back on and followed him outside. It was beautiful! He had even added an inflatable polar bear and a light up owl!
The scene looked positively idyllic. I was touched. I couldn’t help but smile broadly as we stood in the freshly fallen snow and looked at the lovely lights that he had strung up around the parsonage.
“See?” he said. “Don’t these lights make you feel better?”
“Yes,” I agreed. “They’re beautiful. And you’re right- now every time I come home in the evening, I will feel better. But it’s not just because of how pretty the lights look. It’s because every time I see them, I’ll think of what a kind thing you did for me because you wanted to make me happy.”
He made a face. “Now you’re just being gross!”
Go Prepare the Way
John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. At Christmas time we string up lights to remind us of Jesus because he was the light of the world.
This holiday season, my prayer is that our secular actions, such as stringing lights, will take on deeper and more holy meanings that cause us to reflect on what it truly means to get ready for Christmas.
Dear Friends, this Christmas season, let us prepare the way of the Lord with small but significant acts of love.
Peace Be With You,
Please be sure to check out the other great bloggers involved in the His Encouragement weekly series!