Preparing for Christmas
by Adam Hamilton
On Thanksgiving evening, hundreds of thousands of Kansas Citians make their way to one of the city’s historic shopping districts, the Country Club Plaza. They come to watch as the switch is thrown on the 280,000 colored lights that adorn the buildings. This event has been a Kansas City tradition for over eighty years. When I was growing up, it marked the official beginning of the Christmas season.
Today, radio stations and shopping centers begin playing Christmas music weeks before Thanksgiving. Halloween now seems to be the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season! Yet somehow, though we’ve extended the season of Christmas, we have moved further and further from the meaning of Christmas.
Christmas today seems like an orgy of overindulgence. Many Americans go into debt to make sure their children have “enough” under the tree at Christmas and then watch as their kids become weary after opening so many presents. We find ourselves with a “Christmas hangover” when the credit card bills arrive. Somehow we miss out on the true message and joy of Christmas.
This is why now, more than ever, Advent matters. Advent is the way the church prepares for Christmas. Since sometime in the late fifth or early sixth century, this season has been a time to recall the meaning of Christmas. The word Advent is from the Latin adventus, and it means “coming.” Christians use this opportunity both to recall Jesus’ coming to the earth as a babe in Bethlehem and to prepare themselves for his promised return to earth. The Advent season begins four Sundays before Christmas Day, so it lasts from twenty-two to twenty-eight days, depending upon the day when Christmas falls.
In a world where so much focus at Christmas is placed on gift giving, card sending, and party attending, the season of Advent itself is a precious gift. Its purpose is to help us remember the story of a peasant girl who gave birth in a stable to a child whose life, death, and resurrection would change the world.
For two thousand years the story of Christmas has been told and retold, preached and sung about. And yet, as is often the case, the story’s very familiarity may keep us from fully grasping its riches. We think, “Well, yes, I know that story,” as its depth and nuance escape us.
There is much more to the Christmas story than meets the eye. There are details we may have missed entirely. And there are certainly a few places where the picture you have in your mind’s eye is actually wrong!
In this book I’ve written four weeks of daily reflections. Each week begins with a brief introduction, in which I’ll serve as your tour guide, walking you through various landmarks along the way. I am confident that you will discover as I did that this true story never ceases to amaze.
I invite you to take this journey with me, walking the road to Bethlehem from the peasant village of Nazareth to the little town of Bethlehem. We’ll talk together about Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the shepherds, and the wise men, always trying to understand the significance of the child whose birth brought them all together. My hope and prayer is that you come to see this familiar story in a new way and that its message might change you, as it has changed countless others in the years since that holy night so long ago.
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