By Brandon Lemons
How do we prepare our hearts for Christmas? With all the changes generated by COVID-19, 2020 is a year when this question is especially poignant. Typically, December has so many activities and traditions that it is difficult to settle our hearts to focus on Jesus. But perhaps this is a Christmas season when we can focus on Jesus more than ever before. Let me share with you one idea for how to prepare ourselves to worship Jesus in spirit and truth this Christmas.
First, some background. As I was preparing for this past Sunday’s sermon on Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist, I was struck by the parallels between Advent and Lent. Both Advent and Lent are traditional periods of preparation for Christian celebrations – the former for Christmas (Jesus’ birth) and the latter for Easter (Jesus’ resurrection). During Lent (the six weeks leading up to Easter), Christians have traditionally spent intentional time in solemn prayer, self-denial, confession of sin, and repentance in order to prepare their hearts to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) frequently takes on a different tone than Lent; Advent is typically more hopeful and anticipatory. An interesting note is that, in the past – even going back to the early church – Advent also had strong overtones of penitence and fasting. It struck me that this intentional attitude of examining our hearts, confessing sin, and repenting is an appropriate way to prepare our hearts for Christmas.
Think about it this way: Why did God come to earth in the form of Jesus? He didn’t come just to see what was going on down here. And certainly not for a vacation or change of scenery. He also didn’t come just to teach us how to live. He ultimately came on a rescue mission: to redeem us from our sin. In fact, Jesus’ name means “the Lord saves,” and He was given this name because “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Human sin – even your sin and my sin – is what necessitated God coming to earth. Therefore, as we prepare for Christmas during the Advent season, we would do well to adopt a “Lenten attitude” in which we: 1) intentionally and prayerfully examine our hearts and lives to identify our sin; 2) confess our sin to God and, if appropriate, to others; and 3) repent of our sin. As we do this, we can rejoice in the truth of the Gospel that “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), and our hearts will be better prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus.