As I visit with educators around the country, one common theme seems to be emerging. Everyone is “hanging on” until Christmas. Preparing for Christmas seems to be the last thing on everyone’s mind as plans for the holiday take a back seat to the ongoing demands of teaching in a pandemic. No educator likes to be unprepared. We all know the value of good planning. Thorough preparation in our work life instills confidence, saves time, yields better results, and often empowers us to handle unexpected mishaps. It’s just a good thing to be prepared!
If we can agree that preparation is important for our classrooms, how much more important is preparation when it comes to Christmas? When most of us think of preparing for Christmas (outside of work), our mind goes to decorating our homes, planning menus, and shopping for gifts. It is so easy to become sidetracked with all of the Christmas hype during the holidays. I wonder how different the Christmas season would be for all of us if we spent the days leading up to Christmas preparing our hearts to embrace the true meaning of Christmas.
I suppose there are many ways we could prepare for Christmas, but I noticed something recently while reading in Matthew. Throughout the ages the children of God had been awaiting a Savior. The time had come. John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way, and his message was clear and consistent. Preparation required repentance.
“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Matthew 3:2
I really hesitated writing a blog about repentance because no one really likes to talk about that these days, me included. It is so much easier to focus on more uplifting topics like blessings, love, peace, and joy. However, John the Baptist knew then what we know now—repentance must be front and center in our Christian walk. We simply cannot come into the presence of a holy God without it. This is why Jesus came and why it was the first word of the gospel. (1)
· Repent was the first word of John the Baptist’s gospel (Matthew 3:1-2).
· Repent was the first word in the preaching ministry of the twelve disciples (Mark 6:12).
· Repent was the first word in the preaching instructions Jesus gave to His disciples after His resurrection (Luke 24:46-47).
· Repent was the first word of exhortation in the first Christian sermon (Acts 2:38).
· Repent was the first word in the mouth of the Apostle Paul through his ministry (Acts 26:19-20).
It’s hard to think about repentance because it puts the spotlight on our shortcomings, our failures, our sin. However, God doesn’t look at it that way. God looks at our repentance as an opportunity to save us from ourselves and to restore us! The apostle Peter declared, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). He also wrote, “(The Lord) is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
This year preparing for Christmas can look a bit different for us. Maybe, just maybe, repentance should be on our Christmas list. Sin is a barrier, and when we sin, we grieve our Heavenly Father. I fear all of us have become a bit numb to the ramifications of sin as our society seeks to make “wrong” seem “right”. While it isn’t fun to think about and it is a pain to constantly struggle with our sinful nature, dealing with repentance is a prerequisite to experiencing all God has for us.
“For if, by the [sin] of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ”. Romans 5:17
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. 1 John 1:9
Jesus came so you and I could live lives of spiritual victory, not spiritual defeat, but first we have to remove the barriers. Genuine repentance is more than feeling sorry for what we have done. True repentance is confirmed by our actions. This was John the Baptist’s challenge many years ago, and it remains our challenge today.
Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Matthew 3:8
Repentance requires an about-face, a change in attitude, a change in behavior, a change in our hearts. This is made so much easier when we see God for who He is (magnificent, glorious, desirable), and we see sin for what it is (diminished, ugly, repulsive).(2)
Christmas is a special time of year. It is a time to celebrate the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ, but there is so much more to it. We can’t think of the birth of Jesus without remembering the cross. Jesus came so that you and I could be forgiven and live an abundant life now and throughout eternity.
I truly desire for all of us to experience Christmas this season like never before. I don’t want anything getting in the way of the blessings God has for you and me. We’re tempted every day in a thousand different ways. We must constantly reorient ourselves to God, seeing Him anew and pursuing Him afresh. (2) In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke these words.
“Blessed [forgiven, refreshed by God’s grace] are those who mourn [over their sins and repent], for they will be comforted” [when the burden of sin is lifted]. Matthew 5:4
Let’s not approach Christmas unprepared. Let’s have a heart of repentance and fully experience the true joy of Christmas!