I wanted to share the Sunday school lesson I wrote for the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time of preparation, anticipation and hope. As Christians we celebrate Advent on the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas Day.
During this time of the season, we are usually occupied with lists and gifts and hustle and bustle, but what are we really preparing for?
Most people have favorite Christmas traditions, whether from their childhood or new ones created as adults with our own families. What about this Christmas season do YOU anticipate the most? What is your favorite tradition?
MY favorite part of Christmas as a child was my whole family spending all day at Meme & Papaw's house. After opening gifts from Santa on Christmas morning, each daughter's family would pack up (children with favorite new toy in tow) and head to Meme & Papaw's for lunch on Christmas Day. It was so much fun, because if there was something that you didn't get for Christmas, chances are someone else did and you still got to play with it! When I was a little older, Mom and I started a tradition of spending all day on Christmas Eve watching old and new Christmas movies and baking treats! To this day, White Christmas is still my favorite Christmas movie. Or is it It's a Wonderful Life? Or the ORIGINAL Miracle on 34th Street with little Natalie Wood? What was I saying? Oh yes, a different kind of Christmas.
Matt and I started the tradition of celebrating Advent as a couple the year we got engaged. We read the Upper Room daily devotional for Advent together each night, sometimes over the phone! The first year we were married we participated in the Advent wreath making event at church and made a beautiful live wreath, remember? We complete our observation of Advent by attending the midnight Christmas Eve service at church, my favorite. The rest of this season, the rest of what we have made Christmas about, stresses me out! The lists, the malls, the parking lots, the traffic, the bills, and on and on, I can do without.
As we leave the time of Thanksgiving and are reminded of our many blessings, even though times are hard, we are still truly blessed. Our homeland is peaceful, our bellies are full, and each of us can cling to someone who truly loves us (whether family or friend). Ever since I attending the "Adventures in Missing the Point" *conference at First-Centenary, where we hosted the two authors of the book of the same title Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo, I've been thinking about ways that I've missed the point. I immediately thought of Christmas.
*This conference blew me away and I am SO incredibly thankful I was there. If you haven't read either of these authors, I suggest you pick something up. "Adventures" is a great place to start.
We recently studied the history of many of the denominations of Christianity, ending with Methodism. Each doctrine we studied had something worthwhile and admirable to give us, but it confirmed that I am right where I should be. I am Methodist to the core. I'm not saying we have it right and no one else does, I'm just saying it's right for me! Having said that, I wanted to see what the Father of Methodism, John Wesley, had to say about Christmas. My web search turned up a sermon entitled "The More Excellent Way" based on I Corinthians 12:31.
"But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way."
He based an entire sermon on the verse directly preceding I Corinthians Chapter 13, the love chapter.
We as Christians are all striving for the most excellent way (not to sound too Bill and Ted-ish) in our walk as Christians, that's the point. Advent is about preparing our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus, our King. So what is the most excellent way we can spend the season of Advent 2009?
Christ is God's greatest gift to us. And the more I walk with him I come to realize His purpose for dwelling among us, was not ONLY to save us from sin, but to TRULY bring God's kingdom to Earth. We are called as His children, disciples of Christ, to bring God's kingdom to our world (as we know it).
Christ even taught us to pray:
"Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil."
And we are told to "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Matthew 6:33
All of these lessons appear in the greatest sermon ever given, Christ's Sermon on the Mount. It tells us just how important the message of the kingdom is to our lives. Jesus spent some time preaching, but what we read about mostly is Him healing the sick and feeding the hungry.
As we think of our own celebrations of the birth of Jesus, what can we do to truly honor Him and celebrate His reason for coming to Earth? What can WE do to bring God's kingdom to OUR world? I'm not talking about ditching Santa and breaking the hearts of children worldwide. Just consider starting a NEW family tradition. For your relative who has everything, make a donation in their name to a charity you think that they would appreciate, or volunteer together as a family. Think about what YOU can do to make Christmas about REAL MIRACLES again.
I will admit, this lesson was not totally uninspired. The seed was planted on my heart LAST Christmas by my friend Sarah's blog post that included the link to the Advent Conspiracy promo video for 2008. I tried to get Matt to buy into the Advent Conspiracy totally, throw out the lists and make donations in our friends' and family members' names, but he wouldn't hear of it. He loves giving gifts. SO, I'm going small scale this year, starting with a few folks I know who will really appreciate it. But really, I'm just trying to follow the advice of my dear John Wesley.
"Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can."
Maybe if we Christians followed this advice more often, the kingdom of God might be a little closer to our world's reality.