A friend of mine posted this on Facebook last week:
"Be honest...at ANY point in the last 6 weeks have you complained about holidays showing up in stores, on the radio etc. while there is still something to be celebrated before that holiday arrives? If so, please do not harass your pastors or complain in general when they encourage you to experience Advent as a church before breaking out the Christmas hymns in worship. If Advent were not important, the angel would have shown up with baby Jesus in his arms and handed him to Mary rather than announcing the pregnancy. Mary, Joseph and their families had MUCH to do to get ready for this birth; as do Christian’s and Christ’s church." (B. Maloney, Facebook, November 22, 2012)
Wow. Simply Wow. Gabriel did not hand a baby to Mary. She carried Jesus, presumably, for nine months. There was indeed a time for preparation. She, Joseph, and the extended family had to get ready and they had to wait. They had baby showers to plan, a nursery to paint, a car seat to buy, and clothes to shop for. They had a time of preparation.
Did you know that Advent actually celebrates two things? The first few weeks of Advent prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. No, not the birth of Christ, but the coming of Christ, the second coming of Christ. The Greek word is parousia. Pay attention to the songs we will sing in these early weeks. Examine your heart for its preparation for Christ's return. Take joy in your salvation and your hope for eternal life with God - eternal worship, as I like to say.
The last week of Advent prepares our hearts for the birth of Christ. That's why we don't sing "Christmas hymns" until right around the 23rd or 24th. I'm probably like many of you and I want to sing the good old carols for the whole month of December. Hark, the Herald Angels Sing is my favorite, and I would sing it for all 4 weeks if I could. But it's right place comes on Christmas Eve, if truth be told.
But, wait, isn't that backwards? Shouldn't we prepare our hearts for Christ's birth before we prepare our heart for Christ's return? Look at it this way - remembering why Christ came, for the salvation of the world, prepares our hearts for his birth. We do not celebrate the birth of an ordinary baby in an extraordinary way and place. We celebrate the birth of our personal Lord and Savior in a very ordinary way and place.
Rest in the assurance of your salvation. Jesus Christ saves us from eternal separation from God. If you don't feel assured, pray for that peace. Look around you and marvel at all the people that Jesus loves and saves. Indeed, Jesus loves to save.
Precious Lord, thank you for the gift of your son Jesus Christ. Prepare my heart for your coming. May I see your love and grace today. Amen.