One of the challenges of being a Christian is to live up to the adage that we are called to be “in the world but not of the world.” Jesus speaks about this to His followers in a few places including John15:19 and again in John 17:14-6. We know that the world around us is not our true home and that heaven is our destiny. Folks should be able to look at how we live our lives and know that we’re different from non-believers. All of us have heard this teaching since childhood, but often it’s difficult to know how to do it. How can I follow Christ in a way that will draw others to Him?
The season of Advent, which we’ve just entered into, is a great opportunity to do that. The world around us pushes us directly from Thanksgiving into Christmas, without a moment to prepare or reflect on the coming of Jesus. The world expects us to observe Black Friday as if it is a kind of religious holiday. But that doesn’t mean that we Christians have to do it. In the weeks leading up to His birth, shouldn’t we imitate Jesus in doing what He did when He was preparing for an important event?
When Jesus was getting ready to begin His ministry, He withdrew from the world to fast and to pray. When He felt overwhelmed by the noise and crush of the crowds, He withdrew to fast and pray (Luke 5:15-16). As He faced His arrest, He went to the Garden to pray. Jesus faced the trials and challenges of His life through prayer and reflection. His disciples noticed this. They saw Him treat quiet prayer as a critical part of His life. Do we do that? Do we imitate Jesus or do we imitate the world?
As we prepare to celebrate His birth, we enter into Advent, which is meant to be a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We should be spending quiet time in prayer, not frantically decorating our house, splurging on sweets, and buying everything in sight. Because if that’s what we’re doing, we’re being an example of worldliness. All that joyous celebration comes with Christmas, but now, we are called to prayer. We’re asked to prepare our hearts for His coming, to withdraw from the crowds and to pray.
Many times it’s hard to know how we can set ourselves apart from the fallen world around us. We can do that in Advent. We can pray with our families at meals, including when we eat out in a restaurant. We can add additional prayer time for ourselves. There are lots of great Advent series online, but my favorite reading is the Book of Isaiah. The prophet unfolds the story of the coming Messiah in such beautiful images. He makes us feel the longing that the people of Israel felt for their Savior. We learn how they must have felt “walking in darkness” and knowing that a Great Light was coming for them. Isaiah is so beautifully poetic and I encourage you to read it in the weeks leading up to Christmas. And we should fast like Jesus did. Even if it’s only saying “no” to those Christmas treats, it’ a way we can control our appetites for the things of the world, for a greater good. We should also do good for others, and not just for our family and friends. We should give of our time and our treasure to folks who have no way of paying us back.
When you spend your Advent in quiet preparation, you can hear the Lord lead you to Himself. People will notice. They may ask, “Why haven’t you put up your Christmas tree yet?” They may wonder why your twinkling lights are missing. And you can use those questions (especially from your kids) to let them know the importance of preparing our hearts for Jesus’ birth at Christmas. It’s a chance to share your faith with others. It’s a chance to live differently than the unbelievers around us. Advent has been lost by many Christians and it’s time we reclaim its beauty and reverence. Light the first candle of your Advent wreath and let the joy of anticipating His coming fill your heart, as you wait.
“At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving others, with God’s own love and concerns.”
—–Saint Mother Teresa