Christmas. It’s a time of joy, wonder, and excitement. Of presents and tinsel and cookies and snow. But for Christians, the Christmas season means far more. It celebrates the birth of our Savior, the Incarnation of the Son of God.
The True Miracle of Christmas
…a Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name Him Emmanuel — God with us!
With these words, the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah anticipated the coming of the Savior. Isaiah’s prophecy embodies the longings, hopes, and desires of God’s People as they prepared to receive the One who comes to grant them new life. During Advent (the fasting season leading up to Christmas Day), we are like those who, in Old Testament times, anticipated and prepared for the Savior’s birth.
The joy we experience on the feast of Christ’s birth depends on how well we’ve prepared ourselves to receive Him. We spend a great deal of time getting ready for Christmas. Families devote countless hours to shopping, decorating, and menu planning. They also slave in the kitchen to prepare food for their families and stay up late wrapping all the gifts their loved ones will find nestled beneath the tree. Important as these matters are, our spiritual preparation is far more critical if we are to catch the true Christmas spirit.
During Advent, we are challenged to think more seriously about our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, who took on our humanity in order to reveal God’s love for us.
How should we prepare?
The Orthodox Church maintains the teachings of the Church Fathers, who stress the importance of five activities when preparing oneself spiritually:
- Read Holy Scripture
- Help Others
When we pray, we commune directly with God and His Saints. Prayer helps us with the stress of our daily lives. And it is the perfect way to thank God and glorify Him for the many blessings He has given us. Advent is a time for us to focus more on our prayer lives and devote more time to communing with God. We should especially reflect on and give thanks for the gift of eternal life made possible by the birth of Jesus Christ.
Repentance is the conscious effort to change our lives and turn from those things which create barriers between us, God, and others. During Advent we are offered the opportunity to devote time to self-reflection and confess our sins to one of the spiritual fathers at our parish. This conversation allows us to reassess our relationships with God and others, and reconcile and reunite with those from whom we’ve grown apart. Our thoughts should turn to the miracle of God’s love and forgiveness which Jesus Christ proclaims and to the new life He offers.
When we fast, we should not only avoid certain foods and entertainments, but we should also avoid anything and everything which tends to control us. Fasting is doing without those things which are not essential for our lives. It enables us to gain control once again of those things which too often control us. It also reminds of what is truly important. And that is God and our relationship with Him.
4. Read Holy Scripture
The Holy Bible is the word of God Himself, which reveals Jesus Christ, the Living Word. Because it records the story of God’s plan for the salvation of His people, the Bible is essential reading for Christians. Advent provides an ideal opportunity to read and study the Bible on a daily basis.
5. Help Others
While we fast and repent, it is equally important to share our time, our talent, and our treasures with those around us, especially those who are poor, needy, hungry, or lonely. By being born as a little child in Bethlehem, Jesus Christ shares His love with us; by reaching out to others, we in turn share His love with others.
Our Real Hunger
Christ is the food and drink that alone can satisfy our real hunger. On Christmas, we receive Him not just figuratively, but literally. He is born in us and abides in us. He gives us the power to bear Him to a hungry and thirsty world. What greater thing can we do on this feast? What greater thing can there be for us than to prepare for and welcome our God who comes to us, radiant with humanity, meekness, and love?
During this Advent season, read and reflect on these prophecies concerning the coming of the Savior:
- Isaiah 7:14-15; 9:1-5; 61:1-3
- Daniel 9:25
- Micah 5:2,3
- Malachi 3:1
And consider setting aside some time during Advent to reflect upon the following:
- What does the birth of Jesus Christ mean to you personally? How does this event affect your life?
- Where do you presently stand in your relationship with God? with yourself? with others? How have you fallen short of being the person God calls you to be? What steps might you take to change the things that need to be changed?
- How might you become a sign of God’s love and presence among those who surround you?
- How, through prayer, might you draw closer to God? In what ways could this improve your relationships with others?
- Who might benefit from your concern and help during this Advent season? during the remainder of the year? What can you do to reach out to others in love?