We have begun the season of Advent. It means "to come." It encompasses the four Sundays prior to Christmas. It is an invitation to prepare for the coming of God into the world in the Babe of Bethlehem. The prophets of old foretold His coming. Wisemen following the stars were led to the stable.
But how do we prepare today? In Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament, the name "Bethlehem" means literally the "House of Bread." It was there that God gave Jesus, the Bread of Life, to fill life's inner and spiritual emptiness by restoring us in relationship with the living God. Jesus clearly said: "I am the Bread of Life." On Thanksgiving Day many of us feast on turkey with all the trimmings. We feast until we are full. Advent is now the time to feast on Jesus, much more lasting than turkey and trimmings. Advent challenges us to take extra time to read and ponder the Christmas story in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke, to read and reflect on Christ as recorded in the Gospel of John. Advent is a time to feast on Jesus, the Bread of Life, through worship and prayer. Get ready by drawing close to Jesus.
There is a second step to which Advent challenges us. When a member of our family has a birthday we give that person gifts expressing our love. I expect you to do the same. Christmas is the birthday of Jesus? How do we give gifts of love to Him?
Christmas shopping can so easily be simply buying gifts for family and friends - those who are dear, kind and give to us. But how do we give to Jesus? Jesus explicitly taught: "as you did (or did not do) it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me." Matthew 25: 40, 45. Jesus identifies Himself with those who have fallen through the cracks of society: the hungry, the homeless, the ill-clothed, the sick and the imprisoned. During Advent how about identifying someone who is struggling - who is falling through the cracks of society? Reach out to them.
Give to them. Give at least equal to them of what you give to family and friends. You will be giving to Jesus.
You will discover the blessing of giving to someone who cannot repay. You will be using Advent to prepare for Christ. You will be experiencing the joy only Jesus gives. You will be getting ready for Christmas.
Dr. Paul D. Beran is pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Juneau.