I do not think the problem is that we forget why we celebrate Christmas... I think the problem is that we forget to remember... if that fails to make sense to you, try this:
Two women were having lunch at a fine restaurant. The waiter asked if they were celebrating anything special. “We are,” replied one lady, “we are celebrating the birth of my baby boy.” “That's wonderful,” said the waiter. “But where is he?” “Oh,” said the mother, “you don't think I would bring him do you?”
What a picture of the way the world treats Jesus as we spend Advent preparing for Christmas.
Although there are painful exceptions, I think most of the world remembers that at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus. God has taken on our mortal form to free us from the slavery of sin and death. We know that, but do we remember it during this season of Advent, this season of preparation?
By now we are in full preparation mode, busily preparing for the Christmas holiday. Houses and Christmas trees are decorated, holiday parties are planned and gifts are purchased. But before these preparations consume our every waking moment, let us stop and take a breath.
This is the second Sunday of the four weeks of Advent. This is the Sunday when the last prophet makes his last appeal to us to pause just for a moment.
A prophet is popularly thought of as someone who foretells the future. But that is not what a prophet is at all. A prophet is one who speaks for God, or rather, a prophet is one through whom God speaks to us.
You would think that such a person would be respected and acknowledged. But no matter what the age, prophets have largely been treated the same way, they are routinely ignored, or worse.
In John's case, he earned the enmity of the wife of Herod, the king. Herod unlawfully divorced his first wife, Phasaelis, in order to marry Herodias, the wife of his brother. When John pointed out just how wrong this was in the eyes of God, John was persecuted, arrested, and executed.
There is an Orthodox icon that depicts John the Baptist with wings. It is called “The Angel of the Desert” and serves to remind us that John is one of God’s messengers. The word “angel” comes from the Greek word “angelos,” meaning “messenger” or “bringer of tidings.” As we busily prepare for the feast that marks the birth of Our Lord and the salvation of all, we are urged to pause for a moment by this great prophet who came to prepare the way for God, and listen to his message.
John reminds us to look at how we are preparing to receive Him. Are we busy decorating our homes and shopping for gifts while at the same time neglecting to prepare ourselves spiritually? Do we go through the motions of going to church and receiving the sacraments without a deeply rooted faith that tells us why we do what we do? The Lord will not judge by outward appearances but rather by what is in our hearts.
Nor can we trust our status as children of God. God can raise up children from stones.
It is a great temptation for us to fall into a type of superficial “cultural
Christianity.” Like the Pharisees and Saducees who John confronted, we can appear to be models of faith but be inwardly empty.
So as we prepare for the great celebration that lies ahead of us, let us temper our celebration with remembrance. As we venture out to take advantage of all the sales, buying gifts to wrap and give to our loved ones to let them know they are loved, let us remember the one who loved us so much He gave us His greatest treasure. He gave us His only son.
As we make a family activity out of selecting a Christmas tree, bringing it home and decorating with all manner of beautiful ornaments, remember the tree of life, the cross, and the fruit of that tree that brings us life everlasting.
As we decorate our houses and offices and throw the doors open to welcome friends and families and co-workers, remember Jesus who came to us to throw open the doors of Heaven.
By all means, prepare to celebrate the light that shines in the darkness. As far as each person is able, prepare to celebrate the birth of the savior, just remember to bring the savior with you.