by Rev. Hans Fiene
Advent is not pre-Christmas, you have been told. Advent is not a series of mini-celebrations of Christ’s birth. It is a season where we focus on repenting of our sins and on waiting for the arrival of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory and the Babe of Bethlehem.
That is, of course, all true. But let’s face it: sometimes it’s really hard to celebrate Advent the way you ought to when the demands of celebrating Christmas, both the true version and the secular version, are weighing you down. With parties and presents, candles and credit breathing down your neck from the moment Thanksgiving ends, it’s not always easy to have the proper Advent frame of mind.
But Christ wasn’t born of Mary to burden you with more stress than you already have. He was born of the Virgin so that He might carry all your burdens to the cross. The Word of God didn’t become flesh to add more guilt to an already guilt-ridden season. He became flesh to take away your guilt by forgiving your sins through the shedding of His blood. And because the Jesus Christ at the heart of Christmas is also at the heart of the Advent season, His mercy and forgiveness always can and always will give comfort to those who hear His Word during the time of the Church year when we prepare for His arrival.
So if you find yourself overwhelmed on the First Sunday of Advent, unable to focus because you only managed to check off 50 percent of your door-buster Black Friday gift list, pause for a moment. Take a deep breath. Listen to the Gospel reading about Christ’s triumphal entry. Listen to God’s Word tell you about His Son arriving in Jerusalem as your king, as the One who now rules you in mercy and love through His Word and Sacraments.
This is the Jesus who did more than stand in a crowded line at four in the morning to give you His gifts. This is the Jesus who won the gifts of eternal life and salvation for you through His death on the cross and who now pours them out upon you in the waters of Baptism, in His body and His blood, and in the preached Word. So, on the first Sunday of Advent, when you need to step outside of the Christmas madness, take a moment to hear of Jesus Christ, who is with you now.
If you find yourself stressed out beyond belief on the Second Sunday of Advent, incapable of paying attention because you haven’t finished your daughter’s snowflake costume for her school’s Christmas concert, or rather “Winter Extravaganza,” relax. Listen to the Gospel reading about John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord.
Listen to God’s Word tell you about the One holding the winnowing fork. This is the Jesus who has done more for your daughter than completing her concert costume. This is the Jesus who will come again in glory to gather your daughter, you, John the Baptist, and all believers to His side on the Last Day. So, on the Second Sunday of Advent, when you need a break from the Yuletide overload, take a moment to hear of Jesus Christ, the One who will call you worthy of eternal life on the Day of Judgment.
If you look down at your fingers on the Third Sunday of Advent and find you’ve bitten your nails down to the quick because the Christmas bonus
that you have depended on for the last five years to buy your wife’s present is going to be one-fifth its normal size, be calm. Listen to the Gospel reading about John in prison. Listen to God’s Word tell you about the One who will give sight to the blind, life to the dead, and good news to the poor.
This is the Jesus whom God promised would be your Savior, regardless of your paycheck’s size. This is the Jesus whom John the Baptist identified as the Redeemer of both rich and poor alike. So, on the Third Sunday of Advent, when you need to wake up from your Nativity nightmare, take a moment to hear of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who is coming soon.
And if you find that, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, your head won’t stop spinning about how you are going to pick up your parents from the airport, finish wrapping everyone’s presents, walk the dog, and get everyone dressed before 7 p.m. on December 24, inhale. Exhale.
Listen to the Gospel reading about the angel’s proclamation of the Christ Child inside the womb of Mary. Listen to God’s Word tell you about Immanuel, God with us, who will soon be here to carry your burdens and those of all mankind.
So, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, when you want to find relief from a season that has buried you in an endless pile of guilt and worry, take a moment to hear of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born to take your guilt and worry from you.
Advent is not pre-Christmas. It is not a series of mini-celebrations of Christ’s birth. But Advent is a season of hope, a season rooted in waiting for the arrival of Christ’s mercy. And so, whenever the demands of preparing for Christmas weigh you down and wear you out, Advent is always there to build you up by showing you the love of the Savior for whom you wait. Whenever the stress of celebrating our Lord’s birth fills you with sin and shame, Advent will never fail to give you the forgiveness of Christ, whose birth we joyfully prepare to celebrate.
About the Author: Rev. Hans Fiene is pastor of River of Life Lutheran Church, Channahon, Ill.