The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
For Christians, we celebrate the new liturgical year, which launches with Advent leading us to the joy of Christmas. This is a sacred time, but it is easy to fall into apathy and complacency. It has happened so many times before; it will happen again in each year to come. This extraordinary time has become all too ordinary.
But reflect with me on the immensity of what is to come – the birth of God on earth! The hopes and dreams of God’s people made real and manifest. For those who waited so long, this was the fulfillment of every hope.
For us today, I pray that this is more than simply a time of hope and waiting. Hope and waiting, as wonderful as they may be, are passive. We may hope deeply for God to transform the world, and we may wait somewhat patiently for the Prince of Peace to arrive, but these are simply receiving grace from external sources. I want to challenge and invite you to make this Advent season one of active preparation. What will it take to make your heart, your mind, your soul and strength ready to receive the blessed Child of God as we remember and celebrate Jesus’ birth? What steps will you take to make sure that the Christ remains central and foundational to the season of Christmas?
I encourage you to engage in three ways.
First, pray. Pray for God to reveal the fullness of the gift of the Christ child. Pray to fully comprehend God’s love, grace, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, generosity, and faithfulness. Pray for peace for our world. Pray that God’s love might transform our world into the very realm of heaven on earth. Pray that all human beings may know the love of God.
Second, read. Read and reread the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. Meditate on the meaning of these messages – their similarities and differences. Contemplate on your most appropriate response to the gift of God’s own Son. Find a devotional guide to help shape your reflection and thinking. Celebrating Abundance by Walter Bruggemann, Advent for Everyone by N. T. Wright, God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Preparing for Christmas by Richard Rohr are all excellent choices. Make space every day to spend some quality time with God.
Third, act. Act for the good of others. Pay attention to those in need in our communities and world. Jesus was born in a humble place, among those in greatest want and need. Let us look for the humble places in our own areas and seek tangible ways to make the love of God known. From our abundance, let us feed the hungry, house the homeless, comfort the afflicted, offer healing to the sick and welcome to the stranger. Let us make Christmas blessing the holy task of transforming belief into action.
Preparing for Christmas is very different from hoping or waiting for Christmas. Advent is an active, rather than a passive time. Seek God’s graceful guidance and you will find it. Our God is a God of gifts and generosity. Receive with gladness what God offers to you this year and seek ways that you might share your blessing with others.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).