Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sunday Praise & Worship - Are You Prepared?

Over the past couple of weeks, my email inbox and mailbox have been filled with advertisements for “Black Friday” specials. Each year more and more businesses are urging people to take advantage of the early sales and prepare for the joy of their purchases. Like the Black Friday sales of the past, people scramble to purchase big screen televisions, the latest in video game consoles or the latest fad in children’s toys. As I read the news, I, once again, see articles about brawls, shootings, stabbings and general chaos in the stores and in the malls. People are prepared to fight or, in some of the more unfortunate situations, murder another individual for a television or even as something as inconsequential as a parking space. Yes, people are prepared to go to any length necessary to get a great deal on anything on sale or that has been marked down.

During the time prior to Black Friday, the stores have been preparing for that day months in advance. It seems that aisles are filled earlier and earlier each year with Christmas gift items and decorations. Banners and cardboard displays start to fill every inch of the store counting down the days and hours to Christmas. Reminders all over the store ask you if you have enough batteries, wrapping paper, tape, cards and other items to make your Yuletide celebration more exciting and enjoyable.

With Thanksgiving 2018 now in the history books, the shopping season is now in full swing and along with it the headaches of the season. While I was shopping in Walmart today for our groceries, I heard stories of adults and children shoplifting merchandise from the store. The employees told me of two boys who were stealing a hoverboard and plush toys. I prayed that they learned their lesson and will not repeat this sort of mistake again. The store employees looked tired and were just trying to keep up with the demands of restocking shelves. Many of the employees only spent a little time with their families before they had to return to work only to face the next wave of shoppers preparing to buy more and more items.

 An article that I read just two days ago said that twenty-eight percent of Americans are still paying for last year’s Christmas gifts. It is estimated that Americans will spend an average of $1,007 on everything from food to holiday attire. Once again, Americans are prepared to go all in on the 2018 season of buying. Many will be putting those purchases on credit cards and will be paying for this year’s purchases along with last year’s purchases.

Each year I watch people prepare their plans for mobbing stores and buying more and more. Some even use high tech solutions to storm the stores on “search and buy” missions. They prepare and plan their assault on stores with the precision of a military mission. Store aisles are more like drop zones or beachheads. Vehicles are more like landing craft ready to deploy troops. Each person is given instructions on what to buy and where to locate those items. Text messages fly feverishly back and forth between people. Every step and moment is carefully planned and every contingency is prepared for.

It is so interesting to see how much preparation the stores and the shoppers go through in order to get the best deals. Many will spend more time preparing for shopping rather than on the spirit of this wonderful season of joy. Have you prepared your heart for the season as it pertains to the birth of the Christ? Have you spent just a few minutes thinking about the birth of Jesus and what that blessed event really means to all? Have you prepared to make room in your heart for the love and desire to share with all those around you?

700 years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah prophesied the birth of Jesus and told of a man who would proclaim that truth. That man would be a voice in the wilderness crying out to all of God’s people to make way for the Lord. In Isaiah 40, the proclamation is clearly made for all to hear, “3 Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, ‘Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!’

Later in the New Testament, we hear those same words to “clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord” being proclaimed by John the Baptist. These words should be our preparation for the Christmas season. We should take time to proclaim the same words to others around us. It is the perfect opportunity to share the perfect gift without having to stand in line. 

Just like an announcement for the birth of a child, God began to prepare the hearts of men to receive that wonderful gift. In Malachi 3, God reminds, “1  I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming.” Once again another message preparing the hearts of all to receive the Word that would become flesh. 

In the coming weeks, I will be examining all of the elements leading to Jesus’ birth. Each event and element has deep meaning for each of us as Christians. We do not just see this moment in time as a time to give and receive gifts. It is a time for us to reflect and share the Good News and the love of God which He shared with the world.  John, in chapter 3, tells us, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

As you go through the month of December, I ask each of you to stop for a moment each day and think about the message and meaning of Christmas. Just a few moments each day will make a difference in your life. You will feel the joy of the season filling your heart and your stockings. It will be a gift of love that does not just sit under a tree in the corner of a room. It is a living gift that you receive each and every day of your life. It is more than just a wish. It is a promise that has been fulfilled.

I am reminded of Charles Dickens’ novella, “A Christmas Carol”. The main character, a miser and bitter man by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge, comes to the realization that Christmas must be kept year around. After receiving the lessons of each of the spirits, Scrooge says, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

At the end of the novella, the author tells us that Scrooge was good to his word. He kept Christmas in his heart year round and “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Let us, like Scrooge, keep the message and meaning of Christmas by preparing our hearts for the blessed event. When we do that, we truly can keep Christmas well and stand firm in His grace.

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.
~ Numbers 6:24-26 New Living Translation (NLT)

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