When you read the Bible’s accounts of Jesus’ birth as they come to us in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, it’s hard not to feel a little jealous. After all, it seems like every time you turn around somebody is being given a “miraculous message” to let them know about the coming of the new-born King. Mary gets a visit from the angel Gabriel. Joseph receives a dream. The Magi are given a star. And not to be outdone, the shepherds see a whole choir of the heavenly host, praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest!” With all those “signs and wonders” going on, it’s hard not to feel like we’re being shortchanged. If God sent US a “miraculous message” – if we saw an angel, or a star, or even just a quartet of the heavenly host – you can bet that we’d be “rushing to Bethlehem.” We’d be eager to create space in our busy schedules so that we could kneel in wonder before our Infant Savior and so that we could ponder in our hearts the miracle of God coming to dwell among us.
Of course, if we think about it a little more deeply, I think we’ll realize that these divine announcements were the exception rather than the rule – even back in “Bible times.” For the vast majority of people in 1st century Palestine, there were no heavenly fireworks to herald the Messiah’s coming; just “hints” and “rumors” whose significance could only be perceived by those who were determined to pay attention. Mary and Joseph heard angel voices…but others heard the whispers about an unplanned pregnancy and the “strange goings-on” surrounding this child. The Magi saw stars…but others must have looked to the night sky, too. The shepherds heard the host of heaven…but the Bible says, “They spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17); and yet, we have no evidence that others rushed to Bethlehem to see this baby “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
All of this invites us to ask: Are we determined to look for the coming Messiah…or are we preoccupied by all the responsibilities that fill our to-do lists and the preparations that fill our season? Are we paying attention to the “hints” and “rumors” of God’s work in the world…or are we “missing His advent” because we’re paying attention to other things instead?
These questions seem all the more pressing in a world like ours, where the temptations and opportunities that distract us and pull us away from Jesus are so many and so varied. Our lives can get so busy that it becomes awfully easy to skip reading scripture or praying – just so we can catch up on some chores or grab a few moments for ourselves. The chance to go to the beach or to the mountains can be so appealing that it becomes awfully easy to skip worship – just so we can have a few extra hours before we get back to our workday routine.
But all the while, we have something that those characters in the original Christmas pageant didn’t have. We have the knowledge that Messiah has come! We don’t have to wait for angels and dreams – or stars and heavenly choirs – because we’ve been offered the Spirit of Christ to teach us and empower us and abide within us. We have the promise that when we “come to the cradle” – when we make time focus on Jesus and bow in worship before His humble majesty – He will meet us; for as the Bible says: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
Don’t miss His advent this Christmas season. Carve out time to pay attention to the coming of Jesus in your life and in our world. Read His Word. Worship with His people. Ask His Spirit to remind you of all the ways that He’s been at work within and around you over this past year. Don’t just “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Keep Christ in you. And may you find yourself “rushing to Bethlehem” to kneel in wonder.
A good and necessary word, Alex.