We have a small carpet in our home at the bottom of the staircase. Our dogs are small, and one of them is getting older and has trouble going from carpet to hardwood. The carpet helps, but it gets used every day. A lot. Over time it has taken on the impression of people and dogs landing on it. You can tell it is a well-worn household item. For everything it represents and how important it is, Advent can be a well-worn season for pastors.
I have written almost twenty Advent sermon series, and over that time you feel like you wear out a handful of passages of Scripture. The season bears the impression of having been landed on for years.
But the wear of the season on pastors is not just the repetition. It seems to me that many of the pains and stresses of the lives of our congregations come to the surface near Christmas. If a pastor has close connections to their people, they listen to a lot of confusion and hurt while the songs in the stores tell us this is the “hap, happiest season of all.”
The Advent season can feel well-worn, and a pastor’s soul can feel well-worn. But this makes our attention to what Advent represents all that more important. We preach on the big ideas like peace, hope, love, and joy this time of year. What can we do to make sure these truths are having their restoring way in our own hearts and minds?
Go ahead and admit that you do not always feel like you are full of the joy and peace of the season. God already knows, so it will not shock him. But we often have a hard time admitting it to ourselves or those who are close to us.
Part of the power of the Christian faith is that it never whitewashes difficulty. It looks it straight in the eye, acknowledges it, and still knows that Jesus is so much more powerful than it is. We do not do ourselves or others any favors by pretending we can “speak away” difficulty or acting like it does not exist. We benefit ourselves and our congregations much more when we can talk about how good and powerful our God is.
The joy of Advent is not in our changing emotions, but in the greatness of our Savior. Scripture speaks of the joy of the Lord and the peace of Christ as durable and enduring things. We may not feel them to be true, but we can know them to be true. Isaiah tells us that those who dwell in darkness, even the deep pitch-black darkness of the pit, have seen the light of Christ.
Take Stock of What Advent Anticipates
It is easy during this time of year to get lost in the habits of the season. As much as we might love the decorations, the songs, and the services, they can become rote. And when a practice becomes rote it begins to lose its meaning.
It will take effort, but it is good for us to make a personal study of the announcement of the birth of Jesus. When we combine what the angels tell Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds with what the Old Testament prophets tell us about Him, we are overwhelmed with who was born.
Each attribute of Jesus born in Bethlehem is more than just an abstract truth about him, it is a grace. It is an unshakeable truth about how we relate to him. The angel told Joseph that Jesus will save his people from their sins. Can we take time to rediscover our gratitude for our salvation? The angel told Mary that Jesus would sit on his throne forever and ever. I probably need to take time to shift my hopes off of my political views and back onto Jesus Christ. It is good news to you and me that the rulers of this world will not reign forever. As the hymn says, “Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!” The angels told the shepherds that the birth of Jesus meant peace to everyone with whom God is pleased. Do I need to evaluate where I find my peace?
That well-worn rug of mine will be in its place as long as it needs to be. And while it may look a little trodden upon, I can choose to see it either as a little old and tattered, or I can see it as a good thing in exactly the right place. It is used exactly because it is useful.
Christmas is busy and full of its own stresses. But it returns every year to remind us of how important it is. We walk down a familiar path again, but it is a good path. It leads us to Christ. It reminds us of God’s goodness and power shown to us.
Christ was born for you, too, pastor. May you find him fresh and new this season.
The Focused Pastor
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