I have a deep love for Christmas and an even stronger connection with the season of Advent. It is a sacred season that I plan and pray for every year. I use it as a time to disconnect, step back, soak in, breathe in the love of God. I have chosen to take the busiest season of the year and turn it into my calm. It has taken work, but it is worth it each year.
It wasn’t always like this, I have done the long shopping lines, parties, expectations, and all the misery that comes with them. I have made endless to-do lists, wrapped mountains of presents, and even wished that the new year would get here already. Advent exhausted me rather than filled me to overflowing. It robbed me of joy, rather than reminding me of hope.
I realized that I had made Advent into a spectacle rather than sacrificial.
Christmas was the same routine for years until I came to understand what the season of Advent was for. When I realized that all I tried to achieve in the season was pointless and empty if my heart was not where it should be. I left Jesus to lay in that tiny manger. I never gave much thought to what came after those days. I never pondered why these things mattered so much, though I knew that Jesus is my Savior, and I was living a resurrected life it seemed simple enough to see Him only as an infant at Christmas.
Knowing Christ personally changed Him from a tiny baby to a mighty King.
Christmas came several years ago, and much to my dismay, my entire family spent it in misery. We were sick with one thing or another from Thanksgiving through New Years’. It almost felt as though Christmas never even came. There was no joy and no hope. The following year God pressed my heart to seek Him in a deep way throughout the 25 days of Advent. I did it. The more time I was in the Word that year, the more I prayed, and the more I began to say no to extra things that didn’t matter much. I began to move slower, speak slower, put my phone down, and take a pace that reflected what was happening deep within my heart.
I had to experience Christmas with a view of looking past the manger.
I love Christmas now in a way I never did as a child, but I see where it went wrong for so long in my life, and where it goes wrong for so many now. We leave Jesus lying in the manger,; we leave him a helpless infant in His mother’s arms. Christmas loses its hope and power once the twinkling lights are down, and we have had time to “recover” from the busy festivities of the season.
The heart of Advent is never meant to leave us. Jesus didn’t stay in the manger, and our hearts shouldn’t either.
- The Manger isn’t what the waiting was for.
It was clear from the beginning, the Messiah, the promised redeemer would rescue God’s people once and for all. Israel’s history showed a life of captivity, turmoil, and constant turning away from God and then back again. They longed for the ultimate rescue, one that would place them in right standing, one that would give them power and make them great. They longed for something that God didn’t intend to give, and God brought it about in a way that wouldn’t meet their expectations. The waiting was for their rescue.
- The Manger isn’t our hope.
In order for us to have hope beyond this life, we need to see that Jesus poured out hope for us in the right now. While the works of Advent and the birth of Jesus indicated that hope was coming, the magnitude of the gospel had not yet fully been revealed. Even those who watched miracle upon miracle unfold in real-time couldn’t fully grasp all that was to come. The hope of Jesus isn’t that He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, but that one day He would clothe us in His righteousness.
- The Manger isn’t what proved him to be King.
The prophecies spoke of a coming King, a ruler greater than the greatest ruler the Israelites ever knew. The promise of a rescuer from their bondage, captivity, suffering. They were blinded by the earthly view of a king. One that was crowned with jewels, wrapped in vibrant robes, and displayed power, unlike anything they had ever seen. Yet, the infant Jesus demonstrated no power of such a king they believed was coming. What true king is born in a stable with dirty animals, and given a straw-filled feeding trough for His bed? God is the one who crowned Him, He is the One who marked Him as King. “For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
- The Manger isn’t what saves.
The manger was the start of a journey; it was the first stop in what would be a long trip to the final destination. The manger itself held no power, it held only the infant Jesus. The baby that would have still relied on the milk of His mother, the comfort of her arms, and nurturing as he grew. His ultimate goal was always the cross, it was always the grave, and it was always the resurrection. That is what displayed his power over death. The cross is what satisfied the wrath of God for sin. It is what saves and redeems a lost world. “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
- The Manger isn’t the beginning of Jesus.
Advent marked the coming of a Messiah that always was. Jesus wasn’t a secondary plan. He was there in the beginning at the foundations of the world with God (John 1:1-5). His plan was purposeful and perfect. If He was there in the beginning when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, God would have looked to His Son as the redemptive plan waiting for God’s perfect time. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Jesus didn’t take His first breath here on Earth as an infant, no, He always was and always will be.
Advent changed me when I looked at the power of the cross more than at a baby in His mother’s arms. When I remember that He grew into a man who performed miracles, healed bodies, and taught the very words of God; I see that I can slow my pace and rest in the beauty of the season rather than overlook its truth. Jesus didn’t come to earth to remain in a manger but to take up the cross unto death, and was raised resurrected for our victory and salvation. What better gift of Christmas than that?