Without question, this is my favorite time of the year. New lights appear in the darkness. They were not there before. We see them wrapped around shrubs and trees, department stores, schools, churches and even our homes. These new lights evoke a spirit of expectation that seems to build as Christmas draws near. The season of twinkling lights is one that invites engagement with the other senses as well as the sense of sight. How many of us pause to breathe in the scent of freshly cut evergreen or turn up the radio when our favorite holiday tune is on?
It is obvious that something wonderful is about to happen.
In the midst of this swelling excitement, Christians are reminded during Advent to be watchful, to prepare and to repent. With the echoes of that familiar secular Christmas song reverberating in our minds: “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why…” we, the Body of Christ at Community Reformed Church at Manhasset, need to ask ourselves, “Will we be ready? Will we be alert? Will we heed the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord?’”
As I was thinking about the Advent Season—this time when we carefully watch and wait for God’s presence to be born in us—I was reminded of a story I came across in the Detroit Free Press not too long ago. It was about a headstrong teenager who avoided direct heart-to-heart conversations with adults, something that perplexed her mother. How would this young teen learn important life lessons? Whose values would she adopt? In order to help her daughter navigate many of the influences in her life, the mother made a wise decision.
The daughter came home from school one day and found an index card with the phrase “Rules of Conduct” written at the top in her mother’s handwriting. The “rules” were simple:
Think the best of others.
Believe the best of others.
Be considerate of the tender feelings of others.
Listen and weigh matters before speaking.
Do kindness to those in your realm.
The teenager grimaced at once. She didn’t like the fact that her mother had been in her room and she certainly didn’t like her mother knowing that she hadn’t always followed those “rules.” Without batting an eyelash, she tossed the card in her sock drawer.
However, those “Rules of Conduct” lingered in her memory, and more than once she took the card out to read them again. She even kept the card and found herself desperately wanting to obey these important tenets. “That card has moved with me and my socks many times in the years since Mom placed it on my dresser,” she proudly remarked. “The card has aged, as we all have, but the rules remain timeless and I’m a better person for heeding them.”
I think that these rules capture the essence of the spirit of Christmas and Jesus’ commandment to love one another.
It was Jesus who taught one of the scribes a valuable lesson about rules. Jesus quoted from the Torah, saying that people should love God with their entire being and that they should love their neighbors as they love themselves (Mk. 12:28-34). It doesn’t get much simpler than this: “There is no other commandment greater than these.” Yet somehow we have a hard time doing that today.
We allow presents to take precedence over being present to our family. We let seasonal activities consume our thinking, preparation, and energy instead of allowing God to transform our hearts into a home for the Christ child. As one minister put it, “It is so easy for us to busy ourselves and have so little room in the inn of our hearts for Christ’s birth.”
What would happen to us as individuals and as a church if we let our spiritual lives be guided this Christmas by Jesus’ abundant love? How might we grow into greater gifts to the world if we truly loved one another? This Advent, my hope is that you will slow down, patiently wait and make room in your hearts to think the best of others, believe the best of others, be considerate of the tender feelings of others, listen and weigh matters before speaking, and do kindness to those in your realm, in the love of Jesus Christ.
God bless you during this holy season.
Pastor Steven D. Pierce
Follow Pastor Steve on Twitter @revspierce