This weekend brings the beginning of the season of Advent, a time when God’s people prepare themselves – in every way – for the birth of his Son. It’s what sets us apart from the rest of the world, that spends its time preparing for Christmas by shopping ‘til they drop.
For some, it is a very elaborate preparation: there are special services, candles to be lit, prayers to be said, both at church and at home. For others, it is a very simple preparation: extra time spent in prayer, spiritually and emotionally getting ready to mark what followers of Jesus have been marking for over 2000 years.
This dichotomy is well expressed in one location. If you’ve never been to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, I recommend you go at least once. Upon arrival, you’ll see a very small door that opens into a large nave, at the front of which are some very elaborate decorations, common to the tradition that regularly worships in that building. Underneath the front section of that worship space, one descends a small, narrow staircase into a grotto – a cave – where one can touch what is believed to be the very place where the birth of Jesus happened.
There’s a lot of bling on top, but at the very root of Jesus’ birthplace is rock. Above the elaborate is simplicity.
You can have one, you can have the other, you can even have both – but whether your Advent is simple or elaborate, celebrate. Get ready. The birth of Jesus is nothing if not world-changing. That deserves our attention, and our devotion.
“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
‘Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem,
a firm and tested stone.
It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on.
Whoever believes need never be shaken’” (Isaiah 28.16, NLT).