Christmas is coming, and I think you would be hard-pressed not to know that right now. There are signs all around us that Christmas is here. And when did that start? August? The decorations are up in the malls. Colorful lights are strung on homes. There are the endless ads on TV, along with the specials the networks roll out every year, like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Then there is the Christmas music playing everywhere you go.
There is a lot of excitement and anticipation as Christmas approaches. When the first Christmas came, however, people pretty much missed it. Of course, there were no telltale signs like twinkling lights on houses. There were no Christmas songs written quite yet. There were no sales at the downtown market. Children did not find it hard to sleep the night before Christmas, because, for all practical purposes, it was a night like any other night.
But the first Christmas was not without its own signals and signs dating back a few centuries. The Hebrew prophets had predicted the Messiah was coming. And they were very specific in pointing out that the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the world, would be born of a virgin and would be born in the little village of Bethlehem. “But you, Bethlehem …,” the prophet said, “Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2 NKJV).
On the first Christmas when Christ was born, it was pretty much business as usual. Things had been bleak for the Jewish people for some time. There had been an icy silence from heaven. Four hundred years had passed, and there had not been a single prophet to speak for God. There had been no miracles performed. No angelic appearances. And then they were under the tyranny of Rome. They were an occupied territory. The Promised Land had foreign intruders ruling over it. Things were very dark. It was time for the Messiah.
Then the closing line of Luke’s first chapter speaks of the arrival of Jesus: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace” (Luke 1:78–79).
Before the sunrise had been the long-lasting dark. But for the faithful, bright flashes were appearing, telling them that the sun was rising.
Angels were busy getting things ready. The angel Gabriel had appeared to Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, and also to Mary. An angel also appeared to Joseph, relaying the message that Mary’s child was supernaturally conceived in her womb and was the very Son of God.
And of course, we know the rest of the story. Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, but they were turned away by the innkeeper. So God in human form came to us, born in a place where animals were kept.
The Messiah had come, but so many missed it: the innkeeper, the people of Bethlehem, the scholars, King Herod, and all of Rome. A handful of people got it, and they were ready. And while the first Christmas went largely unnoticed, it would be difficult to miss the Christmases of today.
So here is something to consider: Jesus Christ is coming back to this earth again. The Bible is emphatic about this. And just as there were many prophecies pointing to his first arrival that were fulfilled exactly, there are many prophecies that speak of his return again to the earth. And we have never been closer to his return than we are at this very moment.
A question for us to consider today is this: Have we done more to prepare for the celebration of a past event than we have for a future one? In other words, we may be ready for Christmas, but are we ready for the return of Christ?
The stakes are higher for this preparation. But some of us know more about preparing for Christmas than we do about preparing for Christ’s return. So what should we be doing?
We should be watching for him. The Bible says that “[Christ] will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 NIV). Jesus said, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28 NKJV).
We should be ready to go. We need to be prepared. We need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. So to be ready for his return is to be engaged in activities that you would not be ashamed of if Christ were to come back at that very moment. An interesting question to ask yourself periodically is, This place that I am about to go, this thing that I am ready to do, would I be ashamed or embarrassed to be doing such a thing if Jesus were to come back? If the answer is yes, then don’t do it.
We should be anxiously awaiting His return. Have you ever anxiously awaited someone’s arrival? You look through the window and see them coming. Then you open the door before they can even knock. That is how we should be when we think of Christ’s return. We should be looking forward to it with anxious excitement.
We should be working. If watching is the evidence of faith, then working is the evidence of faith in action. Watching for Christ’s return will help us prepare our own lives. But working will assure that we bring others with us when he returns.
Most people missed it when Jesus came the first time. So let’s not miss it when he comes again. Are you ready?