The decorations are up all over town. The stores are filled with gift ideas for presents, and Christmas songs are playing as we shop. In our workplaces and schools the atmosphere has changed. Christmas is in the air!
So why is our sanctuary decorated with an empty manger? Isn’t this the season to be jolly? Why is our Christian congregation, of all places, not joining in the festivities?
We are in the season of Advent. It is a time of anticipation. We anticipate the celebration of the coming of Jesus. We are preparing to celebrate His coming to earth to save us. We also prepare ourselves for His return, when He will raise the dead and take us, body and soul, to the joy of heaven forever. The empty manger reminds us that we are in a season of preparation.
How do we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus? Our preparation is like our preparation for His coming into our presence in worship. We come into God’s presence in worship by confessing our sins, and receiving from Him the absolution, the forgiveness of our sins.
As we begin our worship, remembering and confessing our sins, we also begin the Church year the same way. If we are to be prepared for the celebration of Jesus’ coming, and for His return, we must remember what separates people from God; our sins.
In the season of Advent we come humbly before God, realizing we are not worthy of His love and grace, but thankful that, in love, Jesus came to save us. We are thankful that God showed His grace (undeserved favor)
to us by coming to save us from our sins. We are thankful that the baby who would fill the empty manger fills our lives by the forgiveness of our sins won for us on the cross, the grace to face life’s challenges each day, and the assurance of eternal life in heaven, fully given when He returns at the last day.
We also use the season of Advent to prepare others for Jesus’ second coming by proclaiming the Law and the Gospel so that they see their sins and humbly repent, believing the true message of Christmas, that Jesus came to die and rise for us. Our prayer is that all people would come in humble repentance to God, and receive His grace by faith.
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, Hymn 338, Lutheran Service Book
Come, Thou long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free; from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art, dear desire of ev’ry nation, joy of ev’ry longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver; born a child and yet a king! Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring. By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by Thine all sufficient merit raise us to Thy glorious throne. Amen.