Tis the season! It’s the last day of November and that pretty much makes it official: the Christmas season is here!
The music’s on the radio and lights are up everywhere you go. It’s just a matter of time before Christmas Day is upon us and we celebrate the single most important event in the history of all mankind – a day that divides history between BC and AD… the day that Jesus Christ was born.
If you’re in the Orthodox church, you know that we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth by a 40-day period of fasting called Advent. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter – a time to prepare ourselves for the enormity and significance of what is about to happen.
When something is important (ie, wedding day, birth of a child, Super Bowl), it takes time to prepare. You can’t just show up on the day of the event without preparation; doing so would lead me to question the value you place on that day/event.
That’s why the church gives us this time of fasting – so we don’t just “show up” on Christmas without being prepared.
So what should our focus be during this time? How should we prepare ourselves? What should we be doing?
To answer that question, let me go to last Sunday’s gospel reading and see what the church is teaching us. The reading came from Luke 14:25-35 – a passage having nothing to do with the original Christmas, yet EVERYTHING to do with this coming one.
Jesus defines what it means to be His disciple. If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ (ie, a Christian), then you’ll want to listen up. He gives three criteria of what it means to be His disciple:
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
“And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
“So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33)
Not exactly what you had in mind is it? Hating your family, carrying your cross, giving up all your stuff… that certainly isn’t what they teach in marketing class about how to increase your followers!
I thought He’d say that being a disciple means that you get all your prayers answered and you get lots of blessings. Or that it means you’ll always have support and you’ll never have to worry about being alone. I at least thought He’d say that you get to be in the express lane when it comes time to check in to heaven!
But He didn’t say any of that. Instead, He said that being a disciple means LETTING GO:
- Letting go of your family/friends (hate father, mother, wife, children, etc.)
- Letting go of your comfort (bear your cross)
- Letting go of material possessions (forsake all)
Yikes! Did you know that’s what you signed up for?!
Often we find ourselves telling Jesus what we think/want being "His disciple" means instead of listening to what He says it actually does mean. But that’s not how discipleship works. We are the students, not the Teacher. We are the sheep, not the Shepherd. We are disciples, not the Master.
So because of that, my Advent is focused on this idea of LETTING GO – specifically in three areas (and I’ll talk more about each on my scope today):
1. Letting go of FOOD (fasting)
For me personally, this is the easiest of them all. My wife make the best tuna salad ever and I can NOT get enough of those salmon burgers from Costco – seasoned with some Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce of course!
So while fasting is certainly important, I believe that it’s the least we can do. Bare minimum. I don’t want to be a D+ disciple; I’m going for more.
2. Letting go of COMFORT (carry cross)
Now you’re hitting a little closer to home. Giving up comfort means maybe setting that alarm a little earlier than usual to spend time in prayer before leaving the house. Or maybe it means changing some of my TV watching habits to spend more time reading or in God’s Word. Or maybe it means giving up a Saturday to volunteer with your local church or a neighborhood charity.
Whatever it means for you, if we’re going to be disciples of Jesus, there has to be an element of letting go of comfort in some way.
3. Letting go of MONEY/RICHES (forsake all)
This means not just talking the talk but walking the walk. It means being a bit more generous during this season – and not just so you can say #GivingTuesday online. It means fighting against the spirit of materialism that grips our society and instead making Christmas more about giving than receiving.
The church emphasizes this particular point again by the gospel reading this Sunday from Mark 10:17-31 – the story of the rich young fool who missed out on the kingdom of God because of the many possessions he had.
You know why this idea of “letting go” is so important? Especially when it comes to Christmas? Because that’s what Jesus did for us.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was RICH, yet for your sakes He became POOR, that you through His poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9
That’s what Christmas is all about to me. Jesus (rich) became poor, so that I (poor) could become rich. Amazing! If the King of kings and Lord of lords is willing to let go of soooooo much for my sake…..
….then I need to ask myself what I’m willing to let go of – or NOT let go of – for Him.