How are you getting ready spiritually for Christmas?
Christmas is right around the corner.
I’m curious how you get ready for Christmas. No, I don’t mean when you do your shopping, or baking, or decorating your house, or sending Christmas cards, or going to parties.
I’m talking about how you prepare your heart for Christmas. What are you doing in your spiritual life that makes you ready to receive more of Christ’s appearing?
Do you celebrate Advent?
Many Christians in many different denominations celebrate the season of Advent, which begins with the fourth Sunday before Christmas, at least in the Western church. It’s seen as a time of prayer, meditation, and sometimes repentance and fasting, to prepare spiritually for the coming of Christ. Our word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “arrival” or “coming.”
But what most people don’t know is that the origins of Advent are a bit uncertain. It probably started sometime after the 4th Century, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.
And it evolved over the centuries to what it is today. And by the way, the Eastern Orthodox Church has a bit different approach than Western Christianity.
So, there is actually no mention of Advent in the Bible, or any kind of instruction to prepare for the birth of Jesus in what has become the tradition we call Advent.
Now, just to be completely transparent here, I don’t personally observe Advent in some liturgical way, but I totally see the value of taking some time, days and weeks even, to meditate and pray in order to be more receptive to the coming of Christ, symbolized by Christmas each year.
A fresh way to prepare for Christmas
So, I’ve been thinking about how to get ready for Christmas this year. We’re not doing anything elaborate. Some years there have been lots of festivities. But things will be quiet and low-key this year for us, which I’m looking forward to.
Now I just want to say here, there’s no one right way to celebrate Christmas. You might be by yourself of just a couple of people. Or you may have a houseful of 20 or 30 that you’re cooking dinner for.
What’s important is keeping the spiritual perspective of what Christmas is all about.
Over the years, whether I’ve had a busy Christmas season full of activities or a quiet time like it will be this year, I always feel the need to get ready spiritually to be more receptive to the true meaning of Christmas.
As I was praying about how to approach the Christmas season this year, out of the blue, the idea came to look at Christmas through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount.
We usually focus on the Nativity stories in the Bible to celebrate Christmas. We look at the Old Testament prophecies of the birth of Jesus and marvel at how they are fulfilled in those early chapters of Matthew and Luke.
So the idea to think about the Sermon on the Mount in relationship to Christmas is a totally new idea for me.
But the more I think about it, and I have started to read that Sermon in relationship to Christmas, I see Jesus’s teachings in a whole new light.
Looking at Christmas through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount
I’ll share a few of them here with you, but you may have already guessed that I’m going to invite you to read the whole Sermon on the Mount for yourself and see how it brings more of the light of Christmas to you.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9 KJV
Jesus is often referred to, especially at Christmas, as the Prince of Peace. When you act as a peacemaker, and there is often a lot of peacemaking needed in families at Christmas time, you are making room for Christ to be born in your heart and the hearts of everyone you come in contact with.
Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1 NKJV
God didn’t give His most precious gift, His Son, so all men could see and be impressed. He gave this gift very privately. Along with Joseph and Mary, God only invited a few blessed-are-the-meek shepherds and three hungry-and-thirsty-for-righteousness kings to the party.
When you do your deeds of mercy and charitable giving in private, Jesus says God will reward you openly. And every time you give in this way, you are inviting the Christ to be born in your heart.
I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:44 NKJV
In the birth of Jesus, God is loving those who ever have and ever will think they hate God. God is sends His rain, shines His sun, gives His love to the just and the unjust alike. Jesus was for the benefit and salvation of everyone on earth, past, present, and future.
I can’t help but wonder if Jesus might have thought of himself in this context of God expressing love to everyone, even those who could be considered God’s enemies.
When you love your enemies, you are making room for Jesus to be born in your heart. And it might just make a little room in the inn in someone else’s heart as well.
The Lord’s Prayer sheds light on Christmas
Let’s look at the Lord’s Prayer in light of what it has to do with Christmas. (See Matthew 6:9-13 below)
When Jesus told us to start this prayer with, “Our Father which art in heaven,” he knew what he was talking about. God was truly his only Father (think virgin birth). Jesus was so conscious of this relationship and his origin story. And he includes us in that as well. He says we all have the same source or creator he does.
Part of the message of Christmas is that God is the only creator, the Father of the universe. Jesus said, Call no man on earth you Father, for one is your Father in heaven. In a degree then, Jesus’s origin story is ours as well. As we see more clearly that our only source is God, we are reborn, born again, born spiritually, however you want to say it. And the spirit of Christ appearing fills our own lives.
And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Matthew 23:9 NIV
Hallowed by Thy name: If anyone exemplified the holiness of God’s name, God’s true nature, it was Jesus. That means Christmas is also about bearing witness to God’s nature, which Jesus fully embodied and expressed. Every time you express God’s holy nature, you are celebrating the birth, or the appearance, of Christ.
Thy kingdom come: This was the principle message of Jesus, first not just chronologically since that’s how he started his ministry proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, but also first in priority. It was the most important aspect of what Jesus came to reveal to us, that God’s kingdom has come.
When you bear witness to God’s kingdom at hand, you are celebrating the true meaning of Christmas.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven: Throughout Jesus’s ministry he made it clear that he did not come to do his own will, but the will of the Father. Everything Jesus did, everything he said and taught, every act of compassion, healing, and forgiveness were God’s will in heaven being made manifest here on earth.
So, when you do God’s will, guess what, you are actually observing the true spirit of Christmas.
Give us this day our daily bread: Jesus could encourage us to pray for our daily bread, but don’t you think he had a deeper meaning in mind than just the stuff we put on the table and make sandwiches out of? Jesus referred to himself as the “bread of life.” (See John 6:48 below) Was he encouraging us to turn to God for our daily portion of this bread of life as well?
Think of a time when you have eaten this bread of life. Maybe it was only a crumb of Christ-like inspiration, or maybe it was a full loaf or multiple loaves of “spiritual bread,” an overwhelming outpouring of Christ’s nature and presence in your life from God.
Anytime you partake of the “bread of life” you are experiencing Christmas, the appearing of Christ to the world.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors: One of the most wonderful aspects of Jesus’s purpose on earth was for all mankind to experience God’s forgiveness. Jesus’s birth marks the appearance of this forgiveness for all mankind. Oh yes, God’s forgiveness is mentioned often in the Old Testament, but Jesus brought the universality and availability of God’s forgiveness to everyone.
But Jesus says we can’t experience God’s forgiveness unless we forgive others. Have you ever considered that every time you forgive someone, you are celebrating the birth of Jesus, the appearance of God’s gift of forgiveness to the whole world? Here again is the spirit of Christmas.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, or the evil one: Okay, now you may be wondering, James, what on earth does this have to do with Christmas?
Well, who overcame temptation better than anyone else? Of course, it’s Jesus.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15 NIV
Jesus has revealed our relationship with God, our Father, which in turn, empowers us to not give in to temptation. And Jesus makes it clear that it’s God, our Father who delivers us from all evil.
That means every time you resist temptation, every time you experience God delivering you from evil, you are bearing witness to and honoring the birth of Jesus, the appearance of Christ in your life and in the world. This is what Christmas is all about.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever: This last line of the Lord’s Prayer is basically a summary of God’s nature and ownership of all creation. It also sums up what Jesus said about God throughout his ministry.
Jesus was always referring to God’s kingdom. He did not claim any personal power with which he healed people. And he made it clear he did all he did for God’s glory, not his own. The kingdom, the power and the glory, it all belonged to God.
When you put God’s kingdom of heaven first in your life and live out from the heavenly realm here on earth; when you realize all the power you have to do something originates in God and not yourself; when you do all the amazing things you do, but give God the glory instead of yourself; you are not just following Jesus’s example, you are allowing the Christ to be born in your heart and your life. You are celebrating Christmas at very deep spiritual level.
What kind of presents to you give and want to receive?
We’ll look at just a few more passages in the Sermon on the Mount and how they give an insight into the real meaning of Christmas. But I encourage you between now and Christmas to read the entire Sermon, that’s Matthew, Chapters 5, 6, and 7.
How about these three verses from Chapter 6?
Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Matthew 6:19-21 NLT
How can these three verses influence what kind of Christmas presents you give or want to receive this year.
Do you just want a bunch of material gifts? Do you think you need to give a bunch of material gifts because that’s what expected or do you think it will show someone how much you love someone?
Maybe we could paraphrase this passage to say something like, “Don’t just give earthly, material gifts, that will break or wear out and eventually be worthless, or that someone might steal. But give spiritual gifts of love, forgiveness, kindness, helpfulness, etc. that will never rust or fall apart and no one can ever steal them. Whatever your perception of Christmas is, that’s what your heart will focus on.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying not to give anyone presents. I just want to encourage you to think about how you can bring a more spiritual approach to gift giving this year.
Seek first God’s kingdom
Here’s another passage that gives a deeper insight into Christmas
That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:25-33 NLT
Getting our priorities straight
Jesus is telling the folks who were listening to him preach that day almost 2,000 years ago, as well as you and me, that we need to get our priorities straight.
We need to quit worrying and put God first. We need to seek God’s kingdom. We need to seek God’s righteousness. Then we’ll have everything we need. Not necessarily everything we want, but everything God wants us to have.
Have you ever known someone who worried and fretted about all the plans and preparations they have to think about at Christmas, and then they worry all over again while they’re trying to get everything done. Or maybe you have been that someone.
Sometimes we can get caught up in all the busyness of the season and lose track of the real meaning and spirit of Christmas.
Once again, I encourage you to think about this specific passage and consider how it can help you celebrate Christmas in a more meaningful way.
Jesus encourages us to put God first and prioritize seeking God’s kingdom. Every time you put God first and seek God’s kingdom, you are ushering in the coming of Christ. You are celebrating Christmas, regardless of what time of year it is.
Don’t be so judgemental at Christmas
I’ll share just one more simple little idea. This is from Matthew, Chapter 7.
Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Matthew 7:1 NLT
How can you see this applying to Christmas? How often do we judge people and things at Christmas time? We make comparisons about who has the best holiday decorations, gives the best parties, gives the best or worst gifts. The list goes on and on.
Jesus said very simply, “Do not judge others.” This is good advice all year but especially at Christmas. Think how the man who let Mary and Joseph stay in his stable might have judged them. At best he felt sympathy for them, but he probably judged them to be just two more in the crowd of hundreds who were looking for a place to stay. I’m sure he didn’t have any idea who they really were and what would take place in his stable.
This Christmas, don’t be so quick to judge someone from just the external appearances and circumstances. Ask God to open your eyes to see more of the Christ appearing in everyone you meet.
Don’t just celebrate Christmas on the surface
Yes, Jesus was born 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. And that event will never be repeated. But the spirit of that birth takes place over and over throughout the centuries. Don’t miss it just because you’re looking only on the surface of things.
As I said earlier in this episode, I encourage you to read the entire Sermon on the Mount to see how each verse and section can give you new insights and help you celebrate Christmas in a more meaningful way.
Think with me what it was like when Joseph set the newborn Jesus in the manger. Think of the stillness and the peace there in the stable before the shepherds showed up. Mary and Joseph needed that time to ponder what had just happened. They knew this tiny baby was the Messiah who was born for the salvation of all mankind. They never could have imagined how that purpose would unfold.
Who is really doing the prep work?
When I look in the Bible at Jesus’s birth and the events that led up to it, I don’t really see anyone doing anything to prepare for it, other than Mary and Joseph making plans and doing the best they could, under the circumstances, to have a place to stay in Bethlehem.
All the preparation for Jesus’s birth was done by God, who had been planning for centuries, getting people ready to open their hearts and minds to the coming of the Messiah. He gave the prophets glimpses of how Christ would come. And He orchestrated events to fulfill those prophesies, on the most part without anyone really knowing what was going on.
Zacharias and Elizabeth, along with Joseph and Mary, got some advance notification, you could say, of what was about to happen, because they were part of the plan. They were participants in the coming of Christ and needed to know what was going on.
What I get from that is that we may think we are preparing our hearts for Christmas, the appearing of Christ. But what’s really happening is God is the One preparing us. God stirs within our hearts the desire and the ability to be ready to receive and accept Christ.
One of the best ways to celebrate Christmas, receive Christ and more of his appearing, is to put Jesus’s teachings into practice in your daily life. As you do this, you build your life on a firm foundation and you are not just walking with Jesus, but in effect, you are giving birth to Christ in your heart every day.
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
Matthew 5:9 KJV
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Matthew 6:1 NKJV
1 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:44 NKJV
44 I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 6:9-13 KJV
9 Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.
Matthew 23:9 NIV
9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
John 6:48 ESV
48 I am the bread of life.
Hebrew 4:15 NIV
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Matthew 6:19-21 NLT
19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.
20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.
21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
Matthew 6:25-33 NLT
25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?
26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?
27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing,
29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.
30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’
32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.
33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Matthew 7:1 NLT
1 Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.