Some people are smug about being prepared early for the biggest public holiday in the year: Christmas time. There are people who, at the time of writing (early October), have already made their puddings, prepared their fruit for the cake, bought their presents, made their lists and started the wrapping. I know: I am one of them.
I’ve never liked the hustle that swells around the last few days before 25 December. It seems pointless to be hurrying around and stressing about, when it would be far better to glide towards Christmas Day doing things you enjoy.
Still, it’s not always easy to be super-organised, with all the baking and cleaning and decorating and choir rehearsals and so forth, and I’m sure it’s going to be even harder as the years progress and my son gets older, more demanding and more inquisitive.
Yet I wonder if we spend as much time preparing our hearts for Christmas as we do our homes? Amid all the bustle and tissue paper do we take enough time to really think about the reason for the season? How much time do we spend in quiet, thankful contemplation about the gift of God that we claim to celebrate?
True, Jesus Christ was most likely not born on 25 December and the early church adopted the date from earlier, pagan celebrations, so there is merit to the argument that we should be contemplating the birth of Christ all year round, not just in winter time.
However, since the early centuries of Christianity, this has been the day set aside to celebrate the Word becoming flesh, the only begotten of the Father coming down to earth to be born as one of us, to die for us, to restore us to a perfect relationship with God.
This is hugely momentous. It’s the one point in all of human history since the Garden of Eden when the divine and the human walked and talked together. It’s the moment when God’s plan of salvation was put into effect with the birth of Jesus in that crowded stable on that winter night.
Oh, it’s easy to claim that, as Christians, we love all the religious aspects of the Christmas period, such as the songs and carol services or the nativity scenes and stories. Many people, even those who have not actually accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, will say it’s special to go to a traditional Christmas Day church service.
These are all the public expressions of religious sentimentality, of course. Yet how many of us actually spend time in private, quiet reading and worship – and how many of us actually are able to carve out that time to do so in the run-up to Christmas Eve?
The trouble is, we can spend so much time preparing the external without the internal, that we miss out on what God is actually saying to us.
In this respect, we are no different from the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. For hundreds of years, they had been preparing for the arrival of the Messiah. They had written up rules and regulations in anticipation of the arrival of the Prince of Peace. They had written songs about him, charted the movement of stars and written prophecies of him.
Yet when he finally did come, they weren’t ready. They had spent so long creating their own mythology and ceremony around the coming of the Son of God, that they had failed to listen to what God’s Word actually said on the subject.
Instead of turning to Scripture, they turned to their traditions. Instead of focusing on God, they focused on their own rites and rituals. This meant that when the angels burst open the heavens with their hallelujahs to announce the birth of Jesus Christ, the only ones alert enough to see it were the shepherds.
When the Wise Men came many months later to visit the child, the only one concerned to find out whether the Messiah had come was Herod, and not for good reasons. The religious leaders and their acolytes continually failed to see that the Word had become flesh, that the promised One had come within their midst.
Even when Jesus started his adult ministry, they still refused to prepare their hearts to accept the claims of Christ. They saw the miracles, but refused to believe. They heard the teaching, but refused to listen.
Like so many people today, tradition and religious sentimentality blinds and deafens many people to the truth of Jesus Christ. All the buzz and excitement of the Christmas holidays obscures the true meaning of the celebration.
This year, if you find the various preparations have taken over everything and you are becoming overwhelmed with the externals, slow down. Close the box of unwrapped presents, and open your Bible. Go back to the beginning of it all: to the gift of God. Prepare your hearts and minds before you prepare the dinner. For without Christ in the world, there is no Christmas. And without Christ in your hearts, there is no salvation.
Simoney Kyriakou is writer, editor, blogger, public speaker, presenter, financial advisor.