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"When our streets and shops and songs are lit up with Christmas decorations, we have a visible reminder of what God has done: sent hope into a hopeless world, to save sinners and make them children."
The Christmas season is by far the most liberal with decorations. Halloween has a pumpkin or two, Thanksgiving might have some fall leaves, but Christmas has lights, songs, stockings, trees, ornaments, and the stray inflatable Santa in the front yard. Stores paint snowflakes on windows, and fir trees crop up in all sorts of places. You might not know that Halloween was around the corner, but Christmas advertises across town for weeks.
Some people enjoy the festivity; others find it a bit obnoxious. Nevertheless, Tiny Tims and Grinches alike see signs of Christmas wherever they go for weeks. For most, it quickly becomes background scenery that lasts for a month and gets put back into storage. But Advent teaches us a better way to think of the decor surrounding us. Advent tells us to harness the lights, the songs, and the smell of Christmas trees to help us meditate on Jesus.
My wife will sometimes ask me what I’m thinking, and I’ll reply, “Nothing.” Strictly speaking, that’s not true. What I mean is that I’m not thinking about anything particularly substantial or interesting. But I’m always thinking. As humans, we can’t really stop thinking. All we can do is choose what to think about.
And so, when we go for coffee or go to the store or take a walk, we are choosing what to think about. It doesn’t always feel like a choice. Emotional topics in particular seem like they are choosing you, not the other way around. The truth is that we often should choose to think about emotional topics that come up, but that doesn’t make it any less a choice. And Paul commands us to make good choices when it comes to what we think about:
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." -Philippians 4:8
You’d think we would want to dwell on excellent things. But we tend to default to thinking about whatever is right in front of us, which usually is less than true, honorable, and lovely. In other words, we have a thinking problem. And Paul knows that our thinking is like the rudder of a ship: it controls where we go, and determines whether we end up in a good port or shipwrecked.
So when presented with Christmas lights and snowflakes in the window, we are presented with an opportunity to direct our thoughts. If you are like me, there is a good chance when you walk into a coffee shop or a grocery store, your mind is not set on the things above. One of the keys to the Christian life is the moment by moment ability to redirect our thoughts to what is most true and most important and most beautiful: the God who made us and saved us. In other words, everything in the universe is only viewed rightly when it’s viewed through a gospel lens.
This is rarely easy, and the world rarely prompts us to think about things through the lens of the gospel. Except during Advent. When our streets and shops and songs are lit up with Christmas decorations, we have a visible reminder of what God has done: sent hope into a hopeless world, to save sinners and make them children. Some people complain of being “assaulted” by all the Christmas decor. The truth is we usually need something overbearing to shake us out of our tunnel vision and remind us that our thoughts can dwell on things above, where Truth and Loveliness and Excellence sits at the right hand of the Father. After being born in a manger, crucified, and raised.
After reading this you are going out into a decorated world. Think of it like training wheels for the rest of the year. Come January we won’t have as many obvious reminders (aside from the mind-blowing glory of nature, but that’s another topic). Rely on the signs of the times, the decorated Advent season, to guide your thoughts to the loveliness of the God who sent his Son. With enough practice, you’ll find yourself meditating on the goodness of God well after the lights are taken down.
Brian serves the church by overseeing preaching and Sunday morning services at Cornerstone.
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