I'm always excited about the start of a new lectionary cycle of Bible readings. It's the beginning of new readings for Advent, the start of the Christian year. Some find it strange that the emphasis of the Advent Scripture readings is on the end times. The ancient tradition of reading Bible stories about the end of the world, though, has largely fallen by the wayside. Instead, lots of worship teams plan worship by developing a series around a theme that doesn't point to the eschatological dimensions of Christmas. They're interested in reading about the joy of the coming birth of baby Jesus. But the readings about the end times always appear at the start of Advent, because we're preparing the way not only for Jesus' birth, but for the second coming of Christ in all His glory.
I like the counter-cultural message the church offers as a way of preparing for Christmas. Instead of preparing for the celebration of Christ's birth by decorating, having parties and spending large sums of money on Christmas presents, the tradition of the church leads us into a period of self-examination and penance. It's the opposite of what the world tells us to do. Bible prophecies about the end times prepare us for the birth of Jesus into the world and His second coming again to live as God's people who are prepared to die. It's not a very Christmas-like sentiment, but it is vital to choose an alternative to what the world offers in preparation for Christmas.
It's never popular to talk about death, especially at this time of year. None of us wants to die. But there is nothing we can do about it. I'm going to die, you're going to die, and so is every other human being who is alive today. Human life is fragile and brief in the grand scheme of things.
The Advent readings point to a day when the world and all life upon it will draw to an end. Many look for signs of that time and try to prepare for it with prayer and preaching about the saving power of Jesus. When the end comes, all people will be brought before the Lord to be judged. Those who confess Jesus Christ as their Savior will be saved for eternal life, those who don't will be lost in eternal death.
Many ways to look at this truth, but what's important is that everyone of us will find our-self standing before the Lord Jesus someday. It might be today, next week, or years from now. We have no way of knowing when He's coming. But we can prepare ourselves for that day by examining our lives, repenting and turning away from the things in our lives that are not life-giving. We can choose to live the days we have left on this earth in way that will bring glory to God through faith in Jesus Christ. That's way Christians get ready for Christmas.