We have made Christmas into a time of ballyhoo. In a modern “Christian” community Christmas is a fun time, an occasion when the family foregathers. Preeminently it is the festival of children. The kids visit stores with Father Christmas in attendance and hang up their stockings (or pillowcases) with gusto. Stores reap their annual harvest as people prepare to exchange presents. And when the great day comes it is celebrated with the consumption of prodigious quantities of food and drink. A visitor from a distant planet might be forgiven for concluding that Christmas is the festival of fun and self-indulgence.

Now, I have no objection to a festival of fun; there is far too much sadness and sorrow in our modern society. Anything that can lift our depressed spirits and introduce some genuine enjoyment into a sad old world is to be welcomed. It is the misunderstanding of a great Christian festival that troubles me. Christmas is too great and too important to be caricatured as no more than a fun time.

Traditionally, the church has seen things very differently. She has regarded Christmas as a time to think of the meaning of the Incarnation, the coming of her Lord in lowliness and deep humility. So solemn and significant is this that the church has set aside a whole month to get ready for it. The season of Advent (from the fourth Sunday before Christmas until Christmas Day) is meant to be a solemn season of preparation.

During Advent the church has thought it important to give emphasis to two great thoughts: Christ will come again, and Christ will come in judgment. There are other aspects of Advent, but let us think about these two.

Christ will come again. This thought is repeated again and again in the New Testament. I ...

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