I have decided to follow Jesus. … The world behind me, the cross before me; no turning back, no turning back. The children of Vacation Bible School were belting out the words to this song with such energy and enthusiasm that I thought I was seeing my first revival as a pastor.
For many, Advent is the Christmas “starter course” with what gifts to buy and what cookies to make for Santa on the menu. Very rarely do our Advent appetites crave the cross of Good Friday. Yet, Advent is not just the preparation for the birth of Christ.
Advent is our reminder that Jesus, the Christ, was born to die for us. Advent is the time to be reminded, too, that just as he came in the form of a child, God will come again. There will be a second Advent for which we are also preparing. But these conversations sound strange to our ears that have long been tickled with stories of angels singing and Wise Men bearing gifts. We don’t want to hear about death as we celebrate a holy birth. We don’t want to be reminded, as our Scripture reading does on this second Saturday in Advent, that we are at risk of denying our Savior. We prefer to follow the star to Bethlehem to welcome a baby. It’s a journey that inspires our faith and warms our hearts. But that baby grew up to be a radical preacher, and that is where the journey gets hard. Jesus, the preacher, challenges us to see the world differently and to serve in ways that are countercultural. Jesus asks us to follow him all the way to the cross.
At the manger, we might be so filled with awe that we agree to such a journey. But like Peter, we will find ourselves in situations where we might be tempted to deny our Savior. No matter how resolved we are to stick with Jesus, or how much bravado we show, it can happen. Look at Peter.
It’s Advent. We are eager to “see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us,” as Luke’s gospel says. This babe we find in the manger will ask us though, “How eager are you to follow me all the way to the cross?” I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back.
God, an infant Jesus — so gentle and mild — is a precious sight to gaze upon. We welcome his birth. We rejoice that he is with us. I want to fully receive this gift, which means following him to the cross. Grant me the courage and the strength to do so. May I never deny that Jesus is my Lord and Savior. In his name I pray. Amen.
Is there a manger scene set up in your home or perhaps on the lawn of a church in your neighborhood? Visit it today. Gaze upon the Christ Child and ask God to make your steps strong in following him, not just in this season of Advent through Christmas, but in all the seasons of the New Year and for all the days of your life.