After a great family Thanksgiving celebration, Jolynn and I went to church Sunday morning. I was still basking in the good family time; in the glory of holding my 4 ½ month old grandson (Simon); in the shared joy. I was unprepared for the Scripture lesson that was read. The lay reader opened the Bible and began. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). Advent slipped in and caught me by surprise. There is something utterly prosaic about the Evangelist Luke’s epic account of the birth of our Savior and Lord. Nothing, absolutely nothing, stands out in verse one of the second chapter of this great Gospel (good news!). Taking a census is just a part of the normal business of governments. So too the season of Advent, a time of preparation for the Savior’s birth, slips into our life and world in this day. The casual reader can almost do their own rewrite. “Today the 147 world leaders gathered in Paris to discuss climate change.” Or, “Today Presidential candidates debated with each other over the economy and immigration issues.” Or, “Today further news on the conflict in Syria dominates the headline.” Or, ….the reader can write their own line. Advent means the coming or the visitation of someone notable. For Christians the year opens with the season of Advent - the special time of preparation for the coming of the Lord. If you think about it on any kind of deeper level, the claim that the God of the universe visited our world is outlandish, even outrageous, and yet this is precisely the Christian claim. This holy time of preparation slips in almost unnoticed in seasonal preparation. The author of In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, Dan Schaeffer opens his book with a statement I find myself re-reading at the start of Advent: “Each year, millions of people go in search of the real spirit of Christmas. True, some want to find it only so they can try to package it and sell it. But others gaze at the Christmas tree, the presents, and all the decorations and wonder: What is all this really about?” (Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, p. 9). “Some people,” Schaeffer notes, “are attracted to Christmas the way they’re attracted to a concert or the Super Bowl or the annual Macy’s Christmas parade. …[Others] do sense that there is a deeper holy meaning to this season, which at least temporarily satisfies their spiritual longings. The shared excitement and anticipation are such wholesome emotions that many are attracted to the celebration of Christmas even when they don’t really know what it’s all about. … In other words, … they are like people at weddings who laugh louder and drink more than anyone else, and yet are not really close friends of either the bride or groom. They’ve been invited because they work with the bride or groom or are friends of the couple’s parents . . . but they have no real interest in the two who have just gotten married. Their real interest is in the celebration” (p. 17-18). Writes Schaeffer, “This is the essential difference between those who possess the real Christmas spirit and those who don’t. If you removed the trees, and the lights, and the poinsettias, and the decorations, and the presents, and the food, and the music, those with the real Christmas spirit would still celebrate” (p.18). Quietly Advent comes amidst all the noise and commotion of our normal celebration. It invites us to pause and truly reflect on what it means to celebrate and give thanks to God. It also challenges us deeply to reflect upon the notion of whether or not I am (we are) ready to receive the Christ child. Advent slips in and lodges in the corner of my mind calling me to prayer and reflection. When I think about it, when I really reflect on what we Christians think we are doing in the days leading up to December 25th, I am struck silent. As someone once said the claim of the incarnation, of God with us in the person of Jesus, seems almost too good to be true and also to true to be good. I rummage through the half-formed shopping list I am struggling to put together for family – Jolynn (wife), two adult children and two adult children-in-law, now three grandchildren (Grace, Simon, and new born Samuel …. Or as I call him Yosemite Sam!), Mom and Dad, my brothers and sister-in-law – I find myself wondering what I should get Jesus this season, this celebration of coming, his Advent. In reflection once more the power of His advent slips into my heart and messes with my mind. The Lord calls and fumbling I attempt to reply. Often we picture God as far off and removed, as distant and uncaring. We embrace the frivolities and parties of Christmas as if for a brief period of time to forget the harsh reality of our world. But Advent slips in almost unaware upon us. In worship and reflection, we come face to face with a God who knows the world’s hostility in its full force and yet enters in as a baby. Martin Luther used to always say that this is the real miracle of Christianity. God enters not to judge but save; not to damn but to love; not to reject but to reclaim us and our hurting world. This is the character and nature of God. I am called to a time of preparation. Am I ready to receive Him?