Prepare for Advent as a Theologian ©

There is a story which comes back to me as I look forward to Advent and Christmas about a woman who was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys (and everything else imaginable), and after hours of hearing her children asking for everything they saw on those many shelves, she finally made it to the elevator with her two kids.
She was feeling what so many of us feel during the holiday season time of the year - overwhelming pressure to go to every party, every housewarming; to taste all the holiday food and treats; of getting that perfect gift for every single person on our shopping list; of ensuring we didn't forget anyone on our card list while making sure we respond to everyone who sent us a card.
Finally, the elevator doors opened, and there was already a crowd in the car. She pushed her way into the elevator car and dragged her two kids in with her and all the bags of stuff. When the doors closed, she couldn't take it anymore and stated, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot.”
From the back of the car a quiet, calm voice responded, “Don’t worry, we already crucified Him.” For the rest of the trip down the elevator it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
Ouch! In defense of that un-named woman, I have felt like her amid the hectic Advent/Christmas schedule. My hunch is, so have you. I presume that she was not referring to Jesus (as the story implies) but rather to the hectic gift-giving, party-going, activity-swamping schedule that we have commercially turned Advent & Christmas into. 
I believe that the season of Advent, the time of preparation for the birth of the Christ-child, presents an amazing (literally!), God-given opportunity to share a key doctrinal element at the core of the Christian faith. I maintain that this is precisely what people need (regardless of whether you sit in the pew or stand in the pulpit). We don’t need to be scolded about our tendency to over-commit and over-indulge. We already feel guilty and tend to be experiencing a sense of being trapped. We don’t need a lecture on the 10 ways to work harder and be more efficient with our time - we are already too overwhelmed! What we need is the gospel!
We need good news spoken into our chaos and confusion. We need good news spoken into the world’s inchoate fury. I am convinced that we need (in both pew and pulpit and even more especially in the secular world) to embrace core doctrinal convictions of the Christian faith. 
Earlier this fall, (beginning Sept. 24), I began teaching a four-session class entitled “Sin and Salvation.” I did so out of a conviction that we need to recover a deep sense of our separation from God (sin) and the good news of salvation in Christ. Building on this foundation, I will be teaching another four-part series on The Incarnation with the first session set to debut on Oct. 29. This series is designed for pastors preparing for Advent & Christmas sermons, for Sunday School class or small group studies and/or personal reflection. During Lent, I will release a third teaching series focused on the Resurrection. 
Christian conviction is that something incredible took place in a Bethlehem stable over two millennia ago. “Christian teaching” Martin Luther is said to have asserted, “is that God became flesh.  Compared with that, no particular miracle matters much. If one could but believe that God lay in the manger, one could let go the star and the angel’s son and yet keep the faith.” (Roland Bainton, The Martin Luther Christmas Book, p. 12)
Do you remember that marvelous little story by Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!?  How, after all the trimmings and presents were stolen, the Whos of Whoville still sang. Such conviction is at the very heart of the Christian faith. We believe God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. (see 2 Corinthians 5:19)
Dan Schaeffer notes, “Some people 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 its 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.” (Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, pp. 17-18)
Our celebration is anchored in a doctrinal conviction. God has come to us in the person of Jesus. To gaze upon the baby is to behold the person of God. Continues 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.” (Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, pp. 17-18) 
Put differently; it’s about the baby and the baby (amazingly!!) is God with us in human form. (see Philippians 2:6-11)
The second stanza of the historic Nicene Creed (found in The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 880) shares the doctrinal (official teaching) position of the Christian Church.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
     he came down from heaven,
     was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
     and became truly human.
I love the confessional way St. John states this doctrine in the opening verses of the Gospel of John.
The Word became flesh
    and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
    glory like that of a father’s only son,
        full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, CEB)
The phrase “made his home among us” could be literally translated as “pitched his tent in our midst.” There is a humanness, even an earthiness conveyed in the verbiage. The great biblical scholar and theologian Archbishop Willian Temple states, “The Word did not merely indwell a human being; The Word is Jesus; Jesus is he Word.  And it is said that the Word became flesh because ‘flesh’ is that part of human nature commonly associated with frailty and evil; commonly, but not necessarily. . . He pitched his fleshly tent among us.”  (William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel, pp. 12-13)