With the start of Advent this past Sunday, the countdown to Christmas has officially begun. It’s a season of busy preparations and celebrations. As I think about all the activities planned at church and with friends and family, I want to be sure I don’t miss out by simply going from one event to the next on autopilot.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the Christmas season and adopt a mindset of survival over peace, joy and love. But what if we decide right now, at the start of the season, to try and do better—to be better? There are so many opportunities in the next 25 days to show love, give back and make deeper connections.
I’ve come to know that it’s one thing to appear to be kinder and more thoughtful, gregarious, and cheerful. But are we willing to do the hard work of actually being kinder, more thoughtful, gregarious, etc.? Appearing to be something and actually being something are two different things. Looking good isn’t the same as being good.
And, to take it a step further, sometimes I wonder if I, and maybe “we,” approach our faith in Jesus the same way. We can be very successful at practicing our religion without actually deepening our relationship with God. You can go to church, sing on the worship team, help in children’s ministry, attend a class or even teach a class and simply be engaging in spiritual activities devoid of the depth of relationship.
The same goes for me as a preacher. I can hone the skill of public speaking, know how to engage people with smiles, listening eyes, and firm handshakes. I can craft my prayers to fit any and every situation. I can exegete a text, apply sound hermeneutics, and use smart-sounding words to convince others that I know what I’m talking about. I can do all these and more and still be far from God. Religious knowledge and activities do not necessarily produce a Christ-like life.
Now, I’m not against knowledge and activities. And I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t go to church, participate in a class, or volunteer with a ministry. What I am suggesting is that you ask yourself the same question I’m asking myself at the start of Advent: Am I actually becoming more like Jesus, or am I merely appearing to be more like Jesus?
I guess there are worse things for us to appear to be, but faking it never works in the long run. I’ve heard it said before, “All that glitters is not gold.” What one appears to be and who one truly is may be two different things.
So, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior, and before we attend any holiday events, let’s agree to try and be present with people and more mindful about simply being someone who aspires to follow, and become more like, Jesus. May this be true for all of us this Advent and into the new year, that we “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, NIV). And may it not just appear that we’re mature, may we actually grow in spiritual maturity.