Christmas with Ann Voskamp: How in the World to Get Ready for Christmas?

To get our hearts ready for Christ’s birth, Ann Voskamp is writing for us, celebrating the holiday that’s all about Jesus. Join us as we anticipate the coming of our savior.

It’s on the day I forget to buy toilet cleaner in town.

The day the man at the gas pumps says it’s just around the corner, what they’re forecasting will be a green Christmas and he looks up and asks, “So … are you ready yet for Christmas?”

And I choose to smile instead of hyperventilate, to keep breathing and believing, and that’s the day I drive home past the cows and the stone houses and hear it playing quiet in the background on the way home and it’s a bit ironic that I have to turn it up to hear the words:

No ear may hear His coming,
But, in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in.

No ear may hear His coming.

Because there won’t be trumpet blasts and a parade and fanfare, but a feed trough, a stinking manger bed, and a dark night. Man may choose the path of least resistance but God chooses the paths of least likelihood.

Those four lines keep ringing softly in my head.

I hang up coats dropped at the back door.

Fill the sinks with hot water, soap suds.

It’s the meek, the humble, who will receive Him still—the ones laid low, the humble ones close to the earth, close to the humus, the ones bent down. God didn’t come with any buzz—He simply comes for the broken and unlovely.

Enter this mess, Christ, enter in.

Did the man at the gas pumps see it my eyes—how I didn’t know if our hearts were ready for Christmas?

Does God see?

Preparing for the holidays is primarily a preparing of the heart. Because what comes down is love and the way to receive love isn’t to wrap anything up—but to unwrap your heart.

This will take time. This will take waiting. I must make space for these. Why don’t I make space just for the heart unwrapping? The water in the sink grows cool. Advent could light a lukewarm heart. Burn up everything that wraps it tight …

Advent—this is the season of preparing that prepares us for any season of life—because we are preparing our lives for Christ to enter in—which prepares for us the life without end.

Is that the ultimate purpose of this life—the preparing for the next life?

Is this why Christmas, Advent, unlike any other time of year, glimmers with a glimpse of heaven—because it’s the time of year we’re fulfilling our purpose, preparing for Christ and His coming again? The Christmas tree’s been lit for weeks, a beacon, a preparing, an anticipation. Why is it easier to make Christmas cookies than to make our hearts ready for Christ? Is getting ready for Christmas as simple and difficult as simply sitting stilled before the cradle of Christ?

It’s there over the dinner table, there on the chalkboard as a prayer request: A friend whose mother’s pancreatic cancer is untreatable.

A few weeks ago, a childhood playmate writes me a note to ask me not to write her anymore.

A mother I love watches her son self-destruct and I can taste the grief in my mouth and it’s all I can taste everywhere, salty and stinging.

Turning the calendar page to December doesn’t turn life into this dance of the sugarplum fairies. Christ shied from the sanitized—He chose the dung heaps and entered in at our stinking places. The light of the Christmas tree, it’s reflecting in the glass of the fireplace.

And Christ comes and cracks into this world and the carapace of our hurting hearts, and we can hear Him coming: I came in unexpected ways the first time and I will come again in the hour you think not, so trim your wick, you there in the impossible dark, and light an unexpected flame regardless, and be ready with impossible hope, for I am coming again.

Christ, He doesn’t reveal the outcome of what we face, but He reveals to us the face we face. This is the gift of Christmas that flickers in the pitch black.

And yet.

Love came down and “He came to his own people, and his own people did not receive him.” —John 1:11

Love came down—and his own people did not recognize Him.

Love came down—and His own people did not want what He offered.

The Messiah came down and He wasn’t received as the Messiah—and Love comes down down and who receives all the moments as His love?

I’ve fumed about too many of the moments of dropped coats, strewn boots, abandoned CDs. Writhed away from the moments that make my throat burn, everything race inside. There’s things on the chalkboard I’d like to erase.

How in the world am I receiving Christ this Advent?

During Advent, the season of waiting for the coming, the Christ-people, they meet whatever comes with this brazen belief that it is Love that Comes Down.

Love comes down to His own people—and His own people are the ones who do receive the unexpected and unlikely as His love.

The infant as infinite God.

The Babe as bondage-breaker.

The stump as new shoot, the ugly as beautiful, the weak as strong.

Our loving God always comes to us wrapped in the unlikely.

We may not know the outcome but we tenaciously believe that in Him we overcome—because Love comes down.

Is that how we get ready for Christmas? By readying the heart to receive the gift of every moment—no matter what the moment unexpectedly holds—as a gift of His love?

Maybe I should have said that to the man at the gas pumps? We’re ready for Christmas, not when we have all the gifts, but when we are ready for Christ—when we’re ready to give all of ourselves to Christ.

At the end of the day, the carols hardly play, and yet I hear them.

I light the candles at the hearth.

And I can feel how it comes.

The warmth and the flame and this slow unwrapping of everything bound …

Ann Voskamp is a farmer’s wife, the home-educating mama to a half-dozen exuberant kids, and author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, a New York Times bestseller, and new this month, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. Named by Christianity Today as one of 50 women most shaping culture and the church today, she’s a writer for DaySpring, a speaker with Women of Faith, and a global advocate for needy children with Compassion International. Ann loses library books, usually has a sink full of soaking pots, and sees empty laundry baskets rarer than a blue moon. 

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