This verse from Isaiah is quoted in the New Testament to describe the preaching of John the Baptist in preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. If you think about it, it teaches us how to prepare for Christmas.
The same basic message is there for both Isaiah’s time and our time: to prepare for the coming of the Lord, we need to prepare the way, and make the paths straight. In ancient times, roads were not paved smooth like they are today. They were often very rough to travel. So when a king was coming, representatives would go ahead of the king and remove obstacles from the road, level off the road, and get it prepared for his visit. We see references to this in Isaiah 57:14 and 62:10.
Just as ancient roads had obstacles that need to be removed to prepare for a king’s visit, so we have obstacles that need to be removed for us to prepare for Christmas.
We need to remove the obstacle of commercialism. The retail industry has hijacked Christmas and tried to convince our culture that it is mandatory that we spend money at Christmas to truly celebrate it. They’ve made Christmas all about shopping and giving presents.
We need to remove the obstacle of selfishness. Related to commercialism is the obstacle of selfishness. If we buy into the idea that Christmas is about shopping and gift-giving, we may fall into the further trap of thinking Christmas is about gift receiving. We start talking about “What I want for Christmas.” Then the emphasis becomes all about me: what I want for Christmas, what you should give me.
We need to remove the obstacle of busyness. A third obstacle at Christmas is busyness. Many families spend the first part of December running from their child’s Christmas program at the elementary school to the children’s choir Christmas program at the church to their child’s ride on the float in the Christmas parade to the Christmas band concert at the high school to the adult choir Christmas program at the church to the husband’s staff office party to the children’s school party to the wife’s staff Christmas party to the Sunday School class Christmas party. Then they spend the last part of December running from the wife’s family to the husband’s family to the grandparents, and if there is a divorce, they may have to add the ex-wife or ex-husband’s family. And somewhere in the middle of all that, they try to squeeze in sending Christmas cards and going shopping. No wonder church attendance is no better in December than November, and sometimes it’s lower. Some people are too busy doing Christmas activities in December to come to Sunday worship in December!
So how can we remove these obstacles and truly prepare ourselves for Christmas? We have to decide before it all begins that we will define our Christmas celebration by our faith, not by our culture. To overcome commercialism and selfishness, we need to have honest conversations with our families about our faith and what our budget is going to be for Christmas. Agree on budget limits. Draw names instead of giving everybody a gift. And if you really want to overcome selfishness, tell people to give a gift to missions in your name.
And how do we overcome the busyness of Christmas? We decide ahead of time to say “no” to some activities, so that we can say “yes” to time with our families and time for worship. You do not have to attend every party, and you do not have to write a Christmas card to every cousin. Years ago at a former church, I tried to attend every Sunday School Christmas party. I was never home with my family! I finally decided I would not go to any Sunday School class Christmas parties that were in the evening, except for the one in my own class, and I would go to the deacons and wives banquet for widows and widowers. That’s it.
Jesus the king has come. Wise men came to worship Him. Let’s prepare to celebrate His coming by removing the obstacles that block the way: obstacles of commercialism, selfishness and busyness. Clear the path so you can see Christ this Christmas!