I have reached the age where it’s a lot of fun to play the game called “Remember When”?  Have any of you guys gotten there yet?  You know, where you’d sit around with some other guys, or girls, if you’re ladies, and say things like “Remember when…we were in high school, and we’d dream about what kind of CAR we were going to buy, as soon as we got a job and saved up some dough”?  Or we’d dream about which girl we’d invite to the Friday night dance, if we ever got up enough nerve?

Or “Remember when we were in GRADE school, and how much fun it was to play pick-up baseball in that vacant lot after school”?  Or. “Remember when it was the time that a photographer was coming to take school pictures, and your mom made you wear a necktie…and you were afraid all the other guys were going to laugh at you…and you got to school and found out all the other guys looked as dorky as you did”?

Any of you ever play that game?  One of my favorite ‘remember when’  times was way back when I was 7 or 8 years old, and I’d wake up on Christmas morning…remember how great Christmas morning was, when you were a kid?

I mean, when you first woke up, and you were still young enough to still believe in Santa Claus, and you’d wake up and realize it WAS Christmas Morning…and you KNEW you’d been GOOD all year, hadn’t done a single thing wrong…and you’d lay there in bed and wonder; “Did he come?  Did Santa come last night?”

Can you remember feeling like that?  Be honest, now.  Because I can still remember that feeling.  I had a brother that was a couple years younger than me, and we slept in an unheated attic bedroom, this was a little bit north of Detroit, where it gets really cold in the winder.

We’d wake up on Christmas morning, all huddled under a pile of blankets, and there would be frost on those blankets where your nose stuck out so you could breathe…and we’d lay there, not wanting to get out of those warm blankets, but dying with curiosity…”Did Santa come last night”?

Christmas was never a big deal.  My folks would get us some new socks and underwear, maybe a book…but it was when you were still young enough to believe in Santa Claus…and you’d written him a letter!…and then you’d wake up and wonder “Did he come?  Is there a PONY downstairs?  Or maybe a new bike?”…or whatever it was that you’d asked for.

Can you remember?  I really hope that you can.  That was a special time.   We’d never really get what we asked…but that was a time when anything was possible.

My folks weren’t poor, they just didn’t see the need for spending money on us kids.  I can see now that they had kids, not because they wanted kids, but they thought they were supposed to.  So we were never important to them.

Anyway, you’d finally jump out of bed and run down the stairs and stop when you got to the bottom before you went into the living room…we called it the front room…remember that…when we had a davenport in the front room…now you got a sofa in the living room?  We’d ask each other…do you think he came?  And we’d run into the living room in anticipation and…socks and underwear.  No pony.  No Schwinn Silver Eagle…not even a baseball mitt.  Socks and underwear.  And I’d be disappointed and I remember that…but I always remember the part before the disappointment.  The anticipation that came before the disappointment.

That anticipation was a GOOD memory, and I want to hang on to it!  Because pretty soon you found out that Santa was really just a myth.  And if any of you didn’t know that yet, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you.  But you found out that no matter how many letters you wrote, nobody was going to sneak down your chimney and leave you a pony.  And you LOST that feeling of anticipation.  That’s all part of growing up!

But did you know there was a time when the whole world felt that kind of anticipation?  A time when God had promised to send a Savior…and the world was waiting for Him to arrive?  And then He DID!  And that was the story I read to you from Luke’s Gospel.

A simple carpenter from Nazareth, and his young bride forced to travel when she was pregnant and due to give birth any day.  And when they finally got to Bethlehem, they found the inn was already so crowded there was no room for them and they had to take shelter in a smelly stable.

And it was there that Jesus was Born.  NOT in a palace, though He IS the King of all kings…but in a stable, because He had come to Save ALL mankind, not just the RICH!

And a choir of angels has appeared to a band of frightened shepherds…scared them nearly to death, but the angels said “The Savior that the world has been waiting for, has now come.  Go to Bethlehem and you’ll find a Baby laying in a Manger.  That’s Him.  That’s The Savior of the world.”

So the shepherds ran to Bethlehem, and I’d bet that just before they went around the corner of that Stable, they STOPPED, and they looked at each other, and they said: “Do you think He really did come?  Did the Savior come last night?”

And then they stepped around that corner, and THERE He was!  A Baby, just as the angels had said.  A Baby, but so much more.  Those angels had said that He was the Savior of the world, and that whole Stable seemed a lot brighter than it should have been.  And to look on the face of that Baby, left no doubt that the angels spoke truth, that this Baby had come to Save all mankind.  And that means ME, and it means YOU, if you’ll believe.

Now, the next three weeks are going to be filled with all sorts of activity; all the shopping, and the parties, the visits with friends and loved ones…it’s going to be a really hectic time.

Like the woman who took her little granddaughter shopping with her, buying gifts here and there, and finally she took her to see Santa Claus, as she had promised.  And the little girl climbed up onto Santa’s lap and told him all the stuff she wanted for Christmas, and then Santa gave her a candy cane and she climbed back down!

But her grandmother reminded her “What are we supposed to say, when someone gives you something”?  And the little girl, who had been watching Gramma as she had bought all those gifts, turned back to Santa, raised the candy cane into the air and said “Charge it”!

Women are probably more aware of the approaching Holiday than men are.  Men are the type of creatures that will buy football tickets three months in advance, but wait until the 24th of December to do their Christmas shopping.  But, whether you’re ready for it or not, Christmas IS coming!

And the first candle we light is the HOPE candle, to remind us the Hope of Christmas is supposed to remind us that WE need to make certain preparations.  That FIRST Christmas, so many years ago, ALSO required certain preparations.

A few years ago, Harvard University held a celebration in honor of the 250th anniversary of its founding.  Part of those festivities included a parade, with all sorts of groups marching, current classes…alumni classes, sports teams…but the group that made the biggest impression was the incoming freshmen class.  They marched holding a banner that read “This school has been waiting 250 years for us to arrive”.

The New Testament proclaims, from Matthew to Revelation that ALL the ages have been waiting for the Arrival of Jesus…that all of HISTORY has been preparing for His Coming.

Dr. Henry Van Dyke said this, and this is a quote…“The Birth of Jesus is the SUNRISE of the Bible.  Toward this event, the hopes of the prophets, and the songs of the psalmists have been directed.  From that Birth, a NEW DAY began to flow across the world, silently.  It was a Day of Faith and Freedom, a Day of Hope and Love.

When we remember the high meaning that human life has now obtained, and the brilliant Light that shined down on Bethlehem’s Manger, it’s no wonder that mankind has learned to reckon all of history from the Birth of Jesus, and to date all events by the number of years either BEFORE or AFTER, that single event.”

We spoke last week of Paul’s words in Galatians…”In the Fullness of Time, God sent forth His Son.”

Socially speaking, the “Fullness of Time” included the time when Alexander the Great had conquered the known world, and had made HIS language, the GREEK language, the OFFICIAL language for EVERYONE.  And long after Alexander had died, Greek was still the UNIVERSAL language.  No matter what language people spoke from their birth, they were still at least able to make themselves understood, in Greek.

And it was also, commercially speaking, “in the Fullness of Time”, when the Roman government, which followed Alexander, instituted a system of relatively just laws, that allowed the Gospel to grow, in relative safety.  And they built a system of good roads that allowed missionaries, like Paul and Silas, to move from city to city with ease.

Do you suppose that Alexander, as he was extending his empire to the ends of the known world, had any idea that God was using him to prepare for the Birth of His Son in Bethlehem one day?

And do you suppose that Julius Caesar, as he built those roads that made commerce with all the known world relatively easy, had any idea that he was preparing the way for the King of kings?

Or that Augustus Caesar, when he issued his edict that all the world should be taxed, had any idea that he was working to fulfill an ancient prophecy that said Messiah would be Born in Bethlehem?

By the time John the Baptist came out of the wilderness, crying “Prepare ye the Way of The Lord, make His paths straight”…God had already been at work for thousands of years, bringing about the proper conditions for the Birth of His Son.

And then, “In the Fullness of Time”, Christ was Born.  That one simple Birth had required hundreds of years of preparation by God, and it requires some preparation by US, as well.  So the question has to be, on this first Sunday of Advent: Are YOU prepared?  Are you prepared for the Coming of the Son of God?

From the very beginning of time, when God stood in emptiness, and said “let there be Light”…from that moment, the world has been looking forward to the Arrival of God’s Son.  And now, He has COME!

And now WE, who can look BACK on that FIRST Advent, are STILL looking for the Arrival of God’s Son.  But WE are looking for a FUTURE Event, when He will come as a CONQUEROR.  He has ALREADY come as the SAVIOR!  He has already come as a BABY, to DIE and to SAVE!

BUT, He is coming BACK, and NOT as a helpless BABY.  Next time, He comes as a Conqueror, to JUDGE!

With Advent, we remember the Coming of the Savior, and we look forward to the coming of that Righteous Judge of all mankind.  But we also have to recognize that God is already present, in our world today…that He exists, NOT just in the PAST, and somewhere in the FUTURE…but He is already here, NOW!

He comes to us, every time we open His Scriptures, but He meets us in other ways, too.  We can SEE God, in a spectacular SUNSET, or Hear Him in the tiny cry of a newborn infant.  We can see Him in the faces of His SAINTS, as they pray and worship.  We can meet Him in the joyful response of brand new believers, as they place their TRUST in Him for the first time.

He HAS Come!  He WILL Come again!  And He is WITH us, right now.  Whether we are PREPARED for Him, or not!  Many times during this Holiday Season, you are going to hear the song…”O Little Town Of Bethlehem”, and you’ll hear the words “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given”.

On that first Christmas morning, so long ago, the world received the most precious Gift, and not a word was spoken, except to some frightened shepherds, to whom the angels appeared, and who were terrified at that appearing.

Many of you, at some time, probably lived way up north, and you can recall how, in the fall of the year, the land blazed with color, but when the color was gone, everything looked barren, and bleak, and lifeless.

And then one night you went to bed, and in the morning, that barren landscape had been transformed.  During the night several inches of snow had fallen, and that fresh, clean snow had covered that bleak landscape with a beautiful mantle of white.  And now everything looked different, clean and fresh, and inviting.  And it had happened SILENTLY, without a sound.

That is almost how it was, the day after the Birth of Jesus.  Everything was different!  God was now among His Own Creation, and it had been accomplished without a sound.  But, everything still looked the same!  The sun still rose in the sky.  Sheep still grazed in the meadows.  Merchants and their customers still argued over their prices.

But GOD is now IN the world, reconciling the world to Himself.  And while there were very few people who had noticed, nothing would ever be the same again.

The last verse of the song, “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”, contains the words, slightly out of order…“O come to us, be Born to us, Abide with us today”.  And THAT is the critical point: Christ IS Born into the world.  But, is He Born into YOUR heart?

That is the ‘preparation’ we must make.  When Nicodemus came to Jesus, hiding under the cover of darkness, and before any questions were asked, The Lord had seen straight into his heart, and He told that respected leader of Israel, “You MUST be born again”!

The same demand applies to everyone, and it had never changed.  “You MUST be born again.”  Jesus, The Savior of mankind, HAS been Born in Bethlehem, but He must NOW be Born in YOUR heart, and not just in the world!

So, are YOU prepared?  IF that SECOND Advent that we are looking forward to…were that to be TODAY, as it very well COULD be…there is nothing standing in its way…but if it WERE today, are YOU prepared?

Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote a poem, and by changing the LAST line a little, I think I have made it relevant to our celebration of Christmas.  It says…

“There are two kinds of people in the world today…

Just two kinds of people, and no more, I say.

Not the good and the bad, for it’s well understood…

The good are half bad, and the bad are half good.

No, two kinds of people on earth, I say…

Those who are prepared, and those who delay.”

So, are you one who prepared, or one who delayed?  John the Baptist came out of the desert preaching “Prepare ye the way of The Lord”.  That BEGINS with YOU preparing your own HEART to RECEIVE The Lord.

But it doesn’t END there.  The saints of God cannot stand around, all wrapped up in their prayers, and feeling so pure and agreeable to God.  “Prepare ye the way of The Lord” means to FIRST prepare yourself, and THEN prepare so you can go out and help prepare others!

During all the hurry and scurry of the Holiday, please take time to remember that the BEST gift you can give to anyone, is the Gift The Lord has already given…the Gift of His Son!

I’m asking you to give YOURSELF this Christmas.  If there is someone you can ENCOURAGE, do it!  If there’s a kind word or gesture you can make, knowing it will lift someone’s spirit, DO it!  If you can, enter into someone’s loneliness, and bless them by it.

I know that many of you already do that, but there is always MORE you can do.  Understand that the best gifts can’t be purchased at the department store.  Make sure that Christ is born in YOUR heart, and then go out and share Him with someone else.  That is the BEST gift you will ever give.

“In the Fullness of Time”, Jesus was Born into this world.  “In the Fullness of Time”, He’s coming BACK again!  Make very sure that YOU are READY for that.

And now, as always on the first Sunday of the month, we are going to observe The Lord’s Supper.  By doing this, we recognize that Jesus is here with us now, and we remember what he has done for us, and we look forward to what He WILL do, in the not-too-distant future.

So we invite all believers to join us in this observance, and at the close of the ceremony, we will give you the opportunity, if you have never done it before, to come to The Savior and make Him YOUR Savior, preparing yourself for Heaven!