This Advent season, "pray at the manger" and use the Christmas reminders to keep Christ in the center of your heart.

This Advent season, “pray at the manger” and use the Christmas reminders to keep Christ in the center of your heart.

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent – the four weeks before the commemoration of the birth of Christ. Advent was designed to be a time of preparation and anticipation for that great season of Hope and Love. It is a time of twinkling lights and wreaths and bows, gaily-decorated trees, and volunteering, shopping, cooking and baking! Somewhere amongst all of our earthly exertions are the more important moments of preparing our hearts for the awe-inspiring celebration of the moment that God became man to reconcile our sins and to ensure that the gates of heaven were once again opened, promising eternal life for those of us who believe.

For those whose lives are calm and bright today, Christmas is the perfect time for joy and thanksgiving and reveling in eggnog and the Halleluiah Chorus. But what of those who are on the brink of divorce, or those who have lost their job and are no longer able to make ends meet? What of those who were recently diagnosed with a terminal illness or who just lost a beloved spouse, child, sibling or parent? The list of reasons for disappointment and sadness can be endless and cause those suffering to run and hide from this season of Hope, looking more for the new year than Christmas Day. Don’t do it! And don’t let your friends do it!

In the midst of Advent, with the swags of evergreen on the porch and lights twinkling on the tree, every flood of stress and every torment of trouble is an invitation to embrace this season. The grace of heaven comes down, so we can rise up. Christmas is ever more important in difficult times because it is the opportunity to meet God face to face. In the presence of a dark world, His gifts of comfort, forgiveness, guidance and hope come to the stressed and the suffering, because pain is not the last word for those who believe. We may not be strong, but we have a God who is! Trouble may come from every direction, but overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loves us (Rom 8:37) and we are able to rejoice in that.

Jesus did not come to us as a Super Hero. He came to us humbly born in a stable under the most unenviable conditions. During His life He understood fear when He calmed the seas for His disciples, He wept when His friend Lazarus died, He was starving and exhausted in the desert and He sweated blood as He prepared to suffer. He chose to enter our world and be human in every way except sin, so we would know Him and desire to enter His world! He made it so we could reach out to Him and confide in Him knowing that He understands our temptations and our struggles and wants to help us through them.

Your legs may be weary and your heart may be heavy and your questions may be many, but whatever you are facing, the Lord will provide. Every mountain that we ever face, the Lord will level with sufficient grace. So, this Advent season, in every sprig of holly and every ringing bell find a reminder to make a ‘prayer trip to the manger.’ Making room in your heart for Christ will make all the difference in your life. If this is a difficult December for you, don’t run away from it. Advent and Christmas is especially for you! Run toward it and embrace every aspect of it so you may be filled with His peace and grace. And then share it with those around you.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

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