When you prepare to do something, there is a process. You want to make sure you are ready before you begin. For example, when you are in a race, you might hear “Ready, Set, Go.” It has to do with proper preparation. Jumping the gun disqualifies you. There is a sense of anticipation and build up to the official start.

That is what the season of Advent is like. In the church-year calendar, Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas Day. This year, the first Sunday of Advent is Dec. 3.

The word Advent means coming and it has been a time for Christians to prepare themselves for the coming of our savior.

We prepare by reading the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah who would be born from the line of Abraham and David. We prepare by reading the New Testament promises that Jesus will come again on the last day. And we prepare our hearts by remembering that the son of God has come into this world as a baby born in Bethlehem. He came to live among us as one of us. He would go through everything we go through but would do it without sin. And, he would then offer that sinless life as the payment for the sins of everyone. His coming would open heaven to all who put their faith in Him and what He did for us.

People do a lot of things to prepare for Christmas: shopping, baking, parties, presents, travel and a host of other things. I do those things, too. But my priority is to try to prepare my heart for the celebration of the birth of our Lord.

I want to be ready to remember the tremendous gift of God’s love wrapped in human flesh who came to take my place in punishment. I want to be ready to rejoice in a gift that was long-promised, fulfilled in a virgin conceiving by the power of the Holy Spirit, seen in a baby lying in a stable and realized in a crucifixion and an empty tomb.

Thinking about all of that gives me a gratitude that lasts long past Thanksgiving. This year I will again make every effort to spend the time between now and Christmas preparing my heart to rejoice in the only gift that really matters. Advent, for me, is a time of hope and expectation, a time to prepare myself to celebrate the true gift of Christmas: Jesus Christ.

Are you getting ready?

Michael Mattil is the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Denison. He can be reached at pastor@glcdenison.org.