The four weeks leading up to Christmas are a season in the church that we call Advent. The word comes from Latin “adventus”, meaning “coming toward,” and the season denotes a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. The season of Advent is not merely about the warm fuzzies that many of us get on Christmas morning; it is mired in uncertainty, uneasiness, restlessness. The call of Advent isn’t a call to rush headlong into Christmas–God knows there’s enough rushing this time of year. The call of Advent is the call to slow down, find stillness and centeredness. To prepare. It is a call that we find in scripture:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:1-6)
Fifteen years after the death of Augustus Caesar in a stately Roman palace, a very different sort of man appeared in a very different sort of place. John, a man of poverty, began to proclaim the coming of the Christ, not from the imperial palace or from the governor’s mansion, but from the wilderness. His cry echoes in every age, and into every heart; a voice crying out from a desperate place: “Prepare the way of the Lord!”
In this busy season, we often find that there is no end to the preparation. There’s so much to be done! Decorating, shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, traveling. Between it all, it can be hard to find time to prepare the way of the Lord. And to be completely honest, Christmas is going to come whether or not we are prepared for it. The Lord has been born. The angels did sing. And come December 25, you can settle into the presence of Immanuel, God with us, the savior of the nations.
But the advent of Christ will not let us rest easy. That cry from the wilderness calls us into deeper expectation for the imminent divine. It calls us out of our palaces of complacency to the desert of desperate longing. For John, the banks of the Jordan were a threshold of repentance; to prepare is to turn away from all that holds us back from receiving the Christ child.
So, I am inviting us all (myself included) to practice repentance in the coming weeks. Repentance really means to “turn around,” and retread our path in the opposite direction. It means to make amends for the actions and ways of being that cause harm to others, creation, and self. And we all need this repentance.
Because within us all is the path of the Lord. We all have valleys and empty places that need to be filled in. We all have mountains of haughtiness and hills of pride that need to be made lowly. We all have crookedness and deceit within us that need to be made straight. We all have rough edges that are in need of polishing. And then, all people will know the salvation of our God. So in this season of preparation, let us not forget that Christ is born into the world whether or not we have prepared, but Christ is born into our hearts only when we invite him in.
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