I love the excitement that comes with this time of year. I love the lights on houses and the cards that come in the mail and the festive moved. I love the generosity that seems to move people to do wonderful acts of kindness. I love time with family and friends. I even love the Christmas movies – the more the better. They all end with relationship repaired and people in love and everything looking perfect.
But this Advent season of preparation for Christmas joy is not a time of joy for everyone. For some it can be a season of mixed blessings and for some hard time of year. I think of people who are coming up on the first Christmas without their loved one or perhaps there is a bad diagnosis that dampens the cheer or challenges in relationships. There are some who carry private burdens that are not visible to those around them. Added to that there are people who don’t have enough money to buy food let alone gifts. For parents, or at least this parent, it can be challenging as the excitement builds to maintain some normal routines. This season of joy can be a season of challenges.
Part of the season of preparation is knowing that God comes to us. Dr. David Lose writes, “God as God is too terrifying for mere mortals to behold, let alone receive, and so God comes to us as one of us: vulnerable, weak, frail, subject to illness and disappointment and rejection, all so that we can perceive that God is with us and for us and will not abandon us, as [Martin]Luther shares in a Christmas sermon from 1530: If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, his birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was rather to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to him. Now he reveals himself to the miserable in order not to give any impression that he arrives with great power, splendor, wisdom, and aristocratic manners.” (In the Meantime, Dr. David Lose)
In the midst of the joys and challenges comes the message at the heart of the season. It’s about preparing a space, a way for the Lord. It’s about what God did in Jesus and the coming of God’s kingdom. The promise of the prophet Isaiah is that “A shoot shall come out form the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Righteousness shall be a belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb. …They will not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1, 6, 9)
Isaiah shares with the people who are like that stump with no hope that God promises a future where peace will reign. God promises a day when there will be harmony among the nations. The promise of a world remade in God’s image is what drove John the Baptist out into the wilderness crying out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:3)
This is an invitation to something new. When John says “Repent” he is not sharing a message of condemnation. Repent quit literally means to turn in a new direction. John is inviting people to turn to something new. John says, “Repent” as invitation to do everyday tasks in the light of God’s love and see life in a new way. The true gift of advent is preparing for a world remade in God’s image.
It is a gift that transforms the world and individual lives. Barbra Lundblad writes “There is a man on my street I've known for years. We often met in the morning at the newsstand. Then, his wife died – forty-two years together changed to loneliness. I watched him walking, his head bowed, his shoulders drooping lower each day. His whole body seemed in mourning, cut off from everyone. I grew accustomed to saying, “Good morning” without any response. Until a week ago. I saw him coming and before I could get any words out, he tipped his hat, “Good morning, Reverend. Going for your paper?” He walked beside me, eager to talk. I could not know what brought the change that seemed so sudden. Perhaps, for him, it wasn't sudden at all, but painfully slow. Like a seedling pushing through rock toward the sunlight. There must have been an explanation, yet he appeared to me, a miracle.” (www.workingpreacher.org)
In this season of watching and waiting, let us listen to the words of the prophets who call us to live out our faith by following in the footsteps of Jesus. His earth shattering, world changing ministry changed lives and communities. Jesus reordered the world around him and transformed lives with the gifts of welcome, healing and wholeness. Do you hear the prophet calling you? Let us prepare the way of the Lord! Amen.