We know it really is Advent when John the Baptist comes wading toward us out of the Jordan. While these gospel events obviously happen long after the Nativity, John’s message strikes just the right note for our run-up to Christmas: Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
This year the call is more timely than ever. For many, this year the season of expectation is also a time of dread. As stunned spectators to the wave of terror sweeping the world, we have seen the price of being unprepared. We know from long experience that life is full of surprises. But somehow events keep shocking us. We become disoriented, frightened and angry. We cast about for guidance… for security… for leadership. As struggling believers, we turn to God and ask: How can you permit this to happen?
As we will see as Luke’s gospel unfolds in the coming year, Jesus did not come here to create heaven on earth. He was here for a short stay and a specific purpose. And so are we. Jesus came to sacrifice for our salvation… not to move in with us and let the good times roll. In the life and death of Christ we see that God does not create evil, but he permits it to happen. It is the fire that tests the temper of our souls.
Jesus was no stranger to terror. He was kidnapped, tortured and murdered behind a fog of phony justice. As Christians we work to ameliorate human suffering, knowing we will never eliminate it. To be human is to suffer. That is no surprise. What is surprising is what we are called to do with our suffering… giving it to God as an act of faith… enduring it with confidence as an act of hope… uniting it with Christ as an act of love.
This year the call of The Baptist comes to us while an ominous threat of terror incongruously overlays the annual orgy of shop til you drop. Yet John is up to the challenge. With the single exception of Jesus, he is arguably the most outspoken figure we meet in the gospels. He may have lived on honey, but he doesn’t sugar-coat his words. And those words apply equally in times of terror as in times of peace and prosperity. The problem is that too often we don’t take them seriously under any conditions.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord: The words are not a sweet seasonal sentiment. They are marching orders for a lifetime of service to God and neighbor. So like people who live at the foot of a volcano, we must be prepared… recognizing the signs God is giving us… living in constant awareness that we are here for only one reason. And it’s not to destroy our enemies or to get the most stuff. We are here to prepare the way of the Lord… to build his kingdom… to actively love and serve him, wherever that takes us.
It would be very tidy to put a big rhetorical bow on these reflections, to wrap them up with a ringing call to heed John’s warning. Case closed. But we know better, and so does God. It’s a good bet that few of us are great saints or great sinners. It’s a safe bet that too many of us are spiritually slouching along. Sure, we know we should prepare the way of the Lord, but we’ve got a few really important things to do first. Like everyone who has ever been caught unprepared, we’ll get around to it sometime.
Make this Advent different. Every day, let’s turn our vague intentions into a single, deliberate act of love. God knows and loves us in our fears and foolishness as well as in our courage and goodness. Give it all to him. For every inch we move towards him, he will come a mile. Let’s sweep aside the junk that litters the way of the Lord. One act of kindness, one act of forgiveness, one moment of devotion at a time…prepare for a Christmas of living and sharing the love of Christ. That is the way of the Lord. Prepare ye!
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.