“Are you ready for Christmas?” It’s a question you will hear over and over for the next few weeks until it becomes as annoying as an off-key caroler. As the words run through your mind’s background translation app, you will begin to hear, “Have you decorated your house, mailed your cards and finished all your shopping yet?” And you, too, will ask, hoping against hope that the other person answers, “I haven’t even started yet.” Then, like the insane love-child of Martha Stewart and Santa Claus, you’ll scamper off to soothe your anxiety with more baking, more buying, more doing. Guilt and greed threaten to overtake comfort and joy as the iconic emotions of the season. But who am I kidding? That happened years ago. Welcome to Advent.
Advent means “coming” in Latin, signifying the momentous arrival of an important person or event. It also implies a season of preparation for that appearance. It is a word uniquely associated with Christmas, marking a month of Sundays before December 25th. This year Advent begins on November 30th, which may come as a surprise to you since Walmart started stocking tinsel in August. Nevertheless, this short month is the time we set aside for our spiritual preparation for the second most important date on the church calendar. Let us, therefore, consider one of the Scriptures traditionally read in anticipation of the coming of the baby Christ:
A voice of one calling:
“In the desert prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5 (NIV)
This passage, which is repeated in various forms and places in Scripture, signals the renewal of God’s Kingdom on earth, heralded by His messengers, His forerunners. John the Baptist is described as such a voice, preparing the people of 2000 years ago for the first coming of Jesus. We now await His second coming, but it is not too much to say that we practice our preparation each December, preparing to remember His previous visit. What, then, can we take from this short call to arms?
- Repentance. Every crooked way must be straightened. This is the time to confront pride, unforgiveness, meanness, vulgarity, vice and just plain selfishness in our own hearts. Jesus comes to a humble place, not the home of lofty nobles who have put on their best face, but to the quiet darkness of a peasant stable, a place that is honest and unpretentious. Let us remake our hearts into such a place as we wait for Him.
- Opportunity. We are told to build a highway for our God. He shouldn’t have to step over obstacles to get to us. We should give Him a wide path into our souls. That means clearing the debris of too many activities and chores, and creating abundant opportunities for Him to reach us. It’s a great time of year to be in church each week, to read an Advent devotional, to listen for His voice in the music around us, to read, tell or perform the story of the nativity and to renew our wonder in the Gospel.
- Invitation. Our God issues an invitation to the world when He appears. His appearance in us should be invitational, as well. Whether you ask a neighbor to your Christmas Eve service, volunteer at a local shelter or sing carols in the mall, sharing what you have with others will probably be the most Christmas-y thing you do this season. We are meant to be vessels of glory and grace, that mankind may know God’s beauty.
So this year, when people ask, “Are you ready for Christmas?” maybe you could try answering with a smile, “God is welcome in my heart, so, yes, I think so. What about you?” Forget about the tasks, the expectations and the guilt for a minute. Instead, prepare your soul to celebrate the coming of the Baby who paid your debt and bought your freedom. Pave a highway through the world fit for a King. Welcome to Advent.