Prepare The Way of The Lord
Perhaps some of you watched the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in the early fifties on TV. You may have missed this aspect of it – just before the service in Westminster Abbey, right after the congregation was seated, there suddenly appeared a whole squad of workers with brushes and vacuum cleaners who proceeded to clean the carpets so that they would be immaculate for the coming of the queen. Any trace of dirt carried in by the congregation would be removed. It sounds a little too much for us, but for the British, it was quite natural. The way of royalty must be prepared carefully.
In ancient times, when kings traveled, their servants would precede them filling holes in and smoothing the road. For the Christian, the 4 weeks before Christmas is the season of Advent – a time of preparation. We are called to prepare for the coming of Christ. Surely, this is more important than the coming of any earthly ruler.
Obviously, Christ is not born physically each Christmas. There is a permanent mark in history when his physical birth occurred. It happened about 2000 years ago, about 63 generations ago. However, the Christian faith affirms his coming again and again. Advent calls us not only to recall his coming in the flesh, but also his coming in the spirit. This sort of birth requires a special preparation.
Let us think together how we should be preparing for his coming. First, we should center, focus, concentrate our attention on Him. We are such creatures of habit, that if we do not set our mind on a particular course,
It will be set for us. The affect on us is for the benefit of others, not necessarily for our own benefit.
We are affected by advertising whether we think it’s stupid or not; if we were not, companies would not spend millions on it. Now if we do not have a course of action, a center of attention, what do you think a magazine for example, during the Christmas season would aim us toward? This one from Time Magazine years ago, in just one issue (roll out display) had over 50 liquor ads. You have a mind; use it during advent to keep your thoughts and actions Christ centered.
If you ever lived on a farm, then you know more about hens and eggs than I do; but as I understand it, before they developed artificial incubation, they depended on hens to sit on the eggs in order that they might hatch. If there were too many eggs in a nest, and they were not all covered by the hen, the uncovered ones would not hatch. In fact, it took a special kind of hen, a persistent one, one that would stay with the eggs and not run off or be easily scared off the nest.
You know we need the same sort of persistence. Christ’s spirit can never be brought to birth in our lives as long as we keep him at the periphery of our living. We must brood long enough and regularly enough over the meaning of his life and death and triumph until we have the mind of Christ, until his character and disposition come alive in us.
So first, we must focus our attention On Jesus. Second, in our advent preparation we must heed the call of John the Baptist. John prepared the way of the Lord by calling his followers to repentance for the forgiveness of sin. John said, “His sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
John realized that this need for repentance and forgiveness was part of preparing for the coming of the Lord. Malachi asks, “who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire…”
Samuel Miller, once Dean of Harvard Divinity School, makes a clear comparison when we are placed along side of Christ. “He was courageous, we are cautious. He trusted the untrustworthy, we trust those who have good collateral. He forgave the unforgiveable, we forgive those who do not truly hurt us. He was righteous and laughed at respectability, we are respectable and smile at righteousness. He was meek, we are ambitious. He saved others, we save ourselves as much as we can. He had no place to lay his head, and did not worry about it, while we fret because we do not have the last convenience manufactured by clever science. He did what he believed to be right regardless of the consequences, while we determine what is right by how it will affect us. He feared God, but not the world. We fear public opinion more than we fear the judgment of God. He risked everything for God, we make religion a refuge from every risk. He took up the cross, we neither take it up nor lay it down, but merely let it stand.”
Yes, when Jesus confronts us, it is an embarrassment. Yet, he comes with love and forgiveness. We dare not presume on his goodness and grace. This Advent, let us be busy with reexamining our lives, with mending our relationships – both human and divine. John the Baptist’s call to repentance and forgiveness is still valid.
There is one more essential if Advent is to thoroughly prepare us for Christ’s coming. We must have a sense of anticipation, a sense of expectancy during these weeks. How often Jesus made this point. The one who seeks finds, the one who knocks will find doors unsealed. He told of servants which were prepared, for they remained watchful for their master on his return journey. The rule seems to be that if nothing ever happens in our spiritual lives it is because we never expect anything to happen.
Yes, those who seek Him, find Him. And the good news is that those who find Him find themselves, they become a somebody instead of a nobody.
Don’t we all long for communication with others be it verbal or letters or e-mail? We do, for without it we have no relationships with others, and without others we are lost; we are nothing; we hardly exist. Without others we don’t know who we are, for we have no identity except in reference to our fellows. I identify myself as the son of these persons, the father of these persons, the husband of this women, the pastor of these people and so on. And you can identify yourself in a similar way. Even the hermit identifies himself by the people from whom he has fled. You heard about the hermit who lived outside a city and woke up one morning and found the city missing. He had to find another city to live outside of.
Yes, we yearn for relationships so that we can be established as persons. If wholesome personal relationships are hard with persons we see, how much harder it must be for a relationship with God we do not see. So we long for some word from God that says “God is” – A word that tells us we are not alone in this universe. It is just at this point that the Gospel, the Good News is relevant to us. The Word has been and is being spoken to us in Christ. No longer need we see the world as an impersonal accident of moving atoms. The Ultimate One we now can call Abba, Father. For in Christ, The word became flesh and dwelt among us. In him was life, and that life was the light of men and women and children. And it was not to those who merely learned about him, but it was to those who received him and still receive him that he gave power to become children of God. There we have it; that is our true identity. We are children of God and that makes us the most real persons in the world.
In a play, “The Desperate Hours,” by Joseph Hayes, the story is told of an escaped bandit who keeps a family prisoners in their home. He holds a 10-year old boy in front of him as a shield. Unknown to anyone else, the father of the family has managed to get at the bandit’s two guns several hours prior to this moment. He had unloaded one and had taken the other one for himself. The father now stands across the room from the bandit. The bandit holds the son as a shield. Only the father knows the convict’s gun is unloaded, and that everything will be alright if the boy pulls away from his captor. The father shouts, “Pull away son; he can’t hut you.” The convict challenges him: “Try it and see.” The father responds: It has no bullets in it; run.” The boy does so, and the bandit’s gun clicks helplessly without power to enslave any longer.
It is just that kind of setting-one-free” that God does for us in the gift of Christ. In the experience of a new Christmas we find the gift and the giver are one. His coming anew to us identifies us as persons, persons now set free from all that enslaves and dehumanizes. We know who we are because we know whose we are.
Do you really want a meaningful Christmas? Then focus yourself on Jesus Christ, be busy with some of the about faces that repentance demands – mending those strained and broken relationships, and finally anticipate that Jesus will actually come into your life and be born anew in you – setting you free to minister in his name.