This is indeed a busy time of the year. For believers, it is more so I suspect as we attempt to meet our secular obligations of tree and gifts, parties and food, all the while being mindful of it’s religious significance.
Indeed, Advent is the new year of the Church, a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord and the necessary waiting that that too entails.
What exactly does it mean to prepare for the coming of the Lord? A couple of our readings from today’s liturgy points to a conclusion. In Malachi 3:1-4 we learn that God will send his angel to “prepare the way.” We will be refined like gold and silver. It suggests that we should be participating in this preparation so that our refining will not be long and painful.
Similarly, in Luke 3:1-6, John the Baptist warns us to prepare the way of the Lord and to make his roads straight and make the rough smooth. We are to engage both singularly and in community in an effort to make the “Way” easy for all.
What exactly constitutes preparing the way? It is a difficult question, and undoubtedly elicits many responses and there may be more than one which is correct. But it seems to me, that one thing we might do as believers is to engage in a process that we usually leave to Lent–namely that of self-examination. This may well lead to repentance, but can also and more productively lead to changes in faith life that in fact prepare for the coming.
I can think of three areas that we might concentrate.
I was reading yesterday about the disciples who were walking to Emmaus when they met the risen Lord. They did not however “see” him as such. Only later, in the breaking of the bread did they do so. It has been suggested that they failed to recognize the Lord on the road because their knowledge of Christ didn’t include this possibility. Their knowledge was faulty, and thus they were unable to perceive his presence with them. In the familiarity of the breaking of the bread, they immediately knew him.
What does this suggest?
Well to me, it suggests that we should never feel satisfied that we “understand” God or his teachings. We are and should ever more be, learners and seekers of knowledge. If we have knowledge, we should seek better knowledge. We should always be challenging ourselves and our information.
For me, this always entails reading against my comfort. I purposefully read the fringes a lot, both in Christianity and elsewhere. I listen carefully to the arguments advanced by atheists and those who profess Christian beliefs much different from my own. I test my beliefs against those. If my beliefs are correct or more correct, then surely they will withstand the comparison. If not, they should surely fade away.
So for me, the first thing I ask myself, is: am I challenging my preconceived notions about God and Jesus, about his message and methodology? It may surprise some to hear me say that not everything a fundamentalist has to say to me is wrong by my estimation. I have read commentaries on the bible that were fundamentalist in nature and surely I have agreed with some of their statements on some things. It’s just that overall, I consider this method of interpretation to lead to false conclusions, and frankly too much of the rest is childish and simplistic. But there is truth to be found here. And it is important to stretch ourselves always.
The second thing I ask myself is what am I doing in my prayer life and how should that be altered? Am I going through the motions? Am I praying at all? Am I praying thoughtfully? Am I taking the time to do so in a manner that is reverential and not just “oh I’m stuck here in this grocery line. A good time to cross off “prayers” on my to do list.” Are my prayers centered on me or on others and the world? Am I asking that things be my way, or the way best and most likely to be of benefit to the greatest number?
Third, I think we all must ask whether our church is aiding us in our preparation? Is it encouraging our questions and searching or is it regurgitating a set of dogmatic statements that we are to adhere to ? Does it uphold our struggles with our wildernesses and our Emmaus times? Does it honor our “heretical” thoughts as we examine in all honesty exactly what Jesus means to us personally? In other words, is it a faithful partner or the Boss?
I think that question is important, since a church that is steeped in rigid dogma may not be helpful in our pushing out at the edges. It may squelch or try to even gently dissuade us from challenging our beliefs in order to better know our Lord. As I said, nothing is lost from truth, it will out. If we have it, it is surely strong enough to remain standing after our questions.
So I suggest to you that indeed, we have much preparation to do in the coming short weeks. The Lord awaits us with anticipation as we travel the road to Christmas morning. Let us do our best to see him clearly and with honest love, and a deep appreciation of his teachings.
Lord give me the wisdom to see you clearly and to discern truth first. Let my desires of what I want you to be, be tempered with the realization that the truth of you is always better than making me feel comfortable. And let me then, Lord, speak that truth to others in loving compassion for all. Amen.