On the Second Sunday of Advent we lit the second candle on the Advent Wreath, the candle of Preparation, and read these verses from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark:
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
I love the way Mark starts his Gospel, basically saying: “Here’s the beginning of the good news about Jesus. It starts with this guy named John (well, really with Isaiah, but let’s start with John).” If John the Baptist (as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy) is the beginning of the good news, what he is doing—preparing the way—must be essential to the story. Last week we learned that Advent is literally about arrival—recognizing the coming of Christ into our lives, celebrating that God is with us, God’s kingdom is breaking in, and everything has changed. This week we recognize that Advent is also a time of preparation: Isaiah says, “Make straight paths for him,” but I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases John the Baptist’s words in The Message:
“Change your life. God’s kingdom is here. The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”
Advent is intended to be a season of preparation for Christ to come into our lives. But how do we prepare the way of the Lord? For me, it starts with preparing my own heart to receive the incredible gift of God’s presence.
For me, Advent is a time to pause, a time to rest and breathe, as I prepare for the possibility for God to do something new in my life. I think breathe is a perfect word to describe Advent, a perfect answer to how we prepare the way of the Lord. Breathing is a two-part process: we exhale (get rid of carbon dioxide) and we inhale (take in fresh oxygen). Advent is also a time to exhale and inhale—a time to set aside and to pick up. Set aside that which drags you out of the present (the life you are living right now in this moment), and get rid of what is hindering you and what is no good to you. Pick up that which has been rich and good and hope-filled in your life, and figure out how you are going to live out that goodness in today’s world, in your life right now, and as you go into the future.
In preparing to receive Christ anew in my life at Christmastime, here are some of the questions I have been asking myself: What do we need to cast aside and what do we need to hold onto? What should we be “exhaling” during this time of breathing in the season of Advent? What do we need to set aside? We don’t need to keep this baggage—let’s leave it and never look back. Who would you be without that old stuff? … And also what should we be “inhaling” in this season? What needs picking up? What surprise awaits our recognition? What do we need to change as we head into the future?
We are getting ready to give witness to the birth of Love in the world. The One who has come to us, God-With-Us in our daily lives, has something so much greater than anything we could put on our Amazon Wishlist. Christ has come to surprise us with his love for us—his redeeming, ever-present, never-broken love for us, a love that changes everything… What a surprise that would be to recognize it in our daily lives. What a loss that would be to miss it.
Author: Alicia McClintic