The long litany of Sundays after Pentecost is almost over and with it the beginning of Advent will be soon upon us. Almost too quickly, it seems, as we realize this means we are already nearing Christmas, whether or not we are ready. And with Advent comes that familiar cry from John the Baptist, proclaiming that we need to prepare for the coming of the Lord because He is coming, whether or not we are ready.
Many years ago, I began a habit of listening to a favorite CD recording of Handel’s Messiah each year at around the beginning of Advent. As you may know, the Messiah opens with several short pieces with words taken from the fortieth chapter of Isaiah in the King James Bible that include the following familiar words:
“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
“Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain.
“And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
What does it really mean to prepare the way of the Lord? Surely it has nothing to do with whether we’ve completed our shopping, made our travel plans, or planned our Christmas Day menu. Does it mean that we need to prepare a place in our heart for Jesus? And what exactly does that mean?
I think that most of us know that preparing for the coming of the Lord is more about a spiritual preparedness, and maybe that scares us a little. Am I really any more ready now than I was a year ago? Because sometimes it’s hard to point to what’s changed from last year, and from all the years before that as well, when we were also told to prepare. After all this time, are really prepared at last, this year? Can we ever be prepared enough?
For me, Advent is a time, like Lent, to consciously pause and conduct a spiritual self-inventory. It goes something like this:
How would I describe my spiritual life?
Has my spiritual life changed in any way since last year?
Have my beliefs changed or evolved during the past year?
Have my actions kept pace with my beliefs?
Have I started a new spiritual discipline? There are many disciplines from which to choose, including regular prayer, spiritual reading, fasting, and performing works of charity, to name but a few.
Am I the person I really want to be? What would I have to do in order to be more like the person I really want to be?
It can be quite challenging, really, to take on a new discipline and then stick with it. Even getting up 15 minutes earlier than normal on a daily basis for silent prayer can be as challenging for some as it is for others to go to the gym on a regular basis. So maybe there’s an existing ministry at St. Luke’s that is right for you? Some ministry that you’ve thought about joining, or some activity you’ve meant to take part in, but you never got around to taking that first step?
Maybe some of you will be motivated to take your own spiritual self-inventory. And should you choose to take on a new discipline this Advent, there are so many from which to choose, whether at St. Luke’s or on your own, that there’s bound to be one to fit your schedule. Whichever you may choose, what’s important is to keep Jesus at the center of whatever we do, because when we take on a new discipline, we are making more room in our heart for Jesus. The apostles learned that they could do nothing without Jesus, but with Jesus, everything was possible.
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, recently said that “If Jesus isn’t at the centre of the church, we are simply Rotary with a pointy roof.”
Instead of letting ourselves be pushed and pulled through Advent so that it’s Christmas before we know it, let’s stop and consider this for a moment. The prophet is crying in the wilderness. Are we prepared?