Preparing for great events is both exciting and exhausting. It takes time, it takes, energy, it takes resources. But we expend these precious commodities because we deem them to be given so that a worthy event will be properly celebrated.
Today’s Advent texts are Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-79, and Luke 3:1-6. Preparation figures prominently in them; but there is ample reason for which to do the admittedly hard work preparation entails: Christ is coming. And it is the coming that these thoughts are about.
Advent is about Christ’s second coming more than it is about remembering His first appearance, the one sometimes romanticized and, dare I say it, juvenalized. We make it oh, so nice, with our songs and pageants and other sentimentalized observances of what really must have been a harrowing experience for Mary and Joseph. For the rest of the world, from the perspective of the entire life of Jesus, perhaps reframing the birth isn’t so bad; it was a good thing, and what resulted from it is beautiful, and it is for the good of all people, young and old alike.
But we are not preparing for the birth of Jesus, except perhaps in a metaphorical way as we encourage a rebirth within the hearts of people everywhere. Instead we remember the first coming as a guarantee of the second; assured that God’s initial promise of the Messiah was fulfilled at just the right time, and seeing what that coming has meant for the world and its history, we now look for his return to finish the new creation his first appearance made possible.
We need reminders to prepare. The world has become for many a dark place, where “peace on earth, good will toward men” (and all too often, especially toward women) is a cruel refrain. I am reminded of the U2 song of a few years ago, decrying these very words in light of mothers laying the bodies of their war-ravaged children in the ground. It’s too easy to sing the words of carols without thought; if we do it often enough, they will ring hollow, especially in the ears of those who experience most personally the lack of peace or good will. If we move ourselves toward better preparation, however, the perspective can change.
Preparation takes note of the reality of the world, according to which all that is required from God for salvation has been done; and also that all that is required from us in response is awaiting fulfillment. He will come; but when He does, will He find faith on earth? Not bare belief, but faith. Faith that “has no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay,” comes not easily. It demands the investment of our selves into the word and work of Christ. It joins with him, the one came that we might have life to the full–not just for ourselves, but for all.
Preparing for his coming means assuming the ways and the desires of the one we await. Freeing captives, helping others to see, preaching good news to the poor and down-trodden—all the things we somehow know we should be doing, but do them not. So it’s time to repent, to change; it’s time to prepare in a different way.