When you have 4 children, it feels like you are always getting ready for something. Getting myself ready for work. Getting the kids ready for school. Making sure the youngest can find his shoes. Making sure that the kids have coats on before we go outside. Getting ready for basketball practice or cheer practice. Always getting ready. Add in some holiday preparation and it seems like life is in full-blown chaos mode. Surely I’m not the only one, right?
It really isn’t fair to place all the blame on the kiddos. I probably make 3-4 trips back between the house and the car every morning before I leave for work. I’ll start to turn around in my driveway and realize I forgot my work bag or more importantly, my coffee. What’s really bad is when I get anxious over trying to remember if I took my anxiety medication. Man, this whole getting ready thing is for the birds!
So what does it mean to get ready for Advent, for the coming of Christ? In my background, that usually meant a revival service, an evangelist preaching on the “end times” and a full altar call. While I’m not sure that’s an inherently bad thing, I’m also not sure that’s a full picture of getting prepared for Jesus. To be frank with you, this idea of preparation is one I’d rather gloss over. But I think there is some value for us to dig down into this idea of being ready for the Lord.
In Isaiah 40:3-4, the prophet writes, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.’” Just as an aside, I wonder if these are the theme verses for the state highway department.
The voice in the wilderness is describing people getting ready to meet God. Because God is holy, all who meet him need to be holy. So this person is encouraging people to make provision for the time when all people will meet the Lord. He uses the analogy of constructing a royal road. Before a King or high official would come through, an advance party would make sure the road was free of obstacles, that any low places were filled in, and that there were no uneven grades of travel. Pre-modern heavy equipment operators and civil engineers if you like.
Now we know that God cannot be hindered physically. No tree across the road is going to stop his progress, and no pot-hole is going to make him detour. So what or who is this referring to? Matthew, one of the 12 and a writer of a Gospel account tells us that it was referring to John the Baptist (Full discloser, I prefer to call him John the Baptizer because it’s a more accurate rendering of the original and we might get confused thinking he was a Baptist in the modern usage, he was not.).
John was in the wilderness, the desert, preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” See, he’s not preparing a road for the King to traverse as he is preparing the people for the arrival of the King. Now many of us know the story of John and his own miraculous birth, which we will get into later, but how is his ministry applicable to us today?
I mean, if Jesus has already come, if he has already died and risen, what, if any, need is there for John’s message of preparation? Especially if we have accepted Christ, made him our master and Savior, what need do we have of preparing? I can easily see some of my Christian friends thinking that because they are “saved”, they have no need for this preparation nonsense. And in some respect they are right. One doesn’t need to go through Advent, or any preparation, to follow Christ, as long as they have a sincere conviction and repentant heart.
At the same time, while I know that I am “born again” and that I am following Christ, I also know that sometimes I stumble and sin. No, thankfully because of Christ, I don’t need to go through a ritual of confession or start the salvation journey all over again, I am still the Father’s child. But it’s as if I have placed a stumbling block before myself. For my sin dampers the fellowship I have with God.
Now maybe you don’t have any un-repented-of sin in your life. It’s been ages since you last swore at the person who took your parking space and at least 6 months since you last contemplated smothering your spouse with a pillow as they snored. Progress is good. But maybe in your heart, you are harboring some bitterness. Some anger. Some unforgiveness towards someone who did you or a loved one wrong. John would tell us to rid ourselves of harmful emotions. I think he would warn us that bitterness is robbing us of true joy this Christmas.
So yes, Advent, waiting, and preparation can be very beneficial to us as followers of Christ. It’s like the time of reflection before taking the Lord’s Supper. It’s the daily examination of our spiritual journey. It’s the time of preparing our hearts to daily do our Master’s will. This is one “getting ready” that is worth it!