Tag Archives: Advent

We Wait for Messiah

4     Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5     Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:4-5

A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollRepent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Matthew 3:2 and Matthew 4:17

Each verse referenced above records the same statement made by two different individuals. Who were they?

What did John the Baptist mean when he claimed that the Kingdom of Heaven was near?

What did Jesus mean when he claimed that the Kingdom of Heaven was near?

Why did both mean say that the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven called for repentance? How does this truth inform our celebration of Advent as a penitential season?

How do you know that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near?

Preparing the Way

Today’s Readings:  Malachi 3:1-4     Luke 1:68-79     Philippians 1:3-11     Luke 3:1-6 

When I was a little girl, I loved to have company. I loved using the “good” china and the “company” glasses. I loved the fuss and the sights, smells and sounds of getting ready for people to come to our house for Christmas. I was not usually involved in the planning, so as we were bustling about, I had to ask, “Who’s coming?” When Uncle Walt and Aunt Viv came by themselves, it was easier to get ready than if there would be grandparents, other aunts and uncles, and perhaps a neighbor. The number and names of the guests determined what sort of preparation was appropriate.

The arrival of Christ required very specific preparation, and God gave that task to a specific person, designated for the task before he was born. Advocates of abortion on demand speak of the “products of conception” as if they were a bag of marbles rather than a person. In the story of John the Baptist, the Bible reveals that the “products of conception” are not random cells to God. John the Baptist, chosen before he was ever born to prepare the way for Christ, was known by God from the moment of conception. The contents of Elizabeth’s uterus were not subject to her “right to choose,” because God had a plan for that baby. The nine-month gestation of John the Baptist was part of John’s preparation to be the fulfillment of God’s plans for the arrival of the Christ. God knew, Malachi knew, John’s father Zechariah knew, and even John himself knew, as evidenced by his response in the womb to the arrival of Christ’s mother.

What did John do to prepare the way for Christ?

Isaiah had said he would make rough places smooth and crooked places straight. How did he do that?

He warned people that God was about to be unleashed on earth. In John’s fiery sermons people had a foretaste of the searing light of Christ flashing into the dark corners of the human spirit that fake religiosity had covered up. In John’s admonitions, people were forewarned that God was tired of empty ritual and ceremony that diverted attention from self-worship manifested in oppressive and dismissive cultural practices. John stirred people’s hearts and made them ask, “What should we do?” as the people in Jerusalem would later ask on Pentecost. In response, he offered them baptism in water, even as he prepared them for the baptism of fire that would come on Pentecost.

During the Advent season, we try to enter into a spirit of waiting and experience what it would be like to be waiting for the Messiah. We try to enter into the crowd listening to John the Baptist, and we try to anticipate Christ’s coming along with them. This is good preparation for us to help us understand what it is like for the people in the world around us who do not know Jesus. We need to understand and love them, even when they pick on us for making a big deal out of Christmas. Some will refuse to say, “Merry Christmas,” because they don’t want to pretend to believe in Christ. Instead of being angry that they are making a “war on Christmas” we need to think how it would be not to know Christ. Why would you celebrate Christmas at all if you didn’t know Christ? No wonder they just want to call it “The Holidays.”

Most of us prepare for Christmas by seeking out an opportunity to do something kind for the poor or the sick. We give food or we give money to buy food. We buy an extra jacket or pair of shoes and take it to a shelter. We put money in the Salvation Army kettle. We take an angel from the tree at church and buy gifts for a prisoner’s child. These are all good things to do, and these are kindnesses that Christ blesses in his service, but the truth is that anybody can do these things. Many people who not only don’t believe in Christ but who actually campaign to shut down the message of Christ still do kind deeds at Christmas or at other times.

We who are preparing for the arrival of the Christ-child need to do something at Christmas that only a Christian can do. We need to be ready to share Christ with every heart God is now preparing to hear this Word. When we are in the store and elbow to elbow with other frantic shoppers, if there is a conflict or a confrontation, we need to share Christ. Everybody can share food, but only a Christian can share Christ. These days, when everybody is stressed out, I say, “The peace of Christ be with you,” as I take my receipt from the cashier in any store. I count on God to have prepared the hearts who will hear the words I say, and I count on God to carry those words to the ears that need to hear them. I may also say “Merry Christmas!” but you know and I know that those words are not a testimony to Christ’s saving power. They have become a social mantra that many people say with no testimony intended. Before I go shopping I prepare to do something for the people I meet that only a Christian can do.

What is God preparing you to do for Christ this Christmas? You are unique. Just like John the Baptist, God knew your name before you were born, too. God already had plans for you before you said your first word, and he has been preparing you all your life for the fulfillment of the gifts and talents that are uniquely yours. You can do something in service for Christ that no other person can ever do. As you think about preparing for Christmas this year, think about what God is preparing you to do. Ask God for a sensitive spirit to hear his call and to do his work as the opportunity comes your way. Be yourself. Be completely and uniquely you. Don’t fret over what anyone else can do. Simply speak the words or give the gift or touch the heart that is your unique mission. Just as John the Baptist faithfully served God by doing what God had prepared him to do, respond to what God is preparing you to do in a world that needs Christ more than it needs a merry Christmas.


What Are We Waiting For?

Advent is a time of waiting for Christ to come. We wait for the birth of a baby, and we wait for the return of Christ the King.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. Everybody hates waiting. When the line is long at the checkout, when the automated attendant repeats in my ear that “your call is important to us,” when I get a migraine and take the medicine and need to wait for it to take effect, I don’t like the waiting part. Children don’t like waiting for permission to open Christmas presents. We all feel both excited and frustrated by all the expectations of the season.

Advent is not about that kind of waiting. During this season we live out the admonition in Psalm 62 to “wait on the Lord.” Whether we focus on the Christ child in the manger or the victorious King of Kings, we are not simply passing time until the clock runs out. Advent waiting is work, in the same sense that the liturgy is the work of the people.

Waiting on the Lord is about paying attention, for one thing. Most of our waiting strategies involve finding a way not to pay attention to the passage of time. On the one hand, we are fervently focused on an image of the fulfillment of our wait, but on the other hand, we don’t even want to think about it. We hope to distract ourselves from the important moment until it actually happens. Otherwise the excitement gives way to frustration and maybe even boredom and discontent. Waiting to board a flight turns into waiting to board a delayed flight and graduates from annoyance to vexation to outrage. This is not Advent waiting. These are not the characteristics of Advent waiting.

To “wait on the Lord” invites contemplation of our God and his many promises, and during Advent we focus our attention on the way Christ the baby and Christ the King are the fulfillment of all those promises. The baby was fulfillment just as certainly as the King will be the fulfillment. Advent sets us squarely on the boundary between “already” and “not yet.” How do we keep our balance on this cosmic knife-edge?

The answer, I believe, is to ask what changes when Christ comes. What difference does it make that the baby was born? What difference will it make when Christ returns to reign over a new heaven and a new earth? The answer to those questions is the answer to what we do while we wait. Instead of simply trying not to fixate on our expectations and anticipation, we have work to do.

Because the Christ child was born, while waiting in a long line that never seems to move, we speak words of grace and love to those around us, pouring peace out in the midst of the chaos and frustration. Because the King is coming, we see Christ in the poor and the sick, and we give our time and money to serve them. Because the Christ child was born, we invite a lonely neighbor with no one coming for Christmas to join in our family feasting and celebration. Because the King is coming, we speak out at the neighborhood association meeting in defense of an elderly neighbor who can no longer keep up the landscaping standards and lead the group to find a way to help rather than harm this neighbor.

There is so much to do to get ready for the Christ child and the King that we should all find ourselves too busy to fret about waiting for anything. To “wait on the Lord” will keep us quite busy until the fulfillment of all our anticipation. At the right time, Christ will be born in Bethlehem. When the time is right, the King will stand with one foot on land and one foot on the sea and all eyes will turn to him in homage and praise. But right now, the question is, what are we waiting for? We shouldn’t be standing around looking down the road or up in the sky; we should be busy “waiting” on the Lord.

Advent waiting is waiting on the Lord. That is what we are waiting for.