Shopping these days feels like sensory overload. We’re bombarded with messages: Your home can be the best with these trees, ornaments, garlands, and nicknacks. Here’s the present for you. Get ready—Christmas is coming! December and year round, our culture tells us to look good and to have the right stuff. That what we have and how we look determines who we are.
We want to have our living spaces in order before anyone comes over. Don’t drop by because it—and I—might not be together. This is hard for me. I have always strived to keep my rooms organized with my loose ends and junk nicely hidden under the bed, in the closet, or under carefully draped fabric.
While it may not be an orderly space, what’s particularly important to your presenting image? We’re taught to consider what we wear, the stuff we own, the people we know, the places we’ve been, and what we have done. We consider what we let others see and for what they don’t see. Get ready—someone is looking at us!
In our Gospel text, someone is coming. God comes to John in the wilderness: not a fun place out in nature, but a harsh land where few people go. John looks odd, dressed in camel’s hair eating locusts and honey as Matthew and Mark tell us. An odd man in an odd place, and lots of people came from all around the region. John is not fancy nor fashionable, but many people listen and do what he invites. John is not the awaited guest; he points to Jesus. Get ready—God is coming!
John is part of the larger plan. Previous prophets, including Isaiah, told of John, a voice “crying out in the wilderness.” John did not pretend to be someone he was not, as we are prone to do. He took on the simple ascetic lifestyle of prophets before, enabling him to focus on his task. Despite crowds who come to hear and were baptized by him, John knew he was preparing the way for Jesus. “This is not about me. One far greater is coming. I’m not even worthy to untie his shoes.”[i]John pointed to Jesus, so that, as Isaiah said “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Salvation is Jesus who loves us when everything is revealed. Jesus loves though we try to portray ourselves as fully good and put together when we are broken and messy inside. God sees through our facades. God goes to absurd lengths to love us, inviting, forgiving, sending prophets to call us back. God invites radical honesty and letting ourselves be loved. Get ready—I want all of you!
To prepare the way of the Lord, John does not say to clean up the city, decorate a palace, or plan a parade. John doesn’t say dress to impress or make your presentable. John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Acknowledge what’s wrong, where you’ve made mistakes, how you’ve hit, hurt and hid. Baptism is death to illusions, to facades, to masks. Isaiah says: mountains and valleys will be leveled out. There will be a clear view. Nothing will hinder. All will walk on straight and smooth paths.
What’s gets in the way between you and God? What do you not want seen? What do you hide? Repent the prophets invite. Admit pride, lust, desire for approval, neglect of others, the evil we have done and the evil done on our behalf.
Preparing the way means opening the door and letting God in to see us as we are. Not masked by new décor, not stuffing piles under the bed. Not putting on the masks of being all put together. Invite God into the honest messiness of our hearts.
This Advent, hear the prophets’ call. The host, indeed the guest, of heaven is coming to us. Christmas is coming. God is coming, saying: I want all of you. As one hymn puts it:
Fling wide the portals of your heart
Make it a temple set apart
From earthly use for heaven’s employ
Adorned with prayer, and love, and joy.
Redeemer, come! I open wide
My heart to Thee, here, Lord abide
Let me Thy inner presence feel
Thy grace and love in me reveal.[ii]
[ii]Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates” by Georg Wessel (1590-1635); tr. Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)
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