Disclaimer: I am not a theologian. I am not a candidate for a bachelor's degree in Biblical and Theological Studies. I am not, despite my high hopes, an intellectual prodigy in the realm of living faithfully. But this year, on this blog, and perhaps for years to come on this blog, I would like to offer you a few thoughts for each week of Advent, the time of preparation and waiting before the celebration of Christ's birth.
Upon our arrival to the Second Sunday of Advent I have been wondering about the prophets, those who speak of promises that they know they will not see fulfilled in their lifetime. The prophet must be an incredibly hopeful sort of person, because to preach the coming of the Lord with conviction, with certainty, with faith, requires hope in the person of God. A prophet must trust in God's very character, because if God is not all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, then the foundation for proclamations of His triumph, His coming, His entrance into the world will shake.
Who are such people? I ask myself. Who does God choose (or ask, or both) to carry that message forward? John the Baptist cries in the wilderness, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord!" and I cannot help but wonder if there are still those brave people who will cry out to make preparation, who will cry, as Isaiah did,
"Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins. A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40.1-5)
Who are these prophets? Who speaks these words to us now? I always imagine the prophets as a star lineup, God's very best first string players. I imagine Him commissioning a special kind of virtue upon them, on giving them beautiful words and even more beautiful glimpses of Himself. I imagine, in my moments of desiring no responsibility, that all I must do is sit passively in my pew and accept Jesus. I am not one of the proclaimers of the good news, I'm simply one of those who receives it.
The trouble is, of course, that the particular good news of the Gospel is not like other good news. It does not sit dormant in your mind waiting to be filed away under, "Interesting Things I Heard on Dec. 5." If it enters your heart, and you acknowledge its existence, its truth, and its life... all bets are off. Suddenly, you are a pathway for God's radiance into the world. You are a proclaimer because this Good News, the news of the Incarnation, lives by proclamation, by being radiated outwards.
I don't mean that we are all necessarily wordsmiths who must write books, blog posts and go on extensive evangelism trips to preach the news. All those are undoubtedly important ways by which we allow God himself to radiate from us the Good News. But when John the Baptist says "prepare ye the way of the Lord," he means more than simply lay palm branches on the road. He means more than ironing out some troubles in Jerusalem's banking or Israel's worship practices. Prepare ye the way of the Lord is also about preparing our own hearts, for the news being proclaimed is news we ourselves will carry with us, for we will carry Christ Himself with us. Prepare me, the way, Lord: make the paths of my heart straight for you, make the will of my selfish soul bend to yours, clean the windows of my heart so that You may be visible to those who peer inside. Prepare me, the way.
So we are not all Isaiah this morning as we shuffle to church, to coffee, or to lunches and paper writings. We may not all have words about God to proclaim to others. But if we believe the Incarnation occurs in our hearts each moment, that Christ dwells with us in the actual, living presence of His Holy Spirit in our hearts, then we are all prophets preaching the good news of the arrival of Christ. We are all proclaiming that God is coming, that He has come, that His promises are trustworthy.
Prepare me, the way, O Lord, and let my heart radiate the good news of Your indwelling Spirit.
Second Sunday of Advent
Merciful God, who sent thy messengers the prophets to
preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our
Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(From the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Tradition, 1979 edition)