We hear a lot about preparations during the season of Advent. Many people prepare for Christmas Day by trimming the tree, shopping, wrapping presents and throwing parties. I knew a pastor who dreaded the holidays as a kid because his mother would make him scrub the baseboards before family arrived. I’m sure there’s a dog smell in my house, but I’m used to it. So if we have folks over during this time, I’ll dust the carpet with deodorizer before I vacuum. Nothing like the fragrance of Shih Tzu and Hawaiian Breeze to ring in the holidays!
If you’re the religious type, there are plenty of websites that will encourage you to spiritually prepare during Advent by doing this or doing that. Read a good devotional, light candles, give to charity, set up a Nativity scene (with the Wise Men absent until Epiphany, of course).
Are we missing the bigger point here? Isaiah cried out, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). In ancient times, a journeying king dispatched slaves ahead of him to level high places and remove obstacles so his entourage could travel in glory and comfort.
Advent is mainly a time to purge instead of perform, to “get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely.” As Richard Rohr wrote in Preparing for Christmas, “When people say piously, ‘Thy kingdom come’ out of one side of their mouth, they need also to say, ‘My kingdom go!’ out of the other side.”
I am all for spiritual disciplines if they help us to shed those things that keep us from a fuller relationship with God. But pious practices don’t guarantee that our inner landscapes will be cleared for the coming of the Lord. It is a relatively easy thing to go through religious motions. You can regularly attend church, drop a goodly sum in the plate and chair the annual canned goods drive, yet still harbor mountains of pride, jealousy, fear, bitterness.
Some people might consider it easier to blast through mountains than tunnel through the rocks of their own independence and self-righteousness. But it is the only way that we can clear a heart-road for the King to journey on.
“Prepare ye the way!”
Photo courtesy of rehodnett22 via flickr