Advent is a time of preparation. We are invited to prepare the way for something new and unknown. When Kim and I were expecting our first child, we did not know exactly who or what we were expecting. We did not know what the child would look like, be like, or how it would change our lives. All we knew for sure was that nothing would ever be the same. Even with all we did not know, we still cleared space, a nursery, a place for this unknown child to become a part of our lives.
Advent is a time to prepare the way by becoming vulnerable and letting go of the things that take up too much room in our lives. We may not understand all we are preparing to receive, but we know the One who is coming brings us hope.
Yearning for What We Cannot Name
That is what makes the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist so interesting. They both yearn for something they cannot name. For Isaiah, it is the revealed glory of the Lord. For John, it is the one who will come after him, who is mightier than he. Neither of them knows any details.
John cannot even give his hearers a name to listen for. All that either one of them can proclaim is that the old ways of life are passing away and that new life is on its way. Without the luxury of details and with no concession to our need to know who or what is coming, they call us to prepare the way for that new life, to clear away anything that might get in its way, and to wait without knowing when it will come, or what it will look like, or how it will change our lives.
With that said, there is hope in making room for Jesus.
Read: Isaiah 40:3-8 and Mark 1:1-7
A voice is crying out: “Clear the LORD’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God! Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be flattened. Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain a valley plain. The LORD’s glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together; the LORD’s mouth has commanded it.”
A voice was saying: “Call out!” And another said, “What should I call out?” All flesh is grass; all its loyalty is like the flowers of the field. The grass dries up and the flower withers when the LORD’s breath blows on it. Surely the people are grass. The grass dries up; the flower withers, but our God’s word will exist forever. – Isaiah 40:3-8
The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah: “Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.’”
John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. 6 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals.” – Mark 1:1-7
A couple was expecting their second child. They looked in vain for a place in the house to create a nursery. After several lengthy discussions, they decided that the husband’s study would have to go. His library was divided up and moved into smaller bookshelves throughout the house. Even though he loved his library dearly, there was new life on the way, and the way had to be prepared.
Here is where we are in Advent. Whether we are expecting our own baby, the baby Jesus, or a grown-up Lord coming in great power and glory, we are called to prepare the way for new life. We are called to make room by letting go of our old ways, even our old loves, as painful as that might be. It is either we prepare the way for this new life or prepare ourselves for the news that we have been passed over because there is no room in us.
At the heart of the messages of Isaiah and John is the challenge to wait without clinging to our preferences and to receive what new life God has for us. Both tell us that what we are hanging onto fades, withers, and passes away. It is only when we stop clinging to what has become gods for us and stop looking to those things to save us, that we can receive who the living God brings to us. It is only when we are able to empty our hearts and wait without our preferences that there is room for God to bring himself to us.
What is surprising is how deceptive some of our preferences are. My guess is that any one of us can turn and walk away from a golden calf. We could toss our savings out the window if we believed our souls depended on it.
Those preferences are obvious, but what about our desire for independence? The belief that everything will be alright if we can just take care of ourselves and not have to ask anyone to help us. Or the romantic idea of friendship? The belief is that we can face anything in life if we just have one other person to love us the way we are, and to love in return. Or a variation on that one, the obsession with family. The idea of family is good, but the belief that our happiness and success is based upon surrounding ourselves with close and committed people who are just like us is not real.
The most deceptive preference of all is the belief we can worship the way we want, when we want, and who we want if we live good lives. Being good and doing good is what is needed to get into heaven.
What preferences can you name?
The list is long, health, friendship, patriotism, power, money. I know you want to say to me that these are good things. And I will say, of course, they are. How else would they get in the way of what God has for us?
The first criterion of an idol is that it makes us feel good in our hearts. That is why we grab ahold and hang on. We cling so tightly that eventually what we like and want becomes the only source of life for us. The only problem is that if our hearts and souls are full of what we want and prefer, we have lost our ability to receive what God has for us. We are full up; there is no room at the inn. While God is looking for a nursery, we are in our offices with the door closed.
During Advent, we are invited to come out, to let go, and become vulnerable, not to forsake the things we love and want, but to put them in proper perspective and priority. We are invited to learn to hold our likes and dislikes lightly and to give them up when it becomes clear that they are taking up too much room.
Our hope is in making room for Jesus. But to have room for Jesus, we must prepare for something new. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t even have to understand how it all is to happen. But we do have to wait with nothing but faith in the promise that the advent of God himself comes to those who saved him room.
Be mindful of the people around you today. How is God inviting you to receive them into your life? What new life is being offered? How will you make room for who and what God is sending to you?
O God, shape my life with divine humility. By your grace, help me make room for you by giving up my place and by letting go of my preferences. Help me become a dwelling place for your love and peace. I offer my life to be your residence in my everyday and ordinary life. Amen
Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. With whom did you interact? What new life were you offered? Give God thanks for the people you met today. What room do you need to prepare for whom God is sending you?