First Sunday in Advent, 2019: Preparation

This Advent, I am struck by the way that the readings might affect our sense of time—God’s time, especially. On the one hand, we read in the Gospel according to Matthew the idea that when the “Son of Man” comes, it will be unexpected, sudden, and what happens to various people will be surprising. Two people who appear more or less the same on the outside will have very different experiences. On the other hand, the reading in Isaiah speaks to the author’s sense that all people, together, will go up to the mountain and worship God. There is a feeling of unity and community that comes from Isaiah, no doubt because he was writing to an entire community in exile. Isaiah lays it all out for us: there is not as much a sense of surprise or interruption, as in Matthew, but more of a sense that God has everything in hand, and there will be peace, order, and unity.

Advent, of course, is a time of preparation: not only for Christmas but a time of preparing for God to come into the world and set things right. Certainly we can read the news, understand the problems of politics and global warming, or experience our own personal challenges and identify with the Biblical authors’ insights that everything is not yet right. But Jesus and Isaiah both proclaim that eventually, God does have the upper hand, and good will win out over evil. So we are to trust that God is a force working for love, justice, and peace. Advent is partially about growing in this trust that God does want to “make all things new.”

Meanwhile, we prepare. We prepare by setting aside extra time to pray and maybe do some spiritual reading. (This year, I am reading On the Road with St Augustine by James Smith, at the recommendation of one of my colleagues.) We prepare by making our homes ready for Christmas, and enjoying the lights, sounds, tastes of the season, and reflecting on all the love there is already in the world—seeking and longing for that love to come to even fuller fruition.

We also prepare our hearts in that we try to “stay awake” and be attentive to how God is trying to act, working to move things, a redeeming force that seeks love. When we notice these places, we can also choose to cooperate with God, or turn away from God’s invitations. It’s almost as though each one of us is BOTH the women who are grinding at the mill, in Jesus’s story. Inside each of us is the possibility of going along with Jesus, and towards redemption, or resisting and being left behind, not because God does not choose us but because we don’t let ourselves go with God in whatever way God is calling.

Advent is a time when we prepare for God to break into our lives, and whether it comes in a way that feels natural and as though it were meant to be this way, all along, or as suddenly as a thief in the night we do have to be ready for God to break in and do God’s redeeming and saving work. What do we need to do to get ready this Advent?