Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
We are all up to our ears in Christmas preparations. Our holiday planning lists a long and detailed because we know what needs to be done. It is Advent, after all. Are we not supposed to be preparing? In the Gospel, John the Baptist declares to us:
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, `Prepare Ye the way of the Lord,'”
And so we do at home and at church. The choir knows what music is coming down the pike, and the clergy know what the Christmas liturgy will be. We all know what scriptures will be read and what stories will be told. Children and youth across the land know pretty much how the pageant will go and what it takes to get ready. We prepare, all right, and we bring to the preparation task all of our accumulated skills of management to prepare for all that we see coming.
But we really have a particular problem with responding to John’s call to prepare. Our preparing is not the same as it would have been for those hearers of John’s preaching. Our problem with both John the Baptist and the annual season of Advent comes from the fact that we have already read the end of the book and have already seen the end of the movie. We already know that for which we are preparing. It’s the baby Jesus in a manger with the angels and the shepherds and Herod and all of that. Its friends and family and all the expectations and desires that come with them. Why bother to build a straight road in the wilderness when you already know that the destination is Bethlehem and Nazareth? What good is getting ready for the unexpected when you in a already know what to expect?
But John the Baptist comes claiming no answers and knowing no details. He does not know when this shall be, how it will look or where it will manifest. He came only saying, “I am just a voice in the same wilderness you are, simply crying out, “Prepare a straight road.” We simply do not get much preparation help from John. John can tell us to make a straight path, but he cannot tell us what is going to come down it when we get it built.
What Good is Advent?
What good is Advent when Christmas is the real game? Is not our true task to put our skills and talents into preparing for the real event? Advent just provides a little breathing room to get ready.
But what if we did not have all this foreknowledge about what Christmas is about? What if, in the Advent season, we really knew nothing about what Christmas should be like at our house – we only knew it was coming and that is was something we didn’t want to miss? We wouldn’t know whether to dress up the house to make someone feel honored or dress it down to make them comfortable. We wouldn’t know whether to prepare for feasting or fasting. What if the choir knew only that a moment was coming when they would have to perform – but didn’t know what the the music was to be? They only knew they needed to be ready. How would they prepare? What would we do? John proclaims:
“Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”
That readiness that John calls for is really hard for us to do now since we are really chock full of Christmas traditions. We know what the music is, what the liturgy is, and what the celebrations are. We really don’t need to make our best, straightest path for whatever will be coming. We already know what is coming and we work really hard to ensure it comes in the way we have planned. We prepare all right, but not in the way John is calling us to. They didn’t know what was coming. They had to make their best path for whatever would come.
The Way of Open Preparing
Have you ever had a wise friend, counselor or therapist who was with you in a time of crisis; perhaps working with you at a real crossroads or fork in your road of life? You were needing answers and assurance and clarity; and they, in their wisdom, were refusing to provide them to you. They knew that at this crucial time only the truest answer would do; and such truth could only come from within your own heart, and not from their thinking or from your attempts to rationalize, dodge, duck and excuse. So try as you might, they would not solve your pain for you. Plead as you might, they would not point out a direction to you. Your only choice was to open your heart, find your courage, and prepare for the unknown, the unseen and the uncontrolled.
That is a wholly different kind of preparation, isn’t it? It is a preparation not of our management skills but of our listening skills. For that, what needs preparing is not the strength of our arm, but the integrity of our heart.
Here we find the nature of advent waiting. Since we cannot control that which we cannot predict and we cannot manage by the rules without the rule book, all we can do is be our own best selves and prepare to listen as best we can. All we can do in such a season is be the most truthful, authentic and awake selves we can be — and then face what or who is coming.
This is the essence of making a straight path in the wilderness. It is a path free of pretense and false ego. It is a path not of our best accomplishments but of our own truth and purity of heart.
What good is Advent? It is a good season to be open to that which we do not expect, that which may different and that which may be new. It is a good season to be open to that which we thought we were closed to and to learning that which we already know. It is a good season to let God come in whatever package God chooses. In other words, in our own wilderness, it is a good season to make a straight path.