‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.‘ (Luke 3:4-6)
Like most guys, I like action movies. Explosions, car chases, lots of running from or toward something-even bad action movies (like those ones made in Hong Kong), if they have good action sequences, pique my interest. Conversely, most Academy-Award nominated movies are a cure for insomnia for me. Slow-moving, dialogue-laden, interesting-camera-shot-rich films like all those English movies from the ‘90s with Anthony Hopkins (except when he was Hannibal Lecter or Zorro) are a beating for me.
I like to keep moving. So, the idea of waiting, of preparing, is not second nature- more like twelfth. The second candle of Advent, the candle of preparation, reminds people like me that life is not always about running around. Sometimes, it’s about preparing our hearts and minds as we actively wait upon the Lord.
If you’re honest, and American, most of you are probably like me. We don’t like to sit still. Don’t like to wait. Henri Nouwen noted that, for many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go. They don’t like it, because they are fearful. Fearful of inner feelings, of other people, or of what the future might hold. So, we flee it by running away, or we aggressively strike first before something harmful is done to us.
But, preparation and waiting is a huge part of who we are called to be as Christians. In the Christmas story, we see a whole bunch of people waiting: Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna. They represent Israel, waiting for the birth of her Savior. And, every year, during this season, we are called to wait, as well. Slow down. Stop for a minute. And wait.
Waiting, preparing for the coming of the Lord, is not a passive process. Waiting and preparing is active. As Nouwen said, waiting is trusting in a promise, a promise that acts as a seed that begins to grow. It is believing that this is the most important moment and that a greater moment is coming. It is searching our hearts for unconfessed sin that may be hindering our prayers. It is seeking out broken or damaged, unreconciled relationships, and striking out to restore them, in obedience to the exhortation that, “as much as it depends upon you, be at peace with all people.” (Rom. 12:18). It is reflecting on all that has come from the Hand of the Giver of all good things, and being grateful. It is contemplation of the state of my own heart, and of my own desperate need of a Savior.
Finally, waiting and preparing is diving deep into the mysterious wonder of the Incarnation: that, as the ancient Church father Athanasius said, the Word who spoke the universe into existence fashioned the human body He would inhabit as His temple within the virgin, to be born and to die. “This He did out of sheer love…that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption…thus, He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.”
Waiting and preparing is the most urgent and exciting thing we have to do right now, watching as, on the edge of the horizon, toward Bethlehem, a dim light grows ever brighter.