We are approaching the most emotional time of year. It’s almost Christmas. And in the church, we have a season called Advent to help us get ready. Some people approach Christmas with great joy. Others find the season hard as they are saddened by the absence of people they love. Others find the season busy and hectic and feel as though they’ll never meet their own expectations of the way Christmas should go.
I started thinking about a recent metaphor I heard that is apt for talking about why we need to prepare (props to Rev. Brian Edmonds). Think about a car that is out of line. Have you driven one lately?
To the passenger watching the driver with her hands on the wheel it seems like nothing is wrong. The driver, however, can feel the pull throughout the ride and knows something is out of sorts. As soon as the driver take her hands off the wheel, the car begins to swerve off the road.
To me, that’s an apt description of the fallenness of the human heart. Sin can cause our hearts to swerve and run into other peoples’ lanes causing pain and hurt.
In Jeremiah 33:14, the prophet declares: “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah.” Jeremiah wrote these words while the people of Israel were in exile. God had saved them from the Egyptians, walked with them for forty years in the wilderness and delivered them into a land flowing with milk and honey. When they arrived in this new land, they would eventually claim the credit and begin worshiping other gods.
God sent them into exile in Babylon where they were separated from their cherished land and Temple. There is punishment for sin. But God shows graciousness to them. Our God is one who fulfills his promises. God would send the people and us a savior in Jesus.
Like the Israelites before us, we are still sinners. We have inherited original sin. Try as we may, we still worship our own gods, refuse to love our neighbors and allow our pride to isolate us from the God we love. The season of Advent is an opportunity for us realign our lives with God if we will but make room.
During this season, we do our best to make room for family, for friends, for shopping, for parties, for concerts. All good things. But I do think it’s tremendously important to use this time for its intended purpose which is to prepare our hearts for Christ. To do so, we have to make room. This season is about realigning ourselves and not trying to realign others. As Athanasius once said, ““You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself.”
The themes of Advent are hope, peace, joy and love. The ancient wisdom of the church reminds us that these themes have meaning across the ages. To begin this season, I sat down and wrote each of these words on a piece of paper.
I tried my best to listen to the yearnings of my own heart by asking, “Where is it that I’m lacking hope? Where do I feel despair? How might I use this season to devote myself more to God? What do I hope for my life?” I went through each word and jotted down my answers. I commend this practice to you as you prepare for this season. Listen to the yearnings of your heart. It’s trying to speak.
Where do you hope to find peace in your life? What’s out of sort? Is there joy? Is your heart full of love or anger? Write down what your heart is saying. Pray about the themes of hope, peace, joy and love during this season.
There is much darkness in our world. There is much division in our country. There are tangles and deep hurts in most of our families. That’s why Jesus came and why we prepare for his coming during Advent. In order to change the world, we begin with our own hearts.
I leave you with this prayer from St. Augustine.
The house of my soul is too small for you to enter: make it more spacious by your coming. It lies in ruins: rebuild it. Some things are to be found there which will offend your gaze; I confess this to be so and know it well. But who will clean my house? To whom but yourself can I cry, Cleanse me of my hidden sins, O Lord, and for those incurred through others pardon your servant.
May the Lord bless you with hope, peace, joy and love this season.