Yesterday I was listening to a podcast from Jack Kornfield, who told a story of Maurice Sendak, the author of Where the Wild Things Are. One day Sendak got a card from a little boy named Jim that had a cute little drawing on it. The boy’s efforts impressed Sendak so much that he sent Jim a thank you card with an original wild thing drawing on the inside.
A few weeks later the boy’s mother wrote back with a follow up letter saying, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.”
Maurice Sendak said, “That was the highest compliment I have ever received.” The boy didn't care that the drawing was worth thousands of dollars. He saw it. He loved it. He ate it. A great reminder for us who still hunger for something greater than ourselves.
Advent is a time God has given to us to wait with awe and wonder. It’s not a passive wait but a time to be actively engaged in God’s kingdom. And one way to engage is to devour God’s word. Not literally eat the Bible, like Jim might have done. But to feast on the liturgical smorgasbord of stories that have been passed down through the centuries to nourish our souls.
Today we are going back to the ancient texts of Isaiah. This particular passage is the beginning of what is known as Second Isaiah. It was written by an anonymous writer some 50 years after Babylon invaded Judah and dragged her citizens into exile. Some 30 centuries later, this poetic prophecy provides God’s people with some words of hope and promise, as well as some basic instructions on how to be better prepare for Christmas.
READ: Isaiah 40:1-11
Like Second Isaiah pointed out, as the people sit in exile, they’ve had decades to think about the error of their ways. This poetic song begins like a scene in a movie where a criminal stands before the parole board who judge him. It’s up to him to defends himself - showing his remorse and a penitent heart. Whatever he is guilty of, he has done his time and he believes he deserves to be freed.
God’s people were guilty for sure. They had turned away from God, putting their trust in earthly powers. They believed God was punishing them by abandoning them to the hands of their enemy. But in reality, they were the one’s who abandoned God.
As they plead for mercy and salvation God sends hopeful words of comfort through this prophetic voice: “Comfort my people…she has served her penalty…received double for all her sins…A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.’”
While most of our country is gearing up for the holidays, trimming the trees and decking the halls, the world is still suffering under the heavy weight of this horrific pandemic. In many ways, COVID has invaded our way of life and has forced us into exile. Today in Southern California stay at home orders go into effect, travel restrictions are being put in place, and I would bet that getting a vaccine is on top of everyone’s Christmas list.
If we have learned anything from our sacred scriptures, it’s knowing that our pain and suffering is only temporary. Like the poetic prophet wrote, “The grass withers, the flowers fade; but God’s word endures forever.” This is our reminder to use our time of Advent wait, to prepare the way of the Lord who will come in the most unexpected way: Not like a powerful king with a vicious army hellbent on revenge, but like a small and fragile baby, born into poverty to a couple of unknown kids.
More than that, when I look at this sculpture, I see Joseph and am reminded of who I am as a father – to my kids and everyone else’s. Jesus was not his son. Yet Joseph chose to welcome Jesus into his heart and home. He chose to look after Jesus and protect him, even though he had no obligation to do so. Joseph was faithful to God, whose “word endures forever.”
Then there’s Mary, who reminds me that we are all called to be Mothers of Christ if for no other reason than Christ is always in need of being born. Mary teaches me how to live in the tension between my present circumstances and the promise of God.
As a pregnant teenage girl, Mary had much to be afraid of. What would people think? What shame would she bring upon her family? Would Joseph be there for her? Would her baby live? Yet she remained faithful to God’s promise. When her family narrowly escaped Herod’s genocide and was forced to be political refugees in a foreign land, Mary’s faithfulness in God stood firm. And then, at the foot of the cross, crushed by a pain no mother should have to bear, Mary trusted God whose “word endures forever.”
And of course, there’s the baby lying in the manger. It’s a universal image of Christmas that’s so familiar that we forget God chose to come to us in human weakness. This simple and familiar portrayal of Jesus reminds me of my own vulnerability and weakness; and my need to rely on something greater than myself.
When I see this baby, I also remember that I too am a beloved child of God; swaddled in unconditional and steadfast love of the One whose word endures forever. More importantly, when I see Jesus in this hand-carved wooden manger my mind sees him on another wooden structure and I think about the sacrifice he made for my behalf.
A wooden cross or a wooden statue, I am reminded that all things are finite, but God’s Word endures forever. And so, we leave it out to remind ourselves of the incarnate promise that is made manifest day-after-day and year-after-year.
The more I think about it, Advent is our reminder that God is not finished with us. As we wait for God’s plan to unfold, we wait with purpose. Preparing the way for Christ to come, by preparing our hearts and hands to be faithful like his. To quote St. Paul, “The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love” (Galatians 5:6)
We prepare the way of the Lord in all the ways we love - bringing hope to the hopeless and forgiveness the unforgivable. As Jesus taught us, we proclaim God’s promise of peace, by being peacemakers. We prepare the path of righteousness with consistent and steady footsteps; walking humbly, loving freely, and fighting for justice for all people.
Advent is a time to remember that Christ not only came to be with us, but to be in us to reveal God’s glory so that “all people shall see it together.”
This is what it means to be the church, the visible witness crying out in the wilderness – preparing the way for the one more powerful than us. As the psalmist sung, “Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.” Where righteousness and peace are practiced, God is present.
Advent is a time to prepare a path that will lead God right into our hearts! So as we wait, let us participate in the coming of our Lord by tuning our ear to the voices crying out for mercy. And by opening our hands to touch others in need of human tenderness.
Let us go out into the world to meet Christ by being little Christ in the world. For when Christ is alive in each one of us, then Christ will always be present, not just on Christmas Day but every day.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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