For last Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew 24, we heard an apocalyptic message about the second coming of our Lord. “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming!” This message came from Jesus near the completion of his ministry.
For our Gospel lesson for this coming week, from Matthew 3, we have a message from John the Baptist that comes at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Both of these messages are suitable for our Advent preparation for the coming of our Lord. Neither message is about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. But his coming is more than just an idealized version of his appearance as an innocent baby in a manger. Another vision of Jesus’ coming has to do with the introduction of his radical message—“Repent!” And yet another has to do with his coming at the end of the age, with the sense of judgment that is attached thereto.
Some of us are too anxious to get to the innocent Jesus in the manger, forgetting the Advent preparation that involves our taking stock of our faith in action, our repentance for our shortcomings, and our renewed determination to love one another as Jesus commanded. What exactly are we doing to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” which is the ancient admonition of Isaiah quoted for us in Matthew 3?
So before we arrive at the stable to view the warm and cuddly Jesus in a couple more weeks, we need to take inventory of our moral storehouse to see if we are ready for the birth of the Christ child. The path to Bethlehem takes us through a sober self-examination of our own spiritual fitness.
In addition to buying a Christmas tree and a myriad of gifts for family and friends, cleaning and decorating, and cooking up a storm, spend some precious time during the next few weeks with your spiritual preparation to receive Jesus into your life. His entry into our lives comes with a cost. The cost may be to our pride, our ego, our greed, our intolerance, our lethargy.
All of these traits represent detours on the path to Bethlehem and to a meaningful reception of the Christ child. To “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” involves the elimination of these detours. So here’s a practical suggestion:
Take a moral inventory of your own beliefs and actions. Come up with a written list of your shortcomings, hopefully brief! Then offer up each day in prayer your sorrow and your willingness to change your habits. Then express your gratitude for the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy, which is always available to you for the sincere asking. Gratitude is the foundation of your renewed life in Christ!
Then get ready to experience the most meaningful Christmas ever.
And I wouldn’t mind hearing from you, after Christmas, how this simple exercise turns out. In fact, I would be grateful for your feedback. Thank you.