I was preparing a Sunday school lesson for the kids at my church, the other week, and seeing as it was the first Sunday of Advent, I decided to look into this season a little more. Advent was not something I remember “doing” as a family. I do remember advent candles being lit in church and preaching on Hope and Preparing our hearts for Jesus and Joy and Love. I remember purple and wreaths and of course those advent calendars that had little hidden pockets of chocolate. Other than that, advent really had no effect on me.
This year, with a son of my own that is getting old enough to understand things, I decided to look more into advent and the traditions around Christmas. How does this season and it’s traditions have value for our family at this time? What should I chuck and what should I keep?
Advent is all about preparing ourselves for the coming of Jesus. In fact the word Advent means “coming” or “arrival”. We remember when He first came—as a baby born in a stable and laid in a manger—and we look forward to His return.
During my Sunday school class I asked the kids how God and Mary and Joseph prepared to have Jesus come the first time. What did they need to have for Jesus to come? They answered almost immediately: a bed! Well, we all know that Jesus didn’t get a bed. He got a manger, filled possibly with straw. Other answers they gave, revolved around blankets, food, doctors, toys . . . well you get the idea. Jesus didn’t get much of any of that! However, He did get some unusual birthday guests and a unique, otherworldly birth announcement!
I talked about how God prepared specific people to be in a certain place at the right time. I talked about how God sent prophets and then angles to announce the coming of His son. And then I reminded them that Jesus is coming again.
I asked them how we could prepare for Him coming this time? This stumped them for a little bit. Actually it stumped me a bit. How do you prepare for a visit from someone if you only know they are coming and not WHEN they are coming? How do you stay ready? Of course, as one of the kids suggested, we can keep the floors clean and the toys picked up. But it’s easy to slack off when the coming is “delayed”. It’s hard to keep oneself in a state of perpetual expectancy. Especially if you are a three year old!
I was reminded of a time when I worked for an outfit east of Atlin, BC, in which I was left camp-sitting for a number of days by myself. I was told that a hunt would be starting on such and such a day and that the outfitter would be back with supplies before that, so I could prepare for the hunt. I wasn’t given an exact time, but I knew he would be back because, well, of who he was. He was the outfitter. It was his job to make sure everyone was prepared to provide for the hunters coming.
So I sat in camp by my lonesome, watching over the herd of horses. The first day, I got up early like I was used to, jingled the horses in from the bush where they had been grazing overnight. I fed them their allotment of grain and carried on with various chores around camp—making sure the wood boxes in every cabin where filled, kindling split, floors swept, etc . . . I puttered around camp most of the day. Kicked the horses out again late that afternoon. Puttered some more. A day by yourself can stretch into eternity. I turned in early—exhausted by all that was accomplished that day.
The next day, I was slack. There wasn’t much to accomplish. I thought about bringing in the horses, but what was the point? There was nothing to do. I read books, all day. I’m a fast reader. I finished three novels by evening. I went to bed—exhausted by inactivity.
The following day, I crawled out of bed before lunch. Didn’t even think about the horses. Thought about baking bread, which needed to be done before the hunt. Decided on a canoe ride and then sun tanned on the porch. I showered and skinny-dipped in the river beside the shower shack and had a eery thought of “What if the plane flew over right at this moment?” Left the river and got dressed rather hastily. I returned to the main cabin and read some more, but soon was out of books to read and was down to finishing off hunting magazines—which can only take one so far in their imagination.
That evening, on a whim, I decided to go search out a lake that was maybe mile up from camp. So I set off down the trail, keeping my ears open for the horse bells, as I hadn’t set eyes on the horse herd in a couple days. I heard them as I neared the other lake. The trail dispersed in a swamp and tight tangle of willow brush. The going was hard, but I had come so far already and by now I was bound and determined to see the other lake and find the horses. I could hear them, but I couldn’t see them. So I bucked willow brush and grass thickets and dodged swamp puddles and muck. Eventually I ended up on the shore of the other lake, where I didn’t stay very long, because the mosquitoes and black flies were attacking viciously and I had left my bug spray behind. I bee-lined for camp without ever laying eyes on a horse. Though, I assured myself they were still around because I could hear the bells jingling merrily through the brush.
I reached camp and my neck felt funny. I guess I had been bitten by a few mosquitoes. I didn’t think much of it, because I don’t usually re-act all that bad to a mosquito bite. So I turned into bed and woke up the next morning with a massive headache and a neck on fire and a face that looked like I had the mumps. I was in agony! I tore through the first-aid kit looking for anything that would help take the fiery itch away or at least relieve it because I was liable to scratch my face to bits! I was pretty much ready to roll in some mud down by the lake but happened upon a pink bottle. Voila!
I devised a paste of calamine lotion and baking soda (I remember that helping when I had the chicken pox) which I smeared liberally all over my neck and face. It helped until it dried, then I had to slather on more. I did this all morning. I was sitting at the kitchen table bemoaning my misery, when I heard a plane buzz over. I hurriedly cleaned up my mess of dishes and started throwing something on for lunch in expectancy of the outfitter arriving.
The plane landed while I was still in the kitchen cleaning and cooking. The door opened and a strange lady walked in the door and then gasped in shock when I turned around. I had completely forgotten about the calamine/baking soda paste I had been slathering on my face and neck! It was cracking and peeling and slightly pinky-white-gray. I looked like I had leprosy or some other major skin disease! Boy, was I ever caught unprepared by the wife of the hunter coming in for the next hunt! She had that look in her eye of oh-damn-what-have-I-just-got-myself-into! Yep, and I was the one serving their food. One of my most embarrassing moments for sure.
I sometimes imagine that’s how I will be when Christ comes again. I KNOW He’s coming and some days I honestly have a sense of urgency. I have motivation and am orientated to be prepared. Then I get lazy as the waiting drones on. I slack off. I think I have time. I maintain a certain level of preparedness, but don’t go above and beyond. Then LIFE gets in the way and I forget. I get carried away attacking my problems and nursing my issues, until SUDDENLY HE ARRIVES and I’m caught looking like I have leprosy while preparing lunch.
So how do I prepare for Him? How do I stay in a state of urgency and alertness so that I’m not caught half-ready or a complete mess?
Peter talks about this in his letter to believers, “But when the Day of God’s Judgment does come, it will be unannounced, like a thief. The sky will collapse with a thunderous bang, everything disintegrating in a huge conflagration, earth and all its works exposed to the scrutiny of Judgment.
Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life?
Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival.
The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day—but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness.
So, my dear friends, since this is what you have to look forward to, do your very best to be found living at your best, in purity and peace.” 2 Peter 3:10-14 (MSG)
The phrase “do your very best” can be otherwise translated “eagerly desire”. This is not something I can do on my own. I know, because I’ve tried.
The truth is, I am found pure, blameless and spotless only through Christ, because of His first coming, death and resurrection. Therefore I can quit trying to be in a state of readiness on my own, because it is Christ Himself who keeps me prepared for His return. Another mystery for me to rest in!
I don’t need to be worried about being caught unprepared or semi-ready!
I AM ready!
And this is the message and hope of the Advent season that I want to grow in and pass along to my son and all those around me!Come Thou long expected Jesus Born to set Thy people free From our fears and sins release us Let us find our rest in Thee Israel’s strength and consolation Hope of all the earth Thou art Dear desire of every nation Joy of every longing heart Born Thy people to deliver Born a child and yet a King Born to reign in us forever Now Thy gracious kingdom bring By Thine own eternal spirit Rule in all our hearts alone By Thine all sufficient merit Raise us to Thy glorious throne