Today my family will go buy our Christmas tree from Follen Church’s tree sale. We always like to buy from a church because our last church, in Norwood, had a tree sale every Christmas as a fundraiser. It was a lot of fun for our kids because the tree lot was in our front yard (of the rectory) and they loved climbing around the tree corral and playing hide-and-seek in the Christmas trees. The church was also on a busy street so got lots of tree customers.
One year our youngest, who was about two years old at the time, took the hide-and-seek a little too far and ended up running out into the street — during rush hour! All the church tree sale volunteers were in the street in a split second, stopping traffic while I scooped her up. As I ran to get her, I shouted STOP, COME BACK, TURN AROUND!
During this Advent season, we’re reading the Gospel of Matthew which features the preaching of John the Baptist. He has a lot of words that seem similar – stop! Repent! Change your ways! I think we often hear the call to repentance and change in a scolding, holier-than-thou tone, someone telling us we are not measuring up or not good enough. But what if it’s more like a mom catching a toddler darting into traffic? What if the message is really, Please don’t get hurt! I love you! Be careful because you’re precious to me! How might this change our observance of Advent as a season of reflection and, yes, repentance?
Matthew’s Gospel says “he is the one who is crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” John calls on everyone to prepare the way, clear the way, for God. We need to make a way for God to come into our lives, to clear things out so God can get through to us.
John the Baptist is calling us to clear the way for God. He’s calling us away from being overly concerned with gifts and possessions, so we can find God in the poverty of our hearts and the simplicity of our lives. He’s calling us away from busy-ness to find God in the quiet stillness of non-accomplishment. He’s calling us away from gossip and need for approval to find God in our own spirits and in silence. Repentance is really about preparation, getting ready, making room, clearing the way, cleaning house.
How are you getting ready for Christmas? Maybe baking cookies, wrapping gifts, and cleaning the kitchen are on your to-do list, as they are on mine. Think about that to-do list. Now, think for a moment about what you want Christmas to be like this year. What are your hopes and dreams? Maybe some healing for someone you love? Maybe some closure on a difficult situation? Maybe some reconciliation with a loved one you’ll see this holiday season? Hold that in your mind a moment.
Ok, now think back to that get ready for Christmas to-do list you had a minute ago. What on that list is going to help you get to those hopes and dreams? Is there anything that will contribute towards what you really long for this Christmas? Then move those items to the top of the list. And maybe — don’t worry so much about the rest. Let this Advent season be a time to channel your energy and resources to the things that matter most.
After all, people weren’t flocking to John the Baptist because they liked to feel guilty or get yelled at. The came to him because his message of the coming of God’s Kingdom was ultimately exciting, joyful, and liberating. Just like the Christmas we are preparing for.
Peace and blessings,