You can tell that the season of Advent is upon us because we get to hear from everyone’s favorite camel hair wearing, bug eating prophet, John the Baptist. John was not popular with the establishment, especially King Herod. He was a thorn in the side of most, trying to spread a message of repentance to prepare the way of the Lord. John was the herald of things to come, and the people in charge were starting to worry… what would you say if suddenly some crazy looking prophet came out of the desert and started proclaiming it was time to prepare the way of the Lord, that the kingdom of God was at hand?

At the very least, you might start asking some questions, like, “What on earth is he talking about??? What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit??” In his book, Celebrating Abundance, Meditations for Advent, Walter Brueggemann says “ The whole tenor of Advent is that God may act in us, through us, beyond us, more than we imagined, because newness is on its way among us.” Listen to that again; “ The whole tenor of Advent is that God may act in us, through us, beyond us, more than we imagined, because newness is on its way among us.” That is, at least in part, what baptism is, isn’t it? That God might act in us and through us and Lord help us, beyond us by way of the Holy Spirit… when we receive that incredible gift, we are empowered to be in the world as God’s ambassadors to bring about the kingdom of God. John the Baptist was perhaps the last of the great prophets, one who stands between the Old and the New… he was the last of the Old, who came to proclaim the New that would come as Jesus; and so he brings the message that has been heard before from the wilderness, to prepare the way of the Lord…

And here we are, Jesus has indeed come, and now we his disciples wait for him to come again. That is the great promise, that he would send the Holy Spirit until he came again… and the message of John the Baptist is just as important to us as it was to those who first heard it… Prepare the way of the Lord… but how shall we prepare?

That’s where our baptism and the Holy Spirit come in. We prepare by doing the things that we have promised to do. We are to love our neighbor, not just with words, but with actions; we are to feed those who are hungry, we are to visit those who are alone or who are sick or on prison; we are to believe in the Holy and blessed Trinity, we are to continue in the fellowship and teaching of the apostles, we are to break bread, we are to repent when we have done evil, we are to pray, we are to seek and serve all persons because all persons are created in the image of God, we are to strive for justice and peace for all people, demanding that their dignity be preserved, and giving them the respect that all God’s children deserve, we are to proclaim that Jesus is THE Good News to the whole world. That’s how we prepare… even in the midst of the pandemic, we must find ways reach beyond ourselves and our own desires to be as St. Francis said, “the only gospel someone might experience”.

Our preparation for the coming of Jesus isn’t about being busy for the sake of busyness. Sometimes our preparation might need to be for us to be still and quiet, listening for the voice of God… maybe part of what we need to do to prepare is to do some difficult inner spiritual work so that we can put to rest behaviors that keep us separated from God, so that we will truly be ready to celebrate his coming with true joy, knowing that we too are created in the image of a loving God.

Preparing the way of the Lord, making a way in the desert, is the kind of work that we should always be doing. We all have a desert that exists within us, that might make our prayers seem dry or lifeless… the desert is both a beautiful and dangerous place; the desert in our soul can be a place of renewal if we take the time to nourish the blossoms that we can barely feel. It can also be quite dangerous to our spiritual well being if we don’t. Sometimes the way out of the spiritual and emotional desert is once again, to reach beyond ourselves. The gifts that we receive in serving others cannot be measured; but they are absolutely necessary for our relationship to God and to others. Seems to me I have heard “love God and love your neighbor” somewhere before.

While we focus our thoughts on the preparation for the coming of Jesus now at this time of year, we know that this is our life’s work. We are always in a state of Advent, of waiting for him to come; but it is good for us to focus our time and attention, especially when the world around us tries to tell us that our joy and happiness lie in the commercialism that has taken over our holy feast days…
So, be comforted, beloved of God. The judgement of God has already come as a tiny infant who has depended on us to care for him, and who ushered in the kingdom of God. Now we prepare for him to come again, to fulfill the promises of the prophets that the Glory of God shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; that heaven and earth shall finally become one; that the kingdom of God will at last be fulfilled. So beloved, prepare a way for the Lord. Prepare with great joy and with great hope. We don’t know when, and for us, it doesn’t matter when. We prepare with the ordinary, daily kingdom work of living into the gospel and being good news to a world stuck in it’s own materialistic and self centered being. We know another way… a way of love, of joy, and of hope, that proclaims that Jesus is the savior of the world, because God so loved the world… so now we prepare by loving God and loving God’s world. Come Lord Jesus, come.