Mark 1:1-8 – The 2nd Sunday of Advent – for December 4, 2011
“‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…’” (Mark 1:3)
When I write the opening sentence of these musings, I’m about four mouse clicks away from a file on my hard drive labeled Backpacking. There, I could find a list of 90+ items essential for a multiday hike. It’s a checklist, with gear like liner socks, tent stakes and water filter. I know where all the 90+ objects are stashed for easy access.
Let’s say you called right now and lured me with, “Let’s go for a three-day hike along California’s Lost Coast*. But we have to leave tomorrow morning, crack of dawn.”
My reply: “Who’s driving?” I’m ready to rumble. I’m . . .
Advent’s Second Word: PREPARE!
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An examination of my legs would find miniscule scars and smooth divots encircling both kneecaps. On four occasions I’ve been wheeled into an operating “theater” to snip and reshape a torn meniscus. Arthroscopic surgery is relatively simple, using precise, minimally invasive tools to repair damage. At each procedure I observed machines ready to monitor my status, the coolness of the room, snippets of dialog between the surgeon and nurses. Before drifting into unconsciousness, I sensed their readiness. They were . . .
* * *
4 5-oz pieces of salmon
14-oz can of chopped tomatoes
I took that list (and more) on a supermarket excursion for a recent meal. Giada De Laurentiis’ “Salmon Baked in Foil” was on my mind and soon to be on the table, along with rice pilaf and sautéed kale. Sometimes I “hunt” for groceries without much of a list, but when I’m planning a nice meal for friends I like to be on thyme and . . .
* * *
The second Sunday of Advent whispers, “Prepare!”
Actually, it seems to shout the word. Isaiah—deutero or second Isaiah for you Biblical scholarly types—declared the importance of preparing the way of the Lord, “make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah wasn’t talking about an asphalt ribbon slicing through Death Valley’s harsh landscape for a weekend retreat in the desert. Instead, Mr. Isaiah, as familiar with a real desert as he likely was, demanded believers to prepare their weary souls for hope, good tidings, God’s guidance . . . even when everything around the Israelites seemed as bleak as, well, a desert.
More shouting. John the Baptist, as the Gospel writers echo Isaiah, bellows preparation. Prepare for repentance. For the Holy Spirit. For (at least with our modern sensibilities and the quirks of the lectionary) the coming of the Christ child. Yes, those familiar with Advent and churches and Christmas preparations know the very adult John the Baptizer unexpectedly and yet predictably arrives to whip believers into spiritual shape for the impending birth.
We could argue with great enthusiasm about whether or not Isaiah “predicted” the coming of the Christ, or if John saw his role as a welcome mat for Jesus. Those might be contentious or rewarding debates, but whether we ended up at each other’s throats or went out for a slice of pumpkin pie afterwards, we’d likely agree on one thing as it relates to Isaiah, John, desert highways and swan dives into the Jordon river . . .
Christ comes at Christmas.
Christ comes soon.
Christ comes now.
Christ in the form of your Aunt Matilda, with her incessant stories about once meeting Elvis in a supermarket when she was a teen. Christ in the form of the guy in the middle of the intersection with his “I’m homless and hunry” sign. Christ in the form of your best friend asking you to keep a secret about a cancer diagnosis. Christ in all forms, usually the most unsettling and least expected.
In Advent, preparing for new birth isn’t just baby talk. It’s about telling old stories over and over and seeing people you want to avert your eyes from and hearing information we dread. And yet, truth be told, we can prepare all we want, and we’re never ready. I’ve never been on a backpack that went as planned. Every surgical procedure hurt for a long time before healing took place. No recipe ever tastes quite like Ms. De Laurentiis promised. And these are the trivial things.
Prepare for faith. Prepare for grace. Prepare for forgiveness. Prepare for a loving God who loves you even when you glare at the mirror and scowl.
We prepare in this expectant season and we’re never ready.
Still . . . however I interpret or ignore Isaiah, John or the Santa ringing a bell by the supermarket, help me prepare my weary soul to welcome Christ.
*Or . . . where would you like to take a hike?
And speaking of preparation, and how things can so easily fall apart…have you seen this video about the “proposal?” Dogs are great plan-breakers for human preparers!