During my 6 months here at Incarnate Word, many of you have politely asked where I grew. In answering that question it has made me think of the cozy house where I was raised. It was a little 1800 sq. ft. ranch in Hazelwood, built like a fort in the post-war era. I used to think that our house was a wreck, but considering the fact that it housed 12 kids, 2 parents, a rabbit and a large dog, it was remarkably clean and intact. This was largely due to my mom’s system of chores and daily tasks that we were convinced she must have inherited from some Siberian Gulag.
But as orderly as my mom managed to keep this house, there was a whole new level of stress that took place when my parents decided to put it on the market. Any of you who have sold a home or lived in one while it’s for sale, know exactly what I mean. As kids, we were amazed at the amount of work that had to go into preparing our house to be sold. To us it seemed just fine. But the entire house had to be repainted inside and out, the tennis balls and baseballs removed from the gutters, knicks and scratches needed to be repaired, plumbing and light fixtures replaced, and new carpet had to be installed. Even after these large tasks were completed, a million little jobs had to be accomplished, like dusting, wiping down cabinets, staging furniture, sprucing up the yard, and so on.
But even this wasn’t the end. Perhaps the most difficult part of living in a listed house is that you must be prepared for a visit by the realtor and potential buyer at any time. This is the whole point for all of these preparations; when someone comes to look at your house, they will find a place that is displayed in the best possible light and up to its full potential. This was by far the most difficult part. It was pretty easy to do the big stuff: the major repairs and improvements in the weeks before the house was listed. But how much harder it was to keep the house clean, to avoid moving the chair or table that never used to be there, or to never make the mistake of denting a wall or scuffing some paint on a door!
Even though all these steps were stressful and difficult, they were worth it because of the final goal of selling the house. Because our family wanted to impress, some might say trick, a potential buyer, we were willing to endure some significant hardships and inconvenience. Can you imagine how much more preparation or work we would have done around the house if we had been expecting a visit from a king? How much more we would have been willing to endure? That very concept, the visit of a king, is what we reflect on today. A king is coming: not just any king, but the King of Kings!
Long before Jesus was born, about seven centuries in fact, the prophet Isaiah foretold that there would be a prophet to prepare the way of the Lord. This person’s name was John the Baptist and his role in preparing the world for the Savior was crucial. Scripture tells us that John was indeed a prophetic voice, crying in the wilderness, telling people that Jesus was coming and they needed to prepare for his arrival.
When John told people they needed to prepare for the coming of Jesus,
he clearly wasn't talking about a clean house. He was talking about something much more important, a clean heart. He told the people that they needed to confess their sins, repent, and be baptized so that they would be ready to meet the coming King.
Every year, the Church gives us this Advent season to remind us to prepare for the arrival of Christ. Every Advent, the Church holds up the person of John the Baptist for us to consider as we go about the business of preparing ourselves for the coming king. Like the preparations needed to get a house ready for listing, we must first attend to the big-ticket items, the glaring weaknesses in our spiritual lives. For example: Has it been months or years since my last good confession? Am I in the state of grace or am I stuck in a cycle of serious sin? Are there people who need my forgiveness? Unhealthy relationships I need to let go of?
But just as important is the need for attention to the finer details. Even after I have addressed the larger items that need cleaning and fixing in my soul, we must then focus on the smaller details that make our soul a hospitable place for Christ the king. Do I take time each day for quiet prayer? Am I focusing on the blessings God has given me or do I simply dwell on what I don’t have? Do I treat other people kindly, without selfishness, especially those I might take for granted like family, friends, and co-workers? Am I only trying to avoid sin, or am I also looking for opportunities to serve God and others, especially the poor, the lonely, and those everyone else ignores?
As we journey towards Bethlehem this Advent season, we do so with determination and joy because we are preparing to celebrate the birth of the King of heaven and earth. He will bring comfort to God’s people and offer the possibility of salvation for all who believe in him. But in order to receive the benefits his birth offers us, we must be prepared to greet him with open arms and clean hearts. So where are you now? What part of John the Baptist’s message needs to be incorporated into your soul? Are you ready to meet the King? Will he find a heart that is hospitable and developed to its full potential? In asking God to change the world, have we first given Him permission to change our lives? What still needs to be done so that at Christmas, our King will feel welcome and at home in us?
As we celebrate this second Sunday of Advent, may we heed those words of the prophet: “prepare the way of the LORD!”