A few years ago, around this time, I was channel surfing one evening through dozens of Christmas shows, info-mercials and holiday movies. I stopped on one channel and began half-heartedly watching a talk show hosted by a Nun.
Mother Angelica was her name and I had seen her before. She was usually funny and interesting, so I kept watching. She was talking about some of the bad things going on in the world—wars, disease, hunger, natural disasters—but every so often, she would pause and say “he is coming!” She looked like a delighted child, this seventy something Roman Catholic nun—eyes twinkling in anticipation for….what? “He is coming!” she said. Now I KNOW she wasn’t talking about Santa Clause, but you would have thought that she had been the best little girl in the world—with no pouting or crying all year—and Santa was coming to town to giver her all the toys she wanted.
He is coming! She said it again. And then, it hit me. I mean it Really Hit Me. She was talking about Jesus. HE is coming. She was not just talking about 2000 years ago when a young Jewish girl received the staggering news that, even though she was a virgin, she would give birth to the Son of God. She wasn’t just talking about the time that a tiny, helpless baby was born, miraculously to this same young girl, in a little country town, while Angels, terrifying and amazing, sang the joyous birth announcement to, of all things, Shepherds. She was not just talking about BACK THEN.
She was talking about NOW. He IS coming!
I had always thought Advent was preparing for the Christmas holiday. Preparing for the time when we remember baby Jesus asleep on the hay. A time to celebrate when Jesus came on a cold winter’s night that was so deep. That silent and holy night so long ago.
But watching Mother Angelica that night, and hearing her great anticipation, I realized that this Advent thing was NOT JUST about something that happened 2000 years ago. It is happening RIGHT NOW. He is COMING!
It’s all over our worship service today:
As the cross processed in today, we sang: Come thou long expected Jesus, Born to set thy people free. Dear desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.
It’s in the prayer of the day: by his coming, give to all the people of the world knowledge of your salvation
And, of course in the lighting of the advent wreath: o come o come Emanuel. Rejoice! Emanuel shall come to you o Israel
Did you hear it in the words of the prophet Malachi? The lord who you seek will suddenly come to his temple…..Indeed! He is coming!!
And Luke: He tells us of the one who goes before the lord to prepare his way. The one who says to Israel and to us: PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD! MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!
He is coming!
Sometimes, I feel like saying he is coming, with a threatening tone, as in “you wait till your father gets home” or “just wait till your mother hears about this!” When we see the evils of the world—what sin has done to humanity and all creation, what we in our sin do to one another, we wish God would step in a do something about it. Right after September 11th, I remember my pastor telling me that at times like that when she didn’t know what to pray for, or when she was too angry to pray for our enemies, she would pray for Christ’s return so that he could put all things to right.
Sometimes, I feel like saying He is coming, with an impatient tone, because it seems like not only will Christmas never get here but it also seems like we are always waiting on God to do something—to show up in a burning bush or a bolt of lightning to make things happen. To tell us what we should do or to grant an earnest prayer. I don’t know about you, but it seems like I’ve spent a lot of time in my life waiting on God to give me an answer or to point me in the right direction.
Sometimes, I wonder if he really is coming. We can look around and see people killing one another—not just in wars on the other side of the world but right here too. People are hungry—not just in countries of the third world but right here in our city. We can see people suffering from illnesses of the body, mind and heart—sometimes to the point of death. When is he coming?
But what I really want is to have that excitement—that rich, overflowing excitement—that anticipation bubbling out of Mother Angelica that looks at all that frustration with sin and death and doubt and still believes he is coming. And more than that—I want all of us to have it. Can you really believe it? When is he coming?
In our Gospel lesson today, we hear John the Baptist, the messenger who comes before Jesus, telling the people of Israel and telling us, we are to prepare the way of the Lord. How do we prepare for people to arrive, especially someone we are really looking forward to seeing? Clean the house. Plan a meal. Mark the calendar. Count the days till they arrive and then count again just to be sure. Check the weather. Watch the clock-and then maybe check to be sure that clock has the right time. Look out the window to see if their car can be seen in the driveway. Wonder how much longer it will be. Think about how great it is going to be to see them and how long it has been since we saw them last. Struggle to look down the road, to see if we can catch a glimpse of them just as they come around the corner. Meet them at the door, or maybe even at the car, with open arms. There are real tasks to do to prepare, but most of this is the excitement and anticipation in our hearts.
Why prepare the way—prepare your heart—for the coming of someone when you are not sure how they will get here or even when they will get here? Oh, I know that scripture gives us complicated clues and hints, but I don’t know what it will look like. What I do know, is that God always comes in ways we never expect. Like coming to that young Jewish girl. Like coming to shepherds and wisemen, prostitutes and virgins, tax collectors and fishermen. Like coming to live with people like you and me and coming to die just like we do. And, most amazing of all, like coming out of the grave to new life and coming again and again to us in bread and wine, in water and word, in the hands and feet, mouths and hearts of this body of Christ.
So sing John the Baptist’s cry: the lord is nigh. Let us all our hearts prepare for Christ to come and enter there.
Prepare the Royal Highway, for the King of Kings is near.
God’s people—–see him coming!
His rule is peace and freedom, and justice truth and love.
He is coming!