Paul’s admonitions seem like a strange thing to read during the first week of Advent.
In Advent, we make ready for the birth of Christ. What does that have to do with getting rid of quarreling? Some might suggest they quarrel during Advent to make ready for the annual major family brawl that happens over Christmas, in fact.
I think the problem comes when I fail to see that Advent is not the time when we get ready for Christmas. During Advent, we get ready for the coming of Christ. Paul writes post-manger, so he doesn’t know about how to get ready for the Christmas holiday. He only knows how to get ready for the coming of the King, and I think he’s the one who gets it right and not us.
Paul speaks specifically about how we make ourselves ready, and if we read the prophecies about the Messiah, we know that there’s even more to it. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” Isaiah says, and tells us to make a path in the desert and make the crooked way straight. Two commands come to those who want to prepare for the coming of the King: Make yourselves ready and make your world ready to receive him.
Well, wait just a minute. Isn’t there something in Christian teaching about how we can’t completely put those things aside? Isn’t there something about how our own sin blocks us from fully opening ourselves to God? After all, if we could com-pletely cleanse ourselves of our wrong in order to make ready for the king, why did he come at all? If we could make right what we’ve done wrong in our relationship with God, then why would Christ come at all, let alone die on a cross?
And of course we know we can’t make ourselves right with God. Experience teaches that even if we want to believe something else. So how in the world would we make our world right, and if we can’t do it anyway, why bother trying? The golf course or the porch or the lake or our beds look mighty good Sunday morning, so why bother with a church or any of that stuff? God’s going to fix it all anyway, so I might as well do what I want, when I want, right now.
But we don’t prepare ourselves or our world for our own sake. We don’t try to live more like God wants us to live just so we can get to a certain level that makes God like us more or allows us to show off how holy we are. Our efforts themselves, no matter how lame they might be, are part of our proclamation of the gospel.
Yes, I said that – we proclaim the gospel when we try to make ourselves ready for the coming of the King, even though we know we can’t get it right or finish the job. How?
Remember, when we begin to follow Christ we agree to live as God calls us to live. And that way differs from the way the rest of the world lives a lot of the time. We love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, rather than love something in this world or love ourselves that way. We love our neighbors as ourselves, recognizing that they are children God loves as much as he loves us. We love one another, because Jesus told us that’s how other people know we follow him.
We don’t pretend we live in a world without hate, violence and fear. We know we do, and we know those things cause human pain and misery every day. When we try to live out the life of love and devotion to God, we don’t close our eyes and go “lalalalalanotlistening!” to the real darkness and sin in our world.
What we say is, “It’s not supposed to be like this.”
As Christians, what we say and do is supposed to tell everyone we meet that what’s wrong with the world is just that – wrong! God didn’t make it that way. He made it good, and even though human sin has spoiled it, he still intends to re-shape it someday into the world he always intended.
We may not see that new world in our lifetimes – heck, I don’t even know if I see a new “me” some mornings. But we believe God will make it happen. When we prepare for that new world by living our lives according to God’s call, we proclaim it. God designed something different than what we deal with on a daily basis, and he wants us to show that to the people who may not know about it yet.
“Getting ready for Christmas” may mean busy-ness, and chasing around through crowded stores in order to spend money we won’t actually make until sometime in March. It may mean stress and overwork, or gloom, despair and agony. For some people, Christmas just magnifies those things as a part of their regular life.
But the good news of Christmas is that things aren’t supposed to be like that, and in Christ, God shows us how they are supposed to and one day will be.