Killing by the Little Cuts

This urinal can’t swallow the cigarette someone flicked in it.

Saddest, wettest, shreddingest cigarette butt I ever hope to see, for the moisture that swells the tobacco’s not water alone. And the filter’s a sponge. And tendrils of brown bleed across the porcelain.

Sad cigarette. Sadder custodian. . . .

Yet saddest of all, I believe, is the man who first dropped his butt here in a public place. This one is benighted. This one cannot—or will not—comprehend the consequences. Can’t see that at the end of even his slightest act there always stands another, one whom he will scorn and trouble and cut, or else will love, by the act.

This fellow, this contemptuous flicker of cigarettes—however well he dresses, however solemnly he sits in his own church pew, however commanding, powerful, arrogant, smiling, self-satisfied, well-married, and prudent—can nevertheless not claim before God that he loves his neighbor as he loves himself, for he did not love my friend. He visited upon her a moment of moist, unnecessary misery.

This is the acid test. Do you love Christ Jesus? (Which question embraces this next one): Do you love the real manifestations of the Christ in the world around you? (Which question is the same as asking): Do you love the Body of Christ, the people whom Jesus loves? (Which question is made sharpest and purest in the following): How do you love the ones you do not meet, who cannot punish or reward you, blame or praise you, or in any way make the action anything more than the unvarnished (spontaneous) revelation of your natural self?

True love arises from the self alone, yours and mine, unqualified and free. Is it love when some threat drives me to it, or some payoff persuades me? A goodness given for a goodness gotten is a business transaction. No blame in that. No love either.

At the end of our least act, still affected by that act (for the world is shaped much more by the millions little gestures than by the more glorious res gestae of human accomplishment) stands another. Always. And that human was made in the image of God.

It is a radical truth that the Christ identifies much more with “the least of these” than with those of weight and repute in the world. “Radical,” I say, because such a downward identification is a flat reversal  of the way we choose to identify: upward, to those admirable, to those whose station flattens ours, whose power might empower us. We would be heroes. Jesus is the stranger. He is, in our common existence, the sick and the imprisoned.

How do we (as we will so often proclaim we do) love Jesus? With what attention and genuine love do we attend to the invisible people?

When I lean on the car horn loud and long, whose peace do I destroy? And how do I justify my anger now? Do I know the rules of the road better than the gentlewoman driving precisely the limit in front of me? And which of us is nearer the heart of Christ at this moment? And where is love?

When I neglect to signal a left-hand turn I neglect the driver behind me who might have gone forward in the right lane, had he known of my intentions. But he has snuggled up to the back of my bumper, as has the driver behind him, and so all must now wait with me the oncoming traffic, drivers and drivers and Christ as well. (Or did I suppose that holiness rode in my vehicle alone?)

When I break the myriad little promises I make in a day (many of them made just to get rid of some persistent person) I break faith. I break my word. And though my word meant nothing to me, to my lessers it was the food of hope. Yes, and if the littlest things I drop my bond and word thoughtlessly, like a butt in a urinal, in the greater, more “important” things that word will still be stinking of the urinal.

Laugh once at a racial joke, and I’ve laughed at the skin of the Son of God, whose chose to come enfleshed.

O man! When you speak of your wife as a fool, a ditz, a smiling second to your own great self, you shoot out the lip of your Savior. Do you not yet know that Christ both approaches you and tests you in your spouse? Woman, you cannot dimmish his native interests without reducing his Creator (and yours) to the bozo you think your husband is.

If, by loud sighs and significant looks and angry gestures,  you declare the old man ahead of you in the grocery line—you have lost patience with Elisha, the bald-headed prophet of God.

Complain about the children in your neighborhood whose noise unnerves you—or about your own children, whose energy leaves you both angry and exhausted, febrile—and you have complained about those whom Jesus suffered into his presence, saying, “Of such is the kingdom of God.”

And what of your father and mother when they descend into their dotage? (Teenagers often suspect that their parents have already entered the Fuddy stage, prelude to Duddy, by far the worse of the two.) If you despise them because of your vaster knowledge, your greater experience, your more contemporary ethic, your cooler view of life, you despise the instruments by which the Creator created you. Can you risk chopping the tree on which you are the fruit?

And surely you wouldn’t assume that the only way to rate an employee is by her efficiency. Surely you would not cancel all the rest of this human by the stroke of your executive pen? But “cancel” means “kill” in affairs of the spirit.

Do you recognize that your mood at work is the very air your coworkers breathe? By which, in eight hours, in weeks and in the passage of years, they may thrive or else may suffocate?

So, then:

Toss your fast-food wrappers on the highway.

Toss beers cans in the river.

Toss trash, the detritus of your burned-out desires; toss the very souls of those you use and lose; toss these wherever others do not see you, in the dark, in the night, in your unacknowledged solitude, away.

Toss a cigarette butt in a urinal, and you have made my dear friend miserable one more time, and she is the least of these, the sisters of Jesus.

And shall you rise in church tomorrow protesting your love for the Lord?

But we are more accurately revealed in the unconscious, habitual act than in acts we plan and for which we pay. In the former our truer nature dwells, and by it is made most manifest.

I am not writing of democracy. I’m not begging a political equality of all individuals. I am begging rather the coming of the kingdom of heaven, whose citizens we are when we elevate the least to that same citizenship.

I am writing of love.

For at the end of every deed stands the Master—cleaning urinals.

December 22nd – The Story: Going Up to Bethlehem

Luke 2: 1-4

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.

Hush, now. Here is the core of the story. It begins in earnest. The earth is turning toward the birthing of its king. The heavens have started their slow spiral down, down to a Judean town. In an instant in eternity, in the space inside a manger both shall meet like fingers touching.

Governments and peoples, too, are entoiled in the measureless event—though ignorantly, since the company of those who know what God is doing is humble still, and very small.

Governments and peoples, yes, and all the world.

All the world!

The emperor Octavian, whom the people call “Augustus (the sublime one, consecrated and divine); the emperor Octavian, whose other name, Caesar, will grow so grand as to embrace world rulers for millennia hence, Czars and Kaisers—the emperor is unwittingly involved. He decrees a worldly thing, and heaven smiles.

All went to be enrolled. . . .

Then, vastly, humanity itself begins to move, wheels in wheels turning, tribes and tongues and peoples and nations—all caught in the momentum of heavenly revolutions, but unaware. They are moving absently, their heads bent down like oxen at the mill wheel.

Oh, what a puzzlement are the populations of this dark earth! They know not the nearness of God. They elevate their emperors to the status of the divine; but at the descent of true Divinity  they go about their business unaware.

Nevertheless, they go, and their business is heaven’s business in spite of all, because God loves them! God loves them, and that’s the reason for the grand migrations of heaven and earth toward one another in order to meet and marry in the birth of a baby.

Vastly, humanity is moving, while angels as silent as snow fall down from heaven. The peoples are rivers flowing uphill, up from Galilee to Judea.

And here is the precious center of all these universal turnings: a man and a woman are climbing a winding path to Bethlehem. No one notices. They are lowly and all too common. It is evening. They make a small silhouette against the fiery sky.

Long, long have they been traveling. The journey began two thousand years ago when the Lord said to Abraham, In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

The woman knows when the journey began. Even now as she labors uphill she sings the soft song in her heart,

He is helping his servant Israel

Remembering the mercy

He uttered to our fathers,

Abraham and his posterity, forever.

The woman knows. Though no one else n all the world may know, yet she knows:

The life inside her is about to become the life of the world.

Ah, but hush. Hush now, my best beloved. For that ancient journey, and the turnings together of heaven and earth, and the imminent collisions of angels and peoples—why, it all began the day before yesterday, when governments decreed enrollments and Joseph and Mary packed a bag in Nazareth and started walking south, to Bethlehem, to the dawning.

O Lord!

And I know it, too! Mary may go calmly toward her Christmas, but I am filled with excitement for mine. O my Lord, God of the little and of the large, your love is as universal as all creation, and yet as particular as my small heart! Here at Christmas, you embrace the nations. Whether they know it, whether they confess it or not, you, Jesus, have saved all people from their sins!

But you are the baby in my cradle, here in my house under my tree. How can such impossibilities be? 

But with God nothing (I know, I know) shall be impossible.


December 21st – An Exaltation: The Fourth Gift, Goodness!

Matthew 1: 24-25

When Joseph awoke from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. He took his wife home, but he had no sexual relations with her until she had borne a son, and he called his name Jesus.

The day before we begged for a righteousness like Joseph’s, that selfless obedience to God which is tempered with mercy toward humanity.

Yesterday we realized that our righteousness alone could never repair the covenant between ourselves and the Lord. Mercifully, God himself initiated  that repair with the gift of Jesus, who “finished” it on the cross.

Today our Christmas grows merry, almost giddy, in the discovery of an irony: that the righteousness for which we strove so hard and so failingly suddenly appears within us after all, but as a gift!

O my love, we can be good! Good without some sneaking guilt that we’re deceiving ourselves. Good without a grinning, offensive arrogance. Good and humble and grateful at once. Good and knowing the goodness. Good, good, and glad in it!

For this is not self-righteousness. It is the righteousness of God. Its source is God and not ourselves. It comes near us in Immanuel. And it flows into us through Jesus who “will save his people from their sins,” Jesus whom God made to be sin “sin that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s a gift, the consequence of our salvation.

It is like laughter, the hilarity of God—a grand, celestial irony. For in the moment of our salvation, in precisely that moment when we are no longer required to keep the laws of God, lo: we can! Nope, don’t need to. But yep, we’re able!

Now, therefore, we turn to the Ten Commandments without fear of failure. Nor do we feel oppressed by the law. Nor does the law cause a loss of personal liberty. No, we want to keep it. It is our will, in harmony with God’s will.

O my dear, obedience unto God is now our glad thanksgiving for the gifts of Christmas. Obedience is that highest, most noble human accomplishment: honor for God, the creature’s cry of love for its Creator. We, the obedient—we are artists of the divine. We, the righteousness—divinity dwells in us and in the sight of all creation.

So we are like Joseph after all.

At the advent of the Lord within our lives, we waken from our long sleep of sin’s separations.

The invitation is ringing in our ears: Don’t be afraid. Come, join the cosmic drama wherein heaven and humanity meet in the tiny person of a baby.

Take Mary home. Honor the one who bears your Lord to you. Commit your life and all your ways to them—yes, even as if you had married them.

And name him Jesus. Recognize in him the salvation for humankind, then announce it abroad by naming the name.

Arise and obey me.

And this, Christian, becomes the fourth gift of our Christmas, that we do. We can. Joseph “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife home.”

Come, Lord Jesus!

You are my righteousness. You are my goodness, the cause and the reason for goodness. You are my life and the light of life. You are my love and all my loving. You are the most noble language I ever can utter, my words and all their meaning, my wisdom, my truth, and the better part of my self.

Come, and I shall be whole.


December 20th – Learn of God: Four Gifts of Christmas

Matthew 1: 20 – 23

Now, as he was considering this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife into your home, for the child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet who said, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son; They’ll call his name Immanuel, (meaning God with us).”

But righteousness is never enough!

Yes, Joseph is a just man. And yes, his justice is tempered by mercy, so that Mary’s good name need not be ruined. But justice alone would lead to separation. One man right, one woman wrong, and nothing left between them, neither life nor love nor family—and no child!

Truly, righteousness can create and maintain good order among us. Righteousness will protect the rights and the lives and the properties of individuals. Righteousness defines duties and obligations and privileges. It punishes deviance, purges crime, keeps the social body in health. All this is good and very good. But it is not good enough!

Righteousness may create good order—but it cannot recreate the people so that goodness and order arise from them.

It maintains society by restraining individual sin—but cannot change the individual from sinner to saint!

Something else is required. Something greater than humanity even at its best. Some act so completely divine that no humanity even at its best. Some act so completely no human can ever take the credit: humanity can only take the benefit, for this act must be a gift, pure gift of God.

This act?—this something else? Why, it’s Christmas!

Look how an angel astonishes the man in his sleep. (Sleep always signifies how perfectly passive is the receive: God is the only one active now.) The angel reinterprets the woman’s condition not as her sin but as God’s grace: for as this sleeping man has had nothing to do with the pregnancy, so no man anywhere nor any human activity at all could have caused it. The woman is a virgin. God is the only actor now.

The angel says: The child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God that brooded over the first creation is again at work, causing something as original as that, introducing into the world the Word by which the world was first created! This is grace beyond all righteousness, the gift of Christmas.

And this “child,” says the angel, this “son” shall be a thing, and this “son” shall do a thing.

What shall he be? Immanuel: the presence of holy God among us, in space and time and human community. Our righteousness has not earned this. We have not enticed God here by sweetness, lovableness, goodness, faithfulness, prayers, kneelings, pieties, manifest obediences. Immanuel is here on his own recognizance, according to his own lights and his love.

And what shall he do? Jesus: he shall save his people from their sins. Our natural sinfulness and all our actual sins are the reasons we could never earn the presence of God among us. In fact, we should be as terrified of Immanuel as any fraud is of the truth. But this is the gift that righteousness could never accomplish, that Jesus himself, in coming among us, changes us, making us worthy of his presence, sisters and brothers of the Firstborn of God.

Even a man as just as Joseph should be terrified to be caught up by the cosmic forces that have already snatched his betrothed. But the angel says, Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife into your home. And by grace he is not afraid.

And that is the third part of this Christmas gift which is beyond all righteousness: (1) In Jesus God is made present to humanity. (2) Jesus changes us, removing anything that would sever us from God, making us children of his Father. (3) And no fear shall overcome us as nearer and nearer God comes to us. We shall desire the intimacy and delight in it.

No, we shall not fear. Rather, we shall discover within us—as did Joseph when he awoke—the miraculous ability to obey the voice of God.

And that is the fourth gift of Christmas, the consequence of the first three, surprising enough to deserve its own meditation:

Righteousness renewed in us after all!

Come, Lord Jesus:

Come near me. Come, change my sinful nature. Come to me, then, as my brother. Remove all fear from my trembling heart, and make your baby bed within me, where you become all my righteousness and all I need to recommend me to the Father, now and forevermore.


December 19th – Learn of Joseph: The Character of Righteousness

Luke 1:56

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.

Matthew 1:18-19

Now, the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way:

His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph; but before they came together, she was found to be with child—by the Holy Spirit.

Joseph her husband was a just man, but was unwilling to put her to shame; so he resolved to divorce her quietly.

Joseph, the carpenter;

Joseph, a common man caught up in cosmic affairs;

Joseph, known to his neighbors, yet so unassuming that he sinks swiftly from biblical sight (indeed, this episode in Matthew is the single personal story by which we might really meet the man);

Joseph, more mute in the Gospels than Zechariah since the words of the latter are recorded in talk and in song, but of the former there are no words remembered, none;

Joseph, husband of Mary, adoptive father of Jesus—

Joseph is a just man.

Because the Evangelists say so little about him, each word must bear enormous importance: Joseph is an “upright” man. For raising his child, papa Joseph shall be the very model of a righteous man—not so much in what he says as in what he does.

So, let’s examine it: what does he? What is righteousness, as revealed in this brief episode of rights and choices regarding the life of another?

Mary was found to be with child . . . .

Until the angel enlightens him with a holier explanation, the evidence speaks for itself. Mary has committed adultery. Betrothal binds two people as completely as marriage itself, even though they don’t yet live together or engage in sexual activity. So Mary has broken the Law, and the Law defines the consequence.

The woman charged with so serious a crime as adultery shall be stoned (Deut. 22: 20-21).

But Joseph?

He resolved to divorce her quietly. He has some legal discretion here, and he chooses, Joseph chooses, not to accuse her of the crime, neither publicly nor privately. He will make no accusation at all, though he has every right to do so.

So this is what that righteous man is not: he is not self-centered! If Joseph suffers a blow to his ego, his masculinity, his stallion pride, we don’t see it. He shows no anger, no public outrage, no withering scorn. He doesn’t pull a gun on her. He doesn’t beat her. He doesn’t  launch a campaign to smear her. He never says, “She owes me” or “She’ll pay for this,” as if her sin owes something to him. Mary’s adultery seems to have absolutely nothing to do with his reputation! And the righteous man does not view justice as something he receives for damages.

But today, in systems of law that ignore God altogether, and in hearts too filled with selves, folks demand justice as their own due! “She’ll pay for this” means “I’ll get that pay!” And we seek punishment to satisfy nothing but ourselves.

And Joseph?

He resolved to divorce her. . . . Though he chooses to do it quietly, he nevertheless chooses to divorce her.

Neither, then, is the righteous man the romantic hero who flouts laws and traditions for the sake of some higher individuality. Just as Joseph’s decision doesn’t center on himself, so it does not center on Mary or on their relationship as if that were the true nobility of humanity.

Joseph does not cry “Love conquers all!” He cannot make a small world of himself and his true love alone. He won’t (as do so many today) exchange the restraints of God and one’s culture for sweet, explosive emotions or for some fierce individuality that knows better than all the ancestors and all the parents combined.

No, Joseph’s righteousness (1) honors God and God’s will above the will of the self and even above the love of another. But it (2) is tempered by mercy.

Joseph resolves to keep the law, yes, but with such lenience that Mary’s life will not be destroyed in the process. There will be no accusation, no trial at all (though a trial by ordeal is indicated where no witness can be found, cf. Num. 5: 11-31), no public shame, nothing save the writ of divorce and two witnesses.

What, then, is righteousness? These two things: the obedience we owe to God and the mercy God grants us to grant others. It looks first to God, second to the other, never to the self—yet the self experiences a most holy peace in these relationships.

Come Lord Jesus:

Come, live in my heart as you lived in the house of Joseph. I yearn to be as righteous as he. O Lord, become the source of righteousness in me.


December 18th – An Exhortation: Serve as Zechariah Defines Service

Luke 1: 67 – 79:

And Zechariah his father was filled with the Holy Spirit, so that he prophesied, saying:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel:

for he has visited and redeemed his people, and raised up for us a horn of salvation in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; performing the mercy promised to our fathers, and remembering his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham, to grant that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our lives.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sings, through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon up from on high to give light to those who site in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Give us the broom for making us clean.

With that abrupt prayer we ended our last meditation from December 17th—since perhaps we had noticed in our Christmas preparations a lack of readiness for the reappearing of Jesus “in his glory, all the angels with him, when he will sit on his glorious throne” (Matt. 25:31).

We pray first to learn what we ought to be to meet our King.

And second we pray to learn how we might become it.

And lo: Zechariah’s song—turning our attentions again to John the Baptist—answers both our beggings.

What, then, shall we be?

Servants, as Mary was, surely: so completely committed to this sacred service that it becomes our life’s purpose; it shapes all our behavior; it defines, then, even our personhood. “This,” said Mary, “is who I am. This is my identity. I am the handmaid of the Lord.” Her body and soul together were given unto God, for God’s word dwelt in her not only as an infant, but more especially as the very substance of her obedience. In this latter way may the word of God take flesh and breath in our flesh and spirits too: by our obeying it!

But the word used in verse 74 for “to serve” implies something more than menial obedience. It is a religious service, a particular devotion. It turns all our common life into a worship.

Without fear: serving this particular Lord grants us such protection that no enemy shall ever break through to destroy us.  We need not fear the world. Moreover, this particular Lord does not oppress us into his service. We choose (“Let it be to me according to your word”). Neither, then, do we cringe and grin, serving because we fear him.

In holiness and righteousness: these are characteristics of a covenant people. This righteousness are those who stand in a right relationship with God, trusting him above every created thing (above parents, spouses, one’s own abilities, money) and performing with joy the requirements that come with this particular covenant (loving one another as Jesus has loved us). The holy, likewise, are those whose relationship with God separates them (even as God is separate) from the godless world. They neither serve the world nor take their identity from the world’s standards, judgments, opinions, delights, behaviors. They are strangers here. But they are also, therefore, free and fearless!

Even so ought we to be when our Lord returns: a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.

But how might we become that?

Why, turn to the Lord whom the Baptist proclaimed—and discover what God in him has already accomplished.

He has raised up for us a horn of salvation (v. 69). This “horn” is an image remembered from the Old Testament. A powerful ox establishes its four hoofs on the ground and raises it head, alert to danger, confident in its strength. With its head is raised the horn, which signifies, then, the might of the entire beast. That same horn, signifying victory, appeared on the helmets of warriors—and soon stood for the triumph of the Messianic king from the House of David. It also appeared on the corners of Israel’s sacred altars, signs of the omnipotence of the Most High.

But the verb which Luke uses here for “raised up” is unusual. In the Old Testament it’s commonly used as an act of God who “raises up” his people. In Luke’s language it is used regarding Jesus, whom God has “raised up” from the dead (Acts 4:10-12)! So the early Christian church recognized that Jesus was himself the “horn of salvation.” It is Jesus who makes the strength of God and the victory of his people real after all!

Turn unto him in order to turn into servants of the Lord, for in him is “the forgiveness of our sins” (v. 77). An Advent “turning to Jesus” requires three actions.

Let us seriously examine ourselves.

Let us genuinely confess the sins discovered within us, naming them before the altar and the horn of our salvation, Jesus.

Let us then fall completely upon “the tender mercy of our God” (v. 78). Tender means literally “the innermost parts of mercy,” which parts are the heart, the lungs and the liver of a living body, the chambers of deepest emotion.

But these are God’s innermost parts. Fall, then, upon the bosom of the Lord, whose mercy is as deep and as certain as his holy heart!

His forgiveness is likewise certain. It is his act, then, that shall raise you up again, his servant “all the days of your life.”

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

Because thy promise I believe,

O Lamb of God, I come.

I come.

December 17th – A Teaching: What John Becomes for Every Advent

Luke 1: 63—66:

Zechariah asked for a writing tablet, then astonished everyone by writing, His name is John. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue loosed, and he began to utter praises to God.

Fear fell on their neighbors. These events were discussed throughout the whole hill country of Judea, and all who heard them stored them in their hearts, wondering, “What will this child become, then?”—for the hand of the Lord was with him . . . .

As the child grew up, he became strong in the spirit, and he stayed in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance in Israel.

Here, in Luke’s telling, are five marvelous and fearful events that surrounded the birth of John, evidence that the Lord was up to something.

—She who conceived him and bore him was very old.

—At this circumcision, his mother chose an odd name, and though the father was deaf to it, he wrote in clay the self-same name. What a tremendous, mystery harmony between these two!

—But that harmony came straight form God, since their common act was the first fulfillment of Gabriel’s prophecy to Zechariah: You shall call his name John.

—The second angelic prophecy had already been fulfilled, for there were “many rejoicing at this birth” (compare vv. 14 and 58).

—And the third prophecy was fulfilled the instant Zechariah wrote John. Though friends and relatives could not have realized that Zechariah’s action was directly connected to heaven, the action itself was marvelous enough to astonish them. For suddenly the man who had been mute nine months erupted voluble praises to God.

No, this was no common birth. Yes, the hand of the Lord was clearly with this infant. What, then, would the Lord require of him hereafter? What was his function in the plans of God?

What, the people wondered, will this child become?

By this question and by that concluding reference to the child’s life “in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance,” Luke’s story forces us to contemplate what the child in fact became: John the Baptist, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord!’ “

Christian, that advent of Jesus two thousand years ago is not the actual Advent yet to come for us.

As John, who cried Prepare to Israel, was the messenger of that first appearing, so John is the messenger now of the reappearing, the Second Coming of Christ!

Still, still he cries: Prepare!

Are we listening?

Do we, who are busy preparing for Christmas, parties and presents and decorations and food and church programs—and visitors—do we prepare with equal fervor for the visitation of the Lord?

What sort of Advent is the imminent Advent for you? If you are consumed by one more Christmas (one mere Christmas among two-thousand) your Advent is fleeting, time-bound, and likely self-absorbed. Desperate preparations often indicate an anxiety about the opinions of others regarding ourselves. But if your participation in this temporal Advent truly signifies preparations for the final Advent, you are Christ-absorbed.

An anonymous poem, written when there were still kings in the land, expresses the failure to read the marvelous and fearful signs that surround the holy birth:

Yet, if His Majesty, our sovereign Lord,

Should of his own accord

Friendly himself invite

And say, “I’ll be your guest tomorrow night”—

How should we stir ourselves, call and command

All hands to work: “Let no man idle stand;

Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall;

See they by fitted all,

That there be room to eat

And order taken that there want no meat;

See every sconce and candlestick made bright

That without tapers they may give a light;

Look to the presents; are the carpets spread?

The daisy o’er the head?

The cushions in the chairs?

And all the candles lighted on the stairs?

Perfume the chambers and in any case

Let each man give attendance in this place.”