Advent is a time of preparation. Like Lent before Easter, Advent is a time to get ready for the joyous celebration of Christmas. Christmas is much more than the sights, sounds and conspicuous consumption that have come to characterize the “Holiday Season.” Christmas is not that “Holiday Season.” Christmas is a celebration of God coming near in the form of a human infant. It is the soul of a sacred season in which incarnation of the holy is both remembered and experienced again as a living reality. It is a time for taking stock of our own lives; it is a time to consider what it would be to have Christ born in us once again.
In the best of all possible worlds, babies don’t come as a complete surprise. The birth is eagerly anticipated and the preceding days are filled with preparation for the coming child. Advent is that time of preparation for the birth of Christ. The ancient story says that the baby Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger. Even if Joseph had tried to phone ahead for reservations, the accommodations in first century Bethlehem would have been minimal and healthcare virtually nonexistent. The preparation for the birth of Jesus was apparently adequate, but clearly improvised. Now, all these centuries later, we need not improvise. The liturgical calendar allows us enough time to get ready for the birth as it comes around each year. We have time to prepare for the coming of Christ in this new church year.
In her beautiful Advent hymn, “People Look East,” Eleanor Farjeon encourages us to “Make your house fair as you are able, Trim the hearth and set the table. People, look east and sing today: Love, the guest, is on the way.” It is such a
magnificent way to describe what is about to happen, “Love the guest is on the way.” The King of Love is coming, is coming to your house, to your heart. What must you do to prepare?
Every year, the Spiridons host a lovely open house during this season for the whole congregation (as did Soo Kim and Doug Lee not long ago.) Putting on a party like that takes time and energy before the guests arrive. Preparations are
critical for the party to be a success.
For many years my former partner and I hosted a holiday open house for 150 people on a Sunday before Christmas. It was a joyous occasion. We loved having our home filled with family, friends and colleagues. But it took a lot to plan and prepare for the party. He would start early in December decorating the house from top to bottom, front to back, side to side. Over time I developed a menu of favorites that kept me busy in the kitchen. When the doorbell rang on the given Sunday afternoon the feast was on, but the whole thing would have been a disaster without preparation. The full affect, the desired outcome, the shared community, came into being because we spent a lot of time and energy preparing.
I know Advent preparation is not quite the same thing, but I also believe the parallel is there. The party was about joy and love – love for the people in our lives and the joy of sharing our home with them. Christmas is also about love
and joy, but a deeper love and grander joy than a good party. If we put that amount of our resource into planning a party, what would be needed to prepare for the Christ, the King of Love, the Savior of the World?
I know love and joy can be spontaneous, but in the seasons of the church year, the love and joy of Christmas call for preparation. I am very excited about Advent at FBCPA this year. Led by our intern, Naomi, we have been preparing
for this season for some time. Naomi, who interned this summer with Marcia McFee in her Worship Design Studio, brought creativity and grace to this process. We had a wonderful Advent to Epiphany Worship Brainstorming Party,
involving 20 members of the congregation preparing for our Advent/Christmas/Epiphany celebration. The theme for this season is drawn from the prophet Isaiah (2:3), “Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of God….” There we will engage in building that house of God as a place where Christ might come and dwell with us, bringing peace and goodwill to all creation.
Starting Saturday, November 30 at 9:00 AM we will begin to build our house and make it ready by “Hanging the Greens” (decorating the sanctuary.) Then on Sunday, December 1, we will share the first of four worship services that
will help us to make our hearts ready as well. Preparations are in order; love the guest is on the way.