Advent: Preparing The Way
Remember the joyous song “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” from the 1973 movie musical Godspell? That famous line in the song is taken is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (40:3). Variations of that line are found in all four Gospels. For four weeks in the season of Advent (a word derived from the Latin, meaning “coming”), Christians prepare for the coming of the Lord. And then on December 25 we celebrate the birth of the Lord as the little baby Jesus Christ in a special Christ Mass, i.e.(Christmas).
Presents are given to loved ones, special meals are cooked, families try to come together, and most people go to church. Yet for some people, me included, Christmas is no longer a Holy Day. It has become just another huge, materialistic, secular, hectic holiday. Without trying to sound like Scrooge or “the Grinch that stole Christmas”, and without trying to appear sanctimonious, over the years I have grown to love the season of Advent more than Christmas.
It may be just my age, but I see more darkness in the world today. More friends and relatives are seriously sick or have died. There are more than 60 million refugees, more people are living in poverty, and we humans are destroying the world created for us by our loving God. In my own personal life, my aches and pains are increasing, I have more “senior’s moments”, and I am still a sinner. It is in this context that I have come to love Advent. During the four weeks of Advent, God promises us that there will be an end to the darkness and sinfulness of both our personal lives and our world.
The hymns and Biblical references to Advent are full of hope! Here are some of the words of two of my favorite hymns:
“ O come, divine Messiah! The world in silence waits the day when hope shall sing it’s triumph, and sadness flee away. Dear Saviour haste. Come, come to earth. Dispel the night and show your face, and bid us hail the dawn of grace."
Another Advent hymn constantly refers to the love and power of Emmanuel, the Hebrew word that means, “God is with us”:
"O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” The song pleads with God to “…free thine own from Satan’s tyranny. From depth of hell thy people save, and give them victory o’er the grave”, and continues”…come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.”
In a similar way to the hymns, Advent readings from the Bible promise an end to darkness and sin. Many of these readings are from Isaiah, a man who lived seven centuries before Christ and today is accepted as a prophet by Jews, Christians and Muslims. His prophecies of Jesus as the “suffering servant” are a major part of Holy Week. They are so vivid that Isaiah is regarded by some scholars as one of the evangelists.
But there are other Advent prophecies made by Isaiah that talk of the Lord creating a new world of peace:
“He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (2:3-4)
Isaiah also prophesizes of God’s new world for discouraged people:
“He gives vigour to the weary, new strength to the exhausted.
Young men may grow weary and faint,
even in their prime they may stumble and fall;
but those who look to the Lord will win new strength.”(40:28-29)
And so before the more secular, commercial, hectic holiday of Christmas takes over my consciousness, I look forward to the quieter and more hopeful four weeks of Advent. The Lord is coming and he has Good News for us. What can I do in my own life to “prepare the way of the Lord”? And once the Son of God appears, what can I do to help build His kingdom?