Advent: Prepare the Way for Immanuel
Advent began yesterday. For weeks now, I’ve been hearing its quiet, persistent call and feeling its pulse beneath the earth’s hustle and bustle in preparations for the holidays. Its call is beneath the lights, deeper than the roots of the Christmas trees, quieter than the stillness of my house once all the children are in bed, yet louder through the pages of my Bible than my culture’s cries of consumerism all around me…Prepare the Way…Humble Your Heart…Don’t Miss the Child…Immanuel is coming.
God has been gracious to help me hear Advent’s call early this year and to begin to think and prepare because in years past, Advent was easy to miss. With four children in the house, I have missed Immanuel more than I have held Him. I have followed Christmas’ crazy trail of seasonal to-do’s rather than quieting my heart, examining my heart, and humbling my heart in preparation for Immanuel.
I have spent many more hours on planning, purchasing, and wrapping gifts than I have unwrapping the gift of Immanuel, God with us, that has been given. I have spent much more time preparing for Christmas Day in the grocery stores, my car, the kitchen, and in crowds at parties and shows than I have in letting God, through meditation on Scripture and prayer, prepare my heart.
And it’s really tough, this tug of war that happens each and every year between the call of Immanuel and what is really Christmas and the call of the lights, gifts, and busyness and what my culture has made Christmas that happens all around me. I don’t want to be bah-humbug, but I also don’t want to miss the sign post God has given to reorient my heart towards the One who came and the One who is coming.
The prophet Isaiah wrote centuries before the birth of Christ:
“Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”
A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed.
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
This is the same call each of the Gospel writers attributes to John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for the coming of Christ when He walked this earth 2000 years ago. Before Christ came and began His public ministry, God first sent John to “make ready the way of the Lord,” to straighten every path, to humble every exalted place and exalt every humble place. And John did not come crying, “Prepare the way” armed with lights, a Christmas tree, ornaments, and gifts. He came armed with repentance. “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).
If the church is going to be the church, we have got to rethink the way we prepare the way for Christmas. We have got to get serious about using this season of Advent, this pause and breath of four weeks before remembering the day of Christ’s birth, to prepare the way in our hearts, not just around our tree.
Because here’s the thing: for weeks now, I’ve been looking at the words of Isaiah 2. And this is what verses 5-11 say:
“House of Jacob, come, let us walk in Yahweh’s light.
For You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob,
Because they are filled with influences from the east,
And go fortune telling like the Philistines.
And with the children of foreigners they shake hands,
And their land has become full of silver and gold,
And there is no end to their treasures,
And their land has become full of horses,
And there is no end to their chariots,
And their land has become full of no-gods,
To the work of their hands they bow in worship,
To what their fingers have made!
And humankind is humiliated,
And each individual is demeaned –
Impossible that You should forgive them!
Go into the rock,
and hide yourself in the dust,
because of apprehension of Yahweh,
and from the splendor of His eminence.
Humankind’s haughty looks will be demeaned
And the cockiness of individuals brought down,
And Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day.
(Translation by Alec Motyer, Isaiah by the Day)
Look at verse 11 once again: “Humankind’s haughty looks will be demeaned and the cockiness of individuals brought down, and Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day.”
Which means this: you and I can do the hard work of humbling ourselves before the Lord and getting rid of all “the influences of the east,” all of the bargains and treaties we have struck with the systems of this world to give us security, strength, and influence, all of the idols or “no-gods” we have fashioned with our own hands so that we can worship the god we want when we want on our own terms, or we can wait for the sure and certain coming Day of the Lord when He will humble our hearts for us and we will be left in the dust, trembling from the terror of the Lord (v. 10).
Again, I am not trying to be a naysayer here, but church, we must wake up. We must do the serious business of letting the God who came and the God who is coming work in our hearts to bear our sin so that we are not borne away by our sin on the Day when He comes again.
I have a Christmas tree in my house. My stockings are hung and, Lord willing, they will be filled on Christmas morning. Our roof line is strung with lights and two brightly lit angels stand trumpeting on the lawn. My daughter is dancing in the Nutcracker, and I’ve already responded to several Christmas party invitations. But again, here’s what Isaiah 2:11 says, “The proud look of man will be humbled.” The real question is not where your steps are walking this Advent season but where are your eyes looking. What are the aims and interests you have for your family, your children, yourself? Is it to accumulate certain gifts for yourself and your kids? Is it to make sure they don’t miss out on anything and attend every event? Is it to fill their schedules and their palates? Or is it to redirect their eyes? To help them see Immanuel and prepare the way for His entrance in to their hearts?
It will take saying “no” to a few things over the next few weeks. It will take redirecting your steps to make sure the Word is dwelling richly within you with its interests and aims instead of the mall, stores, and culture around you.
But please…please…heed the call to hear the call and prepare the way. As C.S. Lewis writes in his book Until We Have Faces, “Die before you die; there is no chance after.” In other words, do the hard work now of bending the heart and scraping the knee, suffering internally, even, in the here and now, so that your hearts are ready for eternity.
To help us in the process of preparing the way, I’ve come up with seven meditative questions and responses based on Isaiah 2 so that a way can be cleared in the wilderness of our hearts for the coming of Christ. You can use these questions in the mornings or evening to facilitate a prayerful response to Christ throughout the next four weeks. This is not a traditional Advent devotional but something to use to supplement any devotions you might read. These are questions to push us towards repentance, prayer, and preparing our hearts in the way of humbling our hearts before Immanuel for Christmas Day.
I’ve attached the document here: Advent Prayers – Prepare the Way. Please consider printing it out and putting it in a spot you will see it often over the next four weeks.
Whatever route you decide to take for Advent this year, please join with me in preparing our hearts. I look forward to taking this journey together.
For more encouragement on Preparing Our Hearts during the Advent season, connect with me on Facebook this week.