Waiting and preparing, for what?

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By Kathy Berken
It’s Advent. Again. If you are like me, you have heard the words “wait and prepare” more times than you can remember. What new energy can we bring to Advent to give greater spiritual depth to preparing for and awaiting Jesus’ birth? I have some thoughts on this.

Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, famously told the disciples to “prepare ye the way of the Lord,” a phrase fleshed out in Mark’s Gospel (1:1-3). Quoting Malachi 3:1, and cross-referenced in Isaiah 40:3, Mark writes: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”

I appreciate how John’s preaching and baptizing ahead of Jesus’ entrance into formal ministry (when John baptizes him in the Jordan) gives way to Jesus’ public life of preaching, teaching and healing. John the Baptist’s act of preparing the way of the Lord, repeated from his father Zechariah’s canticle, is about Jesus’ birth and his ministry.

Zechariah praises God for saving the Israelites by bringing them a Savior. “Born of the house of His servant David,” is a reference to Jesus’ genealogy, which we read in that litany of Jesus’ ancestors with names we can’t remember, except perhaps Amminadab or Zerubbabel and of course, Shealtiel.

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This takes us back to waiting and preparing. Biblically speaking, the Israelites waited for a Savior and John the Baptist prepared them for the Messiah’s ministry. How does that relate to us today except to know these stories?

I believe we can find a way to make Advent more relatable if we consciously put Advent into perspective. Long gone are the days when merchants did not dare advertise anything Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Advent wreaths and meatless Fridays were the norm and we made Christmas cookies but could not eat even one until after Midnight Mass.

I have seen plenty of displays going up right after Halloween, ads for “Christmas in July” and stores devoted to Christmas all year long. Honestly, unless we can isolate ourselves from the rampant commercialism, I think that if we want to focus on the meaning and application of Advent, we may be more successful emulating early Christians than railing against the merchandising of our culture. Ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia Dec. 17-23 and at some point, the Church adopted Dec. 25 for Christmas, so people celebrated both.

Here are a few easy ideas to help us prepare and wait, so that we can actually have Advent to prepare ourselves spiritually for Christmas and offer a discipline of patience as we still shop, bake and decorate. Just doing one or more of these practices will go far in creating an attitude that brings us into a deeper awareness of Jesus’ birth.

1) Put your Advent wreath in a prominent place, such as your kitchen table, and include a lighter and a booklet of prayers for each day. Take turns lighting the candle and reading.

2) Have each member of the family create a simple task, on a slip of paper, that does not require a ton of work and put those slips into a container. These are easily doable: “Say one nice thing about each person at the table” or “Each person clears their own dishes during Advent” or “Say a prayer for someone in need” or “We will all be silent for two full minutes together (no phones).”

3) Create an empty Advent “calendar” box to add to daily with nonperishable food items or clothing to give away after Christmas to a nearby shelter.

4) Set up your Nativity but place the characters in different locations in the house and each day move them closer to the stable.

5) Read one verse each day from Luke 2:1-20 and on Sundays see how well you can get through the genealogy of Jesus from Matt 1:1-17.
Blessed Advent everyone!

(Kathy Berken is a spiritual director and retreat leader in St. Paul, Minnesota. She lived and worked at L’Arche in Clinton — The Arch from 1999-2009.)


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