A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
I heard some great teaching on this essential Advent passage in BSF a few years ago. The voice in this selection is a herald, whose job was to announce the coming of a king. The announcement behooved the local residents to repair the roads so their ruler could make the journey without undue delays. No potholes, please. Only smooth roads for our liege! But the herald sent before God gives orders of hyperbolic proportions—make that road so flat that the mountains come down and the valleys come up!
Christmas is coming—when we celebrate the advent of our God and King—not just His arrival in an ancient manger, but His arrival in our hearts at salvation, and His future coming when we go to be with Him forever. We can’t take these things lightly; we must be prepared. And as Isaiah suggests, it’s no small work to make ready for the King of Kings.
Perhaps the best way to dive into Advent is to imagine what it’s like to make an entrance. Many of us (introverts) hate this. We’d rather hang out at home than fix ourselves up, attend some shindig, and face introductions to strangers.
For some of you, the anxiety climbs up into your throat just thinking about it. What kinds of things do you avoid because you aren’t sure how you will be received? Clubs? Get-togethers? PTA?
How about visiting churches? That can be stressful! We might be able to hide out in a worship service and go unnoticed, but not so with Sunday school. My husband and I once visited a church where we knew quite a few members. I felt at ease walking in the door because I assumed I wouldn’t feel out of place.
And then we went to Sunday school.
I knew several people in the class. A couple of acquaintances nodded in my direction, murmured a hello, then immediately returned to their conversations. Todd and I sat in tense silence, waiting for the lesson to start, while the class members gabbed among themselves. Later on, Todd confided to me that, even though some members of the class had met him before, no one spoke to him at all.
Talk. About. Awkward.
Prior to this, Todd had been a discipleship minister. My role as the supportive wife involved connecting visitors to the ministries of our church. But this wasn’t just my responsibility. In fact, the staff at the church made it a point to train everyone to work toward this one goal. Connect everyone you can to a complete life in Christ. Their point of entry to the family of God just might be our church, so by all means—for the love of God–make them feel welcome.
I heard a minister at another church describe it this way: A visitor should feel as if you expected them. You’ve prepared for their arrival, just like you would for a house guest. When someone comes through the front door to visit in your home, you get up and serve them—offer them the comfy chair and some refreshments. In my old Sunday school class back home, church members would have jumped to their feet, greeting the visitor at the classroom door. “Hey! How are you? I’m so glad you’re here. Coffee? Have a seat by me.”
I never doubted that these acquaintances wanted us to join their church. It simply had not occurred to them that it was their responsibility to reach out. No one, it seemed, had set an expectation that members be prepared for a newcomer, to make them feel welcome.
As I confront the Advent season, I have to wonder if these are the signals that I send the Savior. He left Heaven for me. Do I even bother to rise from my seat? Am I giving attention at Christmas solely to people who are already a fixture in my life, rather than to Jesus? Are my traditions so firmly planted in my life that they occupy of the seat of honor? Where only Jesus Himself should be found?
At Christmas I have to examine my flurry of decorating, shopping, wrapping, cooking and partying and wonder if I’ve forgotten who made His entrance on that day. He exchanged His place at God’s right hand for a manger, His throne for a cross—and He did this for me. If my Christmas traditions are the Sunday school equivalent of a superficial smile, nod and a “Hey, good to see ya,” at the advent of so great a salvation, then I’m in serious need of prayer.
My life should demonstrate that the one who arrived on Christmas morning changed everything. He is I AM. His identity defies explanation except, “I exist, and I reign, now and always. Worship me.”
With Advent we have not only Yahweh, I AM, but Immanuel—GOD WITH US. He doesn’t arrive as a Sunday morning guest whom we might, if we feel like it, welcome and attract to return the next Sunday. He occupies the seat of honor simply because He is worthy—whether we recognize His worth or not.
We shouldn’t put Jesus in a position to claim His place—although that day is coming, when he “will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (I Thessalonians 4:16, ESV). On that day, He will gather us up, those who belong to Him. In preparation, we should rise from our seats and welcome Him to the seat of honor in our hearts, serving Him and lavishing Him with adoration.
So many among us doubt God’s goodness at this time of year. Our eagerness to welcome the Christ should transform the holiday for those around us. Our lives should declare the Lord’s love for mankind above the din of our culture’s holiday traditions.
He came and died so that we might live. His return is imminent, and we must prepare. Get up out of your seat and welcome Him in.