There’s Still Time to Prepare the Way of the Lord
My favorite devotional series, In Conversation with God, features on the cover of the Advent/Christmastide volume a painting of John the Baptist baptizing Christ in the Jordan.
I confess for years I have inwardly groaned at that image. John the Baptist? C’mon. It hardly seems very Advent-y, and certainly not Christmas-y. Well, I’m here to tell you I’ve been wrong. John the Baptist is precisely who we need to keep in mind during Advent.
There’s no better Christmas gift the Church could give us than to preach unflinchingly about sin, especially in the few days left to us before the Christmas season begins.
‘Prepare the Way of the Lord’
If Advent is our season to prepare the way of the Lord — and it is — then we cannot possibly do Advent right without a focus on sin. Specifically, on confronting sin head-on so as to get it out of our houses, our bodies, our minds, our souls.
That babe in the manger came for one purpose: our salvation. Calvary begins in Bethlehem. Christ became man like us in all things but sin for only one reason: to free us from our sin and save us from hell.
Sin is an unpopular word nowadays. People much prefer to speak only of mercy. But mercy makes no sense unless there is an offense to pardon.
Disobedience is a very unwelcome concept nowadays. People prefer to think of God only in His tenderness, patience and love. Yet God is also the Just Judge, the Holy One, All-Powerful, King of Kings. He is the Law-giver, and is owed our obedience and our worship. His commands are not suggestions we may take or leave at our pleasing.
He is neither tyrant nor pushover. He is the God who took upon Himself the punishment for our sins, out of His great love for us because we are unable to satisfy His justice ourselves. That is the newborn lying in the manger. That is the helpless baby at Mary’s breast.
St. Theresa of Calcutta taught us to pray that our hearts would be the crib Our Lady chooses for her baby. Our hearts cannot become that crib if they are hardened and cold with sin. The gift and purpose of Advent is to renew our commitment to turning away from sin in order to turn toward Christ.
“Prepare the way of the Lord!” John the Baptist cries out to us. “Repent!” The only way to prepare the way of the Lord is to repent and turn away from sin.
The Good News of Repentance
If this doesn’t sound like a very cheery Christmas message, then I humbly ask you to listen again, more closely.
We lack joy because we are weighed down by sin. We lack clarity of vision because our eyes are gunked up by sin. We lack healing because our habits are sinful, our attachments are sinful, and our desires are sinful. We live in personal chaos because of our sin. We live in societal chaos because of our sin. Sin steals and destroys and leads us to hell.
The reason to preach about sin is to tell the sinner there is a way out, there is freedom, and the key to the prison cell door is repentance.
But there is Good News waiting for us in that manger. The Son of God came to set us free from all that chaos, hopelessness and destruction.
The reason to preach about sin is to tell the sinner there is a way out, there is freedom, and the key to the prison cell door is repentance. Chaos can become order; despair can become hope; ruin can become beauty again, death itself will lose its power — if we will turn away from sin.
To preach repentance from sin is good news! It is hopeful news, joyful news, life-giving news. To let Advent go by without urging every soul to repent and amend their lives would be the most inexcusable waste of time, the most egregious neglect.
If Christmas comes and goes without awe and wonder in our hearts, it is likely because our hearts were not made ready through repentance and forgiveness of sins. The gift every soul needs now is a hatred of sin and a contrite heart. We need to hear the voice of John the Baptist telling us how to prepare the way of the Lord.
There’s still time.