“Advent is a time to prepare the way of the Lord, to clear away every obstacle that would prevent Jesus from coming to us, so that when Jesus comes to us today and on Christmas, he will have unimpeded access to our hearts” –Michael Vansloun
It is week three (!) of Advent. I’ve heard Advent readings at church for the past two weeks, and I think Advent crossed my mind a few times. But what I really did was put pause on Advent during finals. I knew the first week focused on hope, last week peace, and this week love, but other than that, I have been pretty passive and focused on everything but Advent. Jess and I set aside ten minutes a day to spend time in prayer for the first week of Advent. I would set my alarm for ten minutes, and we would sit and pray silently until the alarm went off. We prayed together about five times, and as the week went on, I would literally find myself asleep and being jolted awake by the prayer alarm. But it was still a pretty sweet thing to do, and I loved it. Anyways, back to Advent. On the bus ride home I listened to a sermon on Advent by Shauna Niequist, and she taught on John the Baptist, and his words to the people as he prepared the way for Jesus. (The quote above by Michael Vansloun is from her sermon). Shauna’s words, as always, reach and stir my heart, getting me thinking, craving more Jesus, ready to dig into His word. Then just this morning my pastor at Park also sent us a PDF of a book by John Piper called The Dawning of an Indestrucable Joy. So these have both got me re-connected to Advent, and thinking more about it. So I went to the gospels to read the pre-Jesus birth stories, and have loved thinking about all the preparation from many different people that led up to Jesus’ birth.
John the Baptist
He came to point people to Jesus. Shauna preached about this, so these words are from her sermon.
Luke 3:7-16– John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay. The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Shauna gathered four main points that John told the people in preparation for Jesus, and she said we have some preparation in our hearts to do, to make room for Jesus. What I italicized are things for me to work on.
Share what you have– time, energy, money, encouragement, listening ear, generous heart.
Don’t take what is not yours– other’s self esteem, other’s worthiness, other’s good mood or spirit. I should never take that away from others with my word choice or decisions or bad mood.
Don’t abuse your authority– humble myself to Christ. I am no better than ANYONE. I should not compare appearance, grades, moods, accomplishments, anything.
Be content with what you have– I should be satisfied with Jesus and joy from Him, and that is it. He is consistent. A perfect family or a boyfriend or straight A’s or clothes or pure comfort are not things I should long for.
Luke 1:11-19–Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.”
Luke 1:26-38– In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
I love how it starts with the angel Gabriel. He comes to share God’s word, and he tells both Elisabeth and Zechariah and Mary that God is with them, and not to fear. Friends do this too. Friends, especially God-given friends can also speak word and truth of God to each other. And just like Gabriel, maybe specific details are unknown, but we can tell each other how much God loves them, how God is with them, and not to worry. We can tell each other to be brave, among the worry and uncertainty. Elisabeth and Mary were told big things– that they were going to have special babies. And then they had to trust and go about their lives until their babies were born. Sometimes I am concerned with lack of details or worried about an outcome, as I’m sure Mary was, but she trusted. I love how God’s plans are different and better than we could imagine, even though they also seem scarier than we can imagine, especially in the beginning. We just need to trust, eyes on Him.
Matthew 1:18-24 —This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what The Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel (which means God with us). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of The Lord had commanded Him and took Mary home as his wife.
Not his ideal situation. His soon to be wife, is pregnant, but not with his child. He is apart of the holy family, going to be an earthly father for Jesus, but could he see that from where he was, finding out about Mary? Maybe, or maybe not, but he trusted God and took baby steps of courage.
The wise men
Matthew 2:9-11–After they had heard the king, they went in their way, and the star they had seen when it rose ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh.
They followed a star to Jesus. When they saw the star they were overjoyed. Am I overjoyed at every little thing that points to Jesus? Sometimes yes, other times, no. Sometimes I see Jesus in the lake and the snow and in children and friends and texts that make me laugh. And other times I may be a little stressed or busy that I am not overjoyed by a star to Jesus. Also, the wise men immediately worshipped Jesus. How do I worship Jesus? Yes, I’ll have a prayer time or bible time when I fit it in, but I also gossip so much and fly all over the city of Chicago and find myself running on empty quite often. The ladder is me definitely not worshipping Jesus. What does this look like for me to worship Jesus consistently? Prayer and scripture and staying in step with the spirit, drawing from my pool of indestrucable joy which is Jesus. After all, my one word this year was remain (vine and branches, John 15).
John Piper describes Jesus role in the Christmas story as simply: joy. Indestructable joy. In the preface of his book, he writes how Jesus is fullness and joy, and that we need to focus on such joy. Two of my favorite excerpts, on pages 59 and 62, respectively:
And this is what God does again and again. He may be doing it for you in this Advent season– graciously and tenderly frustrating you with life that is not centered on Christ and filling you with longings and desires that can’t find their satisfaction in what this world offers, but only in the God-man. What a Christmas gift that might be! Let all your frustrations with this world throw you onto the Word of God. It will become sweet– like walking into paradise.
And this submission is called faith– a willingness to let Him be God. Trust Him to be the Supplier, the Strengthener, the Counselor, the Guide, the Savior. And being satisfied with that– with all that God is for us in Jesus. That’s what faith is. And having that is what means to be a Christian. Christmas means: the infinitely self-sufficient God has come not to be assisted but to be enjoyed.
Six days until Christmas. I just want to stop time for just a little. I want to jump into the story as Elisabeth and Mary and John and Joseph and the wise men and ask myself how I would handle the situation, and take pointers from them and their faith. I want to keep reading these Advent things and stories, keep listening to Chris Tomlin Holiday Pandora station, keep the Christmas tree lights on for majority of the day, and keep eating the red and green peppermint M&Ms. As John Piper wrote, let all that frustrates us throw us onto the Word of God!