Last Sunday, as we considered what the Day of the Lord might mean for us, considering how we all must "account" for what we have done and not done, we were engaged in the beginning stages of preparation. This beginning, looking forward to Christmas, can be fueled by hope and the kind of eager expectation that we see in our children as this season progresses. It can also be tempered by self-examination as we consider what our "report" on ourselves might be.
This Sunday our lessons show us that active waiting and preparation in Advent includes purification, "coming clean" about our failures and shortcomings and beginning the process "getting in shape" for the fulfillment of God's promises. The prophet Malachi proclaims that the Lord is sending a messenger to prepare the way before His coming; in Old Testament terms this may be Elijah; in terms of the New Covenant it may be John the Baptist. This messenger will be a purifier, getting God's people ready in the same way a metal worker uses fire to refine precious metal, or a textile worker cleans and whitens material.
Indeed, John the Baptist does appear in our gospel reading. The word of God came to him in the wilderness, and he went through all of the region around the Jordan proclaiming that repentance was imperative for the forgiveness of sins. John was the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, Luke writes, as his was the voice of "one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'"
This Advent season we will need spiritual strength and courage so that we can open our hearts to be transformed by God's grace. In many small ways we can know every day God's presence, and we can see and feel the holy breaking into the mundane business of life. Through worship together-words, music, images, tastes, and aromas-God provides us with the awareness and the empowering that make us ready for His ultimate revealing. I hope you can be present in the Body this Sunday for that strengthening. Please also consider taking time to worship in the beauty of Advent Lessons and Carols this Sunday at 4 p.m., and enjoying some midday respite this Wednesday with Holy Communion at 11:30 a.m. in the chapel and music in the church at noon. These times of breaking out of your normal routine can be more rewarding than you know.