The liturgical season of Advent is a special time of the year. It begins the church year and looks forward to the birth of Jesus. It is a time of preparation as we prepare our hearts to celebrate his birth. The Gospels speak of John the Baptist fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. He came, preparing the way of the Lord. David Bayne, a missionary to Argentina, notes that “Advent is a reminder that we, too, are called to prepare the way for Jesus. It is a season of preparing the way for Jesus not only in our own hearts, but also inviting others to prepare their hearts.” With this there is an expectation that Jesus will be working in our hearts, drawing us closer to himself. Many Christians use this season for prayer, fasting, penitence and devotional reading as they prepare for the coming of Christ. In Advent, we experience hope, joy, peace and love. These sustain us throughout the year.
Advent is also a time of expectation. We see this in Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement of the coming birth. Her response of “May it be to me as you have said” implies that she fully expected the prophecy to come true. The aged Simeon of Jerusalem, looking forward in expectation for the arrival of the consolation of Israel, could not fail to find the infant Christ in the temple courts. His expectation fueled his discovery of the Christ child, allowing him to see what the thousands of people milling about the temple could not. At Christmas time we often sing the Wesleyan carol “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”. Do we really mean the words we sing? Do we have that same anticipation about the coming Christ as that seen on young children’s faces as they open their presents on Christmas morning? As we go into the Christmas season, do we anticipate Christ working in our hearts in a new way?
Beginning with the activities of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Advent can be a time which takes us away from these qualities. We can become so busy with the activities of gift buying, party going, and the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season that hope, peace, joy and love are pretty much ignored. Instead we find ourselves frazzled and stressed out, experiencing more turmoil than peace. We may briefly think about them on Sundays, but ignore them as soon as the church doors close behind us and the reality of the holiday season hits us again. We impatiently wait for the season to be over so that things can again return to normal. We find we don’t have much time for spiritual things let alone taking time to ponder and reflect on how to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus.
As we begin a new Advent season, it is well worth the time to expectantly prepare for the coming of Jesus to work in our hearts, for this is how he works in our world. The poet and devotional speaker Carolynn Scully, in preparing for Advent, asks herself the question “I search my heart wondering if I expect God to use me?” concluding that “I must expect Him in my life if I am to be ready to say "Yes!" when he calls. As we begin the new church year are you preparing your heart to hear the voice of God this Advent season? Are you eagerly, in anticipation, expecting him to reveal himself to you in a fresh new way? Are you preparing for and expecting his call?