‘Comfort, comfort my people…in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord!’ (IS 40)
The fires of Advent convict us even as they warm us. His light blazes in our darkness, and we, no matter how dull and unresponsive, cannot quench its flames (JN 1:5). How grateful I am for the fire that exposes sin in order to consume it.
Isaiah grants us a glimpse of the fullness of Emmanuel’s love. He promises a double dose of comfort in exchange for our sins then rouses us to wax prophetic and raze everything that stands in the way of His Presence, His holy blaze. How nervy of Isaiah! He fuses the image of a tender Father restoring the sin-weary with the blazing Baptist who tears down mountains and raises valleys to make a way for God. Jesus is that Good Shepherd (40: 1-11). He leads us gently into a baptism of fire (MK 1:8) in order to burn off all that resists love in our lives. He comes to dwell with us, to make us as expansive and generous as He is.
Comfort and conviction express well the tension I feel during Advent. That Jesus came in history and we as the Church give a whole month to reflect on His entry can be the stuff dreams are made of: each of us, no matter how devout, remember the kindness of Christmas. Of course our own histories, safely edited by time, can lull us into a false peace. Advent gives us no such break. These four weeks are as much about fond recollections of the manger as they are about His second coming, which will be as violent and conclusive as His first entry was hidden and humble. Advent proclaims at once: Rejoice, He has come; repent, He is coming. Are you ready?
Lulled into a false peace, a friend of mine woke up a bit when I told him that Advent was all about repentance. He thought it was about a party-hearty countdown to Christmas, complete with a pop-open calendar…‘It’s about preparing your heart for Him, now and when He returns.’
Thinking myself quite noble, I drove home from the encounter and noticed an African-American woman walking alone on the side of the road in 18 degree weather. The Spirit prompted me: ‘Turn around and give her a ride.’ My spirit refused to be discomforted. Later that day, Annette expressed some need for me and I stiffened, quietly resenting a new obstacle in my course.
‘Thank You God for revealing what resists love. As we confess our sins, purge our hearts and console us with almighty mercy. Make us as expansive and generous as You are. May we welcome You and others more fully this Advent.’