We must become less and less “who we think we are,” and more and more who God created us to be.
Every year at this time, some of us who belong to the Episcopal Church, and a few others as well, get all bent out of shape over all the Christmas hoop-la going on out there. “Put away that wreath!” we shout. “Drop that ornament!” we holler. “STOP DECKING THOSE HALLS THIS INSTANT!!” we scream. “IT’S NOT CHRISTMAS YET!!!” It is, in fact, Advent. And Advent is the Season in which we prepare for Christmas…but it’s not Christmas yet!
In fact, I had a colleague years ago who simply refused to allow his family to decorate before Christmas Eve at all, Christmas Eve being the actual beginning of the Twelve Days of Christmas. No lights, no tinsel, no ribbon, no mistletoe, no chestnuts roasting by an open fire, and most definitely no Christmas trees before December 24…
Indeed, such thinking sounds especially quaint given the trend in recent years to “begin” Christmas earlier and earlier. But the truth is, like it or not, you can’t fight City Hall, and you most definitely can’t fight Madison Avenue! As they say, “it is what it is,” and over the years I have come to understand that arguing with what “is,” is a very poor use of time!
So, what of Advent? The truth of course, is that while commercial enterprise and premature “Christmas spirit” obscure Advent, Advent is still there, or perhaps better, the need for Advent, that is, the need to prepare, is still there. But then the question becomes, prepare for what exactly? I’ve already mentioned that Advent was a time to prepare for Christmas, but that’s not the whole story.
You see, the Church has always taught that Advent, which simply means “coming,” is not just a time to prepare for the babe in the manger, that which we call the First Advent, but it is also a time to think about that which we call the Second Advent, meaning the Second Coming of Christ, which we believe will occur at the end of history. These two advents—these two “comings”—then become a kind of context within which we Christians live our lives.
The basic idea is that God is continually coming, not just at Christmas time, nor just at the end of time, but in the “mean time” as well.
As such, Advent becomes a time to prepare for not just the babe in the manger, but also, and surely more importantly, it is a time to prepare for the coming of God, into history, and into our own lives as well. In other words, Advent is a time to prepare for God. And in order to do that we have to make room, we have to make a place for God.
You see, just as in Luke’s Nativity story, where there was no room in the inn, our main problem is that there is no room in us, for God to be born. Franciscan Priest Fr. Richard Rohr puts it this way:
It seems we’re quite incapable of welcoming in Christ because we’re so stuffed full of ourselves. The real thing we have to let go of is our self. We aren’t really free until we’re free from self.
And so you see, our first “job” on this earth is to simply understand who we are, not just in our heads but most importantly in our hearts. We must come to grips with our “secret identity.” For as the old saying goes, “When you know who you are, then you can be who you are.” That is the first step, in our preparation; we must realize who we really are.
As such, and to paraphrase the words of Jesus, we must decrease so that God might increase. Said differently, we must become less and less “who we think we are,” and more and more who God created us to be. You see, our main problem is that we suffer from a massive case of mistaken identity. We think we know who we are, but we’re wrong. We think we’re just people, but in actuality we are far more vast than that. We are sons and daughters of God, half brothers and sisters of Jesus, and co-heirs with the Christ of the Kingdom of God.
And then, we must live in to that reality. We must become who we are. We must grow more and more into the image and likeness of God. This is surely our life’s vocation. And the thing is, it takes what it takes, to accomplish that. It takes what it takes.
- • If it takes going to church more, then that’s what we do.
- • If it takes learning how to meditate or practice Centering Prayer, then that’s what we do.
- • If it takes working in a soup kitchen, then that’s what we do.
- • If it takes working with the homeless, then that’s what we do.
- • If it takes learning to judge less and love more, then that’s what we do.
- • If it takes learning to say we’re sorry, then that’s what we do.
- • If it takes not having to win the argument, then that’s what we do.
- • If it takes standing on our heads, joining hands and singing “Kum Ba Yah,” then that’s what we do.
The point is, we do what it takes to prepare for God in our lives. Whatever it takes. It’s that important. Ultimately, preparing for God is the only thing of real importance. Moreover, if you think about it, Advent becomes a kind of microcosm of the entire Christian life, or indeed for any life that yearns for God. Every day, every hour, every moment, the question is the same: Are we ready? Are we prepared for God?