The word “prepare” is the one word that pops to mind when reflecting on this weekend’s readings. Our Church calls us to spiritually prepare for the birth of the Christ child -- as we wait expectant yet hopeful.
Our spiritual preparation requires a healthy dose of humility if it is to be successful this Advent season.
I read something beautiful in Morning Prayer this past week. It gets to the heart of this weekend’s readings. In the intercessory prayers of Lauds (or Morning Prayer) I read the following:
Bring low the mountains of our pride, and fill up the valleys of our weakness.”
In other words, we all probably have some work to do to prepare for Christmas. And this preparation has nothing to do with the Christmas shopping, or other Holiday to-do list.
Perhaps the best way to understand how God wants us to prepare for what’s to come is to be like first-time parents awaiting the birth of their own first born child.
No doubt Mary and Joseph, and John the Baptist’s parents Elizabeth and Zechariah all experienced this preparation and waiting, expectant yet hopeful.
I’m reminded of the Christmas 1990. My wife Mary and I were expecting our first child, with a due date one week before Christmas.
We’d moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, earlier in the year for a job managing a radio station. Mary was less than enthusiastic about our time spent living in the South. She was a real trooper for leaving family and friends behind to go to a place unknown to have our first child.
In the months leading up to December, we did all the things first time parents do to prepare for the blessed event.
We prepared a bedroom for the baby. We prepared the car to be able to transport the baby. We prepared for child birth with Lamaze classes. We prepared to be Christian parents by taking baptism classes at our local parish. We prepared to have family come to visit once the baby was born.
We were all consumed with preparation as we waited expectant yet hopeful of the big change coming to our lives.
And shouldn’t we all be spiritually preparing for the big change coming to our lives this Christmas?
If we listen to the cry of John the Baptist, we’re all called to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path.”
We’re about to celebrate the greatest event of all human history, the birth of Jesus. Our hearts need to ready to meet the Christ child.
On our due date, my wife thought she was going into labor and called me home from work. She was so happy and had big smile on her face as we drove to see her doctor. She was convinced the time was now!
Dr. Eddie walked into the exam room, took one look at my wife’s beaming smile, and said, “Mary, you’re smiling. You’re not in labor yet. If you were, you wouldn’t be smiling.”
So, we returned home to wait expectant yet hopeful, and we prepared some more.
I had to work on Christmas morning.
As the shift was coming to an end, the phone rang.
It was Mary calling (with distress in her voice) to say “I’ve been in pain all morning. Please come home quickly.”
So, I jumped in the car and headed home.
When I got there, the smile was gone.
Yep, we were now officially in labor. But contractions were still 10-to-12-minutes apart and we were told to wait until contractions were five-minutes apart before going to the hospital.
So, we spent Christmas Day 1990, all by ourselves, far away from family and friends, experiencing child birth for the very first time. We were waiting expectant yet hopeful, albeit a little stressed that Christmas day.
The truth is nothing can truly prepare us for such a blessed event. We did all we could to prepare. But the rest was left to the grace of God.
In fact, I remember thinking all through the month of December, “I’m not ready to be a father!” But the baby was finally ready to come into this world.
Mary gave birth to our first born son Sean Michael Kelly 30 hours after going into labor. The bouncing baby boy arrived one day after Christmas 1990, on the Feast of St. Stephen, first Christian martyr and a deacon.
For a 29-year-old struggling with his faith, the experience helped seal the deal between God and me. After witnessing a miracle, faith was real in ways it had never had been before. I had never felt love like that before.
We’d experienced a true God moment together. Our lives would be forever changed.
And this is what God is calling us to do as we prepare the way of the Lord this Christmas. Make paths straight, fill in every valley and make low every mountain and hill.
Everything in our world had changed with one miracle: the birth of a child.
And so, our story is God’s story for us all.
We are called by John the Baptist to prepare a way for the Lord in our hearts and change everything as we orient our lives to Christ.
As we baptized our son one week later, with family finally in town, our pastor Monsignor Gaston Herbert reminded me of something stupid he heard me say on the radio shortly after the baby was born.
When asked by a fellow radio host on the air, “What was the experience like, DK?” Yours truly said the following fateful words, (and I quote) “It was fun and easy.”
Monsignor Herbert howled as he repeated my careless words, and then baptized our first child.
The people living in the time of Mark’s Gospel were awaiting the second coming of our savior Jesus Christ. They were waiting expectant yet hopeful. Today we’re reading the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel.
Bible scholars agree. Mark’s was the first written Gospel, probably around 65 AD. This was nearly a generation after the death of Christ. It’s believed Mark’s community lived in Rome.
This early Christian community faced persecutions, betrayals, denials and many conflicts. Mark’s Gospel helped keep this community focused on the expected and hopeful Second Coming of Jesus. Many at this time believed the generation that witnessed Jesus in the flesh would not completely pass away without Jesus coming again.
The action in Mark’s Gospel is fast-paced and designed to get all its readers caught up in the drama, and begin to see ourselves as a continuation of the story of Jesus Christ.
The belief was Jesus is returning soon. So, prepare. And so, we, too, are called to prepare while we wait expectant yet hopeful.
I’m reminded of a beautiful lyric in an Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith Christmas song called “Almost There:”
“You’re almost where the journey ends
Where death will die and life begins
The answered prayer, Emmanuel
You’re almost there.”
My sisters and brothers, the Lord is coming soon!