Advent, we’ve said, is a season of waiting. It’s also partly a season of make-believe. We act as if we’re still waiting for Jesus to show up, two thousand years after he actually did. But this isn’t just make-believe. Yes, Jesus did show up, but that didn’t put an end to the story, and it certainly didn’t put an end to waiting. He got something started in us, and it’s something priceless, but he never pretended that everything was finished. After his death, when we’re told he showed up again, his followers thought that everything must surely be almost finished. They didn’t expect to be around much longer, but they turned out to be wrong by about 1900 years (and still counting). So here in the 21st century we’re still waiting to see if what Jesus started in us will ever come to fruition.
So let’s try hearing Isaiah’s and John the Baptist’s call with fresh ears: Prepare the way of the Lord. This is not a call to impose our way of life on everyone else. After all, “prepare” doesn’t mean “take control.” “Prepare” means, well, “prepare.” It means we need to get ready for surprising things to happen. It’s a call to make room for a God who acts like Jesus. It’s a call to start living like that God, not some divine dictator who makes the trains run on time. It’s a call to be just as patient as God seems to be with followers, like us, who keep missing the point and having to start over again and again. It’s a call to trust that, no matter how long it takes, no matter how many obstructions we put in the way, a day will come when “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Prepare, get ready, make room, start living, be patient, trust.
Jesus “broke bread with outcasts and sinners, healed the sick, and proclaimed good news to the poor.” That’s how my favorite Eucharistic prayer sums up his ministry. He spent his time with people on the margins of his culture—outcasts, sinners, the sick, the poor. His behavior was probably more irritating than threatening to people in power, but either way it eventually it got him killed. When he started showing up again, it didn’t make headlines, except among his closest followers. Everybody else could dismiss the news as one more irritating rumor.
But with that news something got started that still, even today, draws people into new ways of looking at God, new ways of looking at power, new ways of looking at outsiders, new ways of sharing a meal. It doesn’t solve all our problems for us, but nevertheless, something did get started 2,000 years ago that nobody’s been able to stamp out yet.
We’re not done with waiting. We’re not exactly sure what’s coming next. But we know that something’s already begun that’s made the waiting worth every moment. Prepare the way of the Lord.