Preparation. Not just a good idea. But an essential practice if we want things to go well. Preparation is not just an abstract thought, but it is a kind of action. And this action is always done for something or someone and it is done by someone.
Preparing to bake a cake might include: choosing a recipe, buying the ingredients, making sure I have the right baking equipment, and then doing the actual work of mixing and stirring before putting it in the oven to wait. Then there’s the waiting and the cooling. And then, there’s the eating. Preparation in this case is FOR the tantalization of my tastebuds and enjoyment of my friends, and it is prepared BY me, or you - in which case, please invite me over!
Preparing for final exams might include: grocery shopping (or ordering a whole lot of take-out!), organizing study sessions with classmates, planning study breaks with friends, going to the library to get out any additional resources, reviewing all class notes and asking classmates for intel if you’ve missed any lectures, and then the massive task of reviewing and memorizing and practicing the content.
Preparing for a trip might include: choosing a destination, taking books out of the library to learn about your destination, talking to your travel buddies or children about what to expect, organising transportation, booking accommodation, arranging for travel insurance, doing your laundry, buying sunscreen and travel medicine, and tying up loose ends at work before you go.
Now, it’s possible to bake a cake, study for finals, and plan a trip with far less preparation, but the cake is likely to come out a bit mushy or dense, the finals probably won’t be as polished as they could be, and the trip will have more headaches than it needs to.
Preparation is deliberate action that helps us better order our lives and be more ready to complete the tasks set before us.
So what about preparation at advent? Who or what is it for? And who does the preparing?
The advent season is an opportunity for us to prepare our hearts and lives to welcome and receive the presence of Jesus – God made flesh, come to us as a tiny human. We ready our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our schedules, our whole lives to celebrate the coming of our King.
This week’s advent Scriptures are Isaiah 2:1-5 and Romans 13:11-14. Isaiah talks about the future hope of Zion – the dream and reality of who God is and what he does. A future vision and hope is vitally important for our preparation. The Apostle Paul talks about being ready for Jesus’ second coming – about how the future breaks into the present.
This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.
What Isaiah describes here is like a prophetic vision or a dream. One Bible commentator likens it to Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech – but for the nation of Israel. This poem was likely a well-known and popular verse, and it can be found again in Micah 4.
Mount Zion – God’s holy mountain – will be raised up and its authority will be recognized by all nations. And the impact of its authority will be the incredible transformation of swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Even though Israel had turned away and become like the nations who failed to obey God, Israel will turn back to God and learn his ways and obey his commands once more. It ends with an appeal and invitation to all the other nations in the world to join in walking in the light of the Lord. Isaiah understands and declares the grand vision of God’s thick and wide justice and his salvation for all peoples and all nations.
Hear the invitation in Eugene Peterson’s words in the Message version: “Come, let’s climb God’s mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob. He’ll show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.”
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
The apostle Paul exhorts the Romans to wake up and pay attention because he was convinced that Jesus’ return and their salvation was near. While Jesus’ return was not as near as Paul expected, surely the posture of expectancy and preparation was just as useful then as it is now.
Both of these passages point to the future as a way of exhorting us to consider how we act in the present.
So how do we prepare for Jesus? We look ahead to the dream he has for the future that is already becoming a reality. Paul’s appeal to be ready and be watching is a call to watch and see how Jesus and his work of redemption, renewal, and reconciliation is already breaking into the present. He is already fulfilling his promise. This is what we are expecting. This is what we are preparing for. We must be future-oriented people in order to live well in the present. Preparation during Advent means waking up and living into the truth and reality that Jesus is making all things new right now.
So today, and this week, as you go about your ordinary tasks – which may include baking cakes, studying for finals, or planning a trip – practice paying attention and looking around you to see where Jesus is already at work in this world. Walk through your day with a heightened awareness of the truth about Jesus’ return – about the future God has planned – and is already working out now – for all of creation. Come, Lord Jesus, Come!
Lisl Baker can't believe she's been in Vancouver for 10 years now. She loves all things French, turning the little things in life into fun adventures, and soccer. Oh, and she happens to be quite fond of the Redemption Church community!