I’ve always been fascinated by the character John the Baptist. He’s the crazy dude at the beginning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that ate bugs and honey and ran around in camelskin clothes. He was born about 6 months before Jesus was born, by one of Jesus’s parent’s cousins.
In all 4 accounts, he is mentioned right at the beginning as the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” a quote from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He is the man sent to warn people of the coming of Jesus, his Messiah.
“Prepare the way of the Lord.”
This command is very heavy in my thoughts during this time of the year…every year.
The Western Church celebrates this time of year as a season of Advent: meaning a season of preparation and expectant waiting for the [memorial of the] birth of Jesus. It is a celebration of the beginning of Jesus’s journey…and thus, the beginning of ours [Christians’]. According to the church calendar, Advent began last Sunday, on the 29th, with the first candle lit on the advent wreath: hope. Typically, bits of Scripture regarding the bloodline of Jesus are read during the lighting. Because of this tradition, I do not allow myself to be actively grouchy about the excitement of Christmas once Advent has begun.
Well…not aloud, anyway.
I’ve gone to craft stores twice this week to find candles for an advent wreath in my home, and other simple decorations (a plain pine garland? Impossible to find without glitter and fake cranberries and snow). Both times, I nearly got into multiple wrecks, I had to maneuver around crazy parking jobs, and I had to fight crowds to get in the door and down the appropriate aisles.
Once I reached my destination, in both Hobby Lobby and Michael’s, I was accosted with pop covers of already pop-y Christmas songs, people disagreeing over ornamentation, empty shelves, disheveled half-full shelves, flashy figurines and santas, reindeer lists painted craftily on canvas, and SO MUCH GLITTER. So much. I didn’t speak to anyone–not that I’m normally in the habit of speaking to strangers in craft stores–and yet I still found it hard to maintain a neutral facial expression.
It doesn’t matter what aspect of Christmas we talk about, I can usually find something about which to be disdainful:
It’s about giving! Do you ever give without expecting anything, not even thanks, in return?
It’s about family! Ever had a Christmas family gathering without failed expectations?
It’s about the decorations! Glitter. ‘Nuff said.
It’s about Jesus’s birth! He was probably born earlier. Also most of our decorations are things we took from the Pagan celebration of the winter solstice/birthday of the unconquered sun.
This does not make for pleasant, kind, graceful, uplifting conversations with…well…anyone. So I do my best to keep it to myself.
Why then, share it here on the interwebs, for everyone to see the ugly internal dialogue I have with myself every December?
Because I hate it. I hate that there is this much hatred within my heart for a season that brings people back to what is important to them. I hate that I am the downer at the dinner table that spreads vitriol instead of good cheer. I hate that my face does not reflect love and mercy when I see someone clutching handfuls of sparkling ornamentation for her home. The rest of the world literally is on their best behavior during this season (we’ll ignore the US shootings for now…subject for another time), why am I on my worst?
I need an attitude adjustment.
“Prepare the way of the Lord.”
The intent of Advent is to prepare yourself, your home, your life, and your heart for the (symbolic) reception of the gift that is the birth of Jesus. There is much preparation occurring all over Athens…as is evidenced by the forever-empty shelves in stores across town, and the forever-clogged streets. We prepare for the coming of family, the exchange of gifts, the (hopefully) colder weather, the end of the year, the end of the year sales, the huge amounts of food we’ll cook and consume…the list goes on.
Everywhere I turn I am bombarded by loud, gaudy, and commercialized gifts, sales, songs, stores, buildings, and parties. All of those things are already against my natural inclinations…no matter what month it is. All of those things are exponentially compounded in the month of December. All of those things appear to me to be focused on a show that is a product of Christmas becoming a business. The fact that any holiday can be so cheapened by–paradoxically–pouring millions of dollars into it repulses me. The fact that our culture as a whole spends so much time with the outward signs that shout “hey look at us preparing for Christmas!” breaks my heart, because it shouldn’t be about your outside. It should be about your inside.
Jesus made it pretty clear in Matthew 6 that we are supposed to give, pray, and fast quietly so that it is a secret, not shout it from the roof or trumpet it in the streets. Obviously, he wasn’t talking about Christmas, because he wasn’t quite that meta, but I would pose that his stance would be the same on this: he was pretty consistent. This time of preparation should be about your own heart, and the hearts of those you love. John the Baptist, that crazy, homeless, bug eating hippie, asks the most poignant question for this time of year…and for any time of year: are you ready? Are you ready to receive the only gift perfect you’ll ever receive? Here I am, a voice crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight.
Are you ready? Am I ready? Based on my grinchy attitude, I’d say “no, not yet.” So, I’m going to continue to sit in my decoration-less closet until I am.