Be prepared!

You might hear this from a scout leader, a financial adviser or a wild-eyed first-century prophet who ate bugs for lunch. There are many forms of preparation—we prepare for trips, disasters, exams, emergencies. As a mom of three young children, I do a ridiculous amount of preparation to get out the door!

Advent Scriptures urge us to prepare. So do Christmas decorations on store shelves in October. Advice columns and memes also tell us how to get ready for Christmas. But how are we called to prepare as followers of Christ?

Traditionally, Advent calls for preparation are twofold: getting ready to welcome the Christ child and preparing for Christ to come again.

The author of Matthew’s Gospel focuses more on the latter. Matthew wrote to Christians living decades after Jesus ascended to heaven. These Christians anticipated Jesus’ return much sooner, a promise they clung to throughout persecutions and trials. Scholars suggest that Matthew wanted to rachet up the urgency for believers who had become complacent and weary of waiting for that second coming of Christ. It’s hard to do the work of preparation when you’re tired.

Part of the mystery of preparing our hearts this season is that we don’t know what we don’t know, and we don’t always know how to prepare.

The theme of preparation flows throughout the lectionary texts for December. Our first-century prophet, John the Baptist, says it out loud, but the message is also there in the story of the angel appearing to Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25) and even in the birth narrative on Christmas Day. Matthew tells us that Joseph was preparing to dismiss Mary after learning of her pregnancy but an angel urged a different course: to marry her anyway. I’m not sure Joseph was prepared for that!

Mary’s preparations aren’t mentioned in Matthew, but any expectant parent knows the work of preparation: you buy lots of tiny things, you get a great deal of advice, and you try to imagine the wonder and terror of being responsible for another life. You prepare as best you can, but you don’t know what you don’t know.

Perhaps that’s part of the mystery of preparing our hearts this season. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we don’t always know how to prepare. But the point of the incarnation isn’t what we do—it’s what God has done and continues to do for us. God made God’s self vulnerable in order to get close to us and give us hope. God prepared to come to us. God still comes to us. God is with us.

How can we prepare for Advent and Christmas? There are many things we can do: worship, slow down, look for God, find ways to give, work for justice. But no matter what we have done or left undone, Christ is coming. Prepare to be amazed.

Lisa A. Smith
Lisa A. Smith is a writer and an ELCA pastor in Anchorage, Alaska, where she serves as the Alaska Synod director for evangelical mission.

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