As we move through this season of Advent, this season of preparation for the Festival arrival of our Savior the Christ child, we Prepare to welcome Joy incarnate.
But what does this Preparation look like, and what does this Joy mean?
I imagine that many of us have heard and are familiar with the words from Isaiah, associated with John the Baptist: “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Yet We may be less familiar with another portion of this same passage, in which the prophet Isaiah says that this preparation is so that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
“To see the salvation of God.” Now there is true Joy.
And to be ready to welcome this Joy fulfilled, this Joy accomplished by God’s salvation work on the cross, and this Joy begun with the birth of Christ, this is why we Prepare.
With God’s help we want to get our eyes and hearts open and our lives ready to welcome this Joy, and to be able to see and experience it for what it is: Joy arrived and begun again as Immanuel, God-with-us.
And what does preparation for receiving this Joy look like?
Though usually associated with Lent, our preparations might include prayer, fasting, and almsgiving because these are really year-round practices for Christians, especially as we go deeper and deeper in responding to God’s Grace in Christ from the cross. And, since these ancient practices can help open our eyes and hearts to see what God is doing more clearly, it just makes sense to explore them year round as well.
Let’s take them in turn.
Prayer: This can mean coming to regular Sunday worship - sure! Coming to the interfaith Thanksgiving Service just before Advent got started - sure! Starting or re-starting a morning or evening or all of the above routine of reading scripture and praying - sure!
And here’s another idea for prayer: One of my Lutheran colleagues, Pastor Deborah DeWinter, over at First Lutheran Church in Poughkeepsie, told a story this week about how she used to go to the airport terminal as a child and watch people greeting each other. She suggested that watching those reunions might be a form of prayer, as we observe the happiness folks experience. Pastor Deborah said she knew those relationships she was observing weren’t perfect. Those folks had probably all had fights with each other in the past and would again in the future, but in that time of greeting, there in that moment, there was only happiness. Oh, how wonderful to rejoice in the happiness of others as a form of prayer! Oh, what Joy!
And so our prayers can take many forms through worship, with scripture, even meditating on the happiness of our fellow humans in an airport terminal.
Now how about fasting. Fasting can mean refraining from eating a certain food or from eating entirely during a set time period so as to become more preoccupied with listening and focusing on God - sure! It can also mean fasting from anger and participating in vitriolic dialogue in person or on social media or anywhere - sure!
Fasting can even mean adding a practice, such as promptly working to forgive people when we feel slighted or adding a walk to ponder nature and God’s glory and vastness through nature once a day or once a week. Oh, what Joy!
So fasting can be subtracting or adding things to our lives, all with the intent to become preoccupied most of all with thinking about and dwelling on God in Christ.
Almsgiving: This can mean organizing or participating in gathering items for a food pantry, such as the Student Christian Center Food Pantry - sure! This can mean making an extra donation to support the myriad of God’s work through Redeemer - sure! This can mean giving an hour or two this month or each week to help with a project that helps improve the lives of those who, for whatever reason, are less fortunate or who have been marginalized.
Almsgiving, or the giving of help to the needy, can be a powerful practice to take us out of thinking about ourselves and into caring for others as part of living our lives for God’s purposes. Oh, what Joy!
It is also wonderful to consider that some actions combine more than one of these practices. Attending the benefit concert for FAMILY of New Paltz on Dec. 8th here at Redeemer is a chance to give money to help those less fortunate and fast from a regular Saturday night activity for the sake of being preoccupied with God and one can pray one’s way through the concert - for the people gathered, for the people being helped by the benefit, that the whole world will come to share in Light and healing and peace across differences. So in participating in one event we can prayer, fast, and give alms (help to to those in need). Oh, what Joy!
However small or large our Advent Preparations may be; whether we are trying out some new ways of getting ready to welcome the Christ or enlarging long-held habits of the faith, I pray that God through Christ will continue to open our eyes and hearts to see the Source of true Joy, and grow our capacity, as Isaiah says, to “see the salvation of God” as it arrives in the form of the newborn Christ child, Savior of the world.
Got it, thanks.