How Do We Prepare to Welcome Christ?

How Do We Prepare to Welcome Christ?


There are things we can do to welcome a new baby, as we discussed a few moments ago. Get some cute baby Yoda fabric and make a soft blanket. Take a class on how to be a grandparent. Buy all the stuff: a stroller, bottles, onesies, diapers, a car seat. Create the baby’s room, with a crib and a changing table and a rocking chair. Read books like What to Expect When You’re Expecting.


But what if the baby is the Christ child? Then this literal story becomes metaphorical, spiritual. It’s not about welcoming a physical baby. It’s not about assembling a crib and painting a nursery. It’s about preparing our hearts and souls for something holy to be born there, to take root and grow.


I’ve heard people say that when they became parents—or even were preparing to become parents—they wanted to make the world safe for this most vulnerable little one. They wanted to clean up all the messes, take away all the meanness, protect this baby from all harm. Climate change? They will fix it—for the sake of their baby. Poverty? They will restructure society so that no one is poor anymore and everyone has at least their basic needs met. Racism? This little baby of color will never experience it—only love and encouragement to grow into their best possible self.


We read in Peter just now about a time that sounds positively apocalyptic. The heavens will catch fire with a loud sound, maybe like a meteor crashing through the atmosphere and destroying the planet—or like a bomb. And Peter says, “What sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire?” What sort of persons in that situation? How about persons who live in terror? How about persons who stockpile and hoard precious resources to take care of themselves and their families, leaving everyone else to die? How about persons who dig underground bunkers and surround their hideouts with guns to keep others out?


No. In just such an apocalyptic time, we are to live in “holiness and godliness” so that God will find us “at peace, without spot or blemish.” Wow. Nothing like setting the bar high. Holiness and godliness in the most disastrous of times. Living in peace, even as the world falls apart around us. What would it take for us to become such people?


We would have to be people of the Good News.


You may recall that the original ending to the Gospel of Mark says that the women go to Jesus’ tomb to dress his body in spices. When they arrive, the stone has been rolled away. A young man in the tomb says, “Do not be afraid.” (Where have we heard that before?) He tells them that Jesus has been raised and will meet them in Galilee; go and tell the others. And the women flee in terror and amazement and say nothing to anyone, for they are afraid (Mark 16:1-8).


Look what happens when they are afraid: no Good News gets shared. Scholars and theologians in the early centuries after Christ found this ending so unsatisfactory that they tried out several other endings to come to a better sense of resolution, to show that the Good News did indeed get shared. Because clearly, the women did eventually speak up. When their world was falling apart, they were asked to make a new space in their hearts for the Christ to dwell, no longer in a physical body of Jesus, but in them.


And so we read, in the opening verse of the Gospel of Mark, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The writer of this gospel, whom we call Mark, knows how the story ends when he or she writes these opening words. And it is still Good News, and Jesus Christ still is the Child of God.


So we see John the baptizer out at the River Jordan, and people from the surrounding countryside and all the people of Jerusalem come flocking out to him for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Notice that they’re not going to the high priests in the temple. (The high priests might be noticing that, too.) John, who is wearing these scrappy wild clothes and eating bugs and honey—whom some might see as crazy or outside the norm—he’s the one who helps prepare the people to welcome Christ. And they do it by repenting, by cleansing their hearts and souls of whatever spiritual logjam has been residing there. This is an act of hope and faith, that healing and forgiveness and wholeness and a better tomorrow are all possible, not just for them as individuals, but for all the community.  


I’m thinking of people living in Gaza, in Israel, in Ukraine, in the Sudan, in the Tigre area of Ethiopia, who brace all day every day for a loud noise to come from the heavens, blow up their homes and loved ones, and set everything on fire. In the meantime, they try to get on with their lives, one day, one hour, one minute at a time. I heard that some living in such circumstances pray for peace; and if there is no peace, they pray that when the bombs come, they and their children will all die instantly and together. No more orphans, no grieving parents—just all gone in a flash. So much sorrow, so much pain, so much fear. How does anyone live in holiness and godliness, at peace when the world around them is at war and is being destroyed?


A few weeks ago, babies in the neonatal intensive care unit of a hospital in Gaza were evacuated to Egypt. Plenty of babies and children have been killed there in recent weeks. And there’s something about babies—so new, so vulnerable, so ready to be loved—that can make even warring parties stop what they’re doing to get those babies to safety. In the movie Children of Men, no baby has been born in 18 years. Humans have somehow lost the ability to have children. Everyone is at war—it’s all very apocalyptic. And then, miraculously, one baby is born. In the middle of this huge battle, the cries of one baby echo through an abandoned building. And all the fighters stop shooting. It has been so long since any of them heard a baby.


A baby represents hope for the future. And we, the stewards of the present, must do all we can to make that future the best it can possibly be—not just for that one baby, but for the whole world, all the babies.


In the birth story of Jesus, God sees Mary and Joseph, two unimportant peasants living in poverty in a remote village, and chooses them to parent this world-changing baby. God values everyone. No one is disposable or forgotten in God’s eyes.


For the world to live in peace, we, like God, must be able to see and value all people, including those pushed to the margins: the immigrants, the poor, the sick, the homeless. It’s not easy. One Israeli woman had been part of a group that gave Palestinians rides to doctor’s appointments. She sees individual Palestinians as her friends, not her enemies, and now she worries about them. Some of her relatives condemn her because she refuses to hate the “other” as they do. That’s what war wants us to do: portray whole groups of people as less than human, as having no value, as needing to be destroyed or shut out or oppressed. That’s what racism does. That’s what anti-immigrant legislation does.


Each baby born today represents hope for the future. Each baby needs our love. Each baby can bring us so much joy. Hope, love, joy—those are the candles we light in Advent as we prepare for the Christ Child. And peace. We are the ones our children need to wage peace. Peace in our own hearts, peace in our communities, peace in our nation, peace in our world. We don’t get there by hoarding, or by oppressing others. We get there by valuing all people and making sure they have what they need to thrive.


I invite you to consider how you could make a welcoming place for that Christ Child today. Maybe you draw a picture for that baby. Or you write a pledge of what you will work on—in yourself and your relationships, in the community, in the world. And then imagine placing that picture or that pledge as a gift in the manger for the Christ Child.


We are the ones called to wage peace, to live in holiness and godliness, to create the world we want to see for all of God’s children. We welcome the Christ Child with our repentance, our clean hearts, and our renewed commitment to live in peace. Amen.

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