First Sunday of Advent: Cycle A

November 27, 2022.

When a mother is expecting a baby, a hospital bag is usually packed.  All the things that the mom will need in the hospital and all the things the baby will need for the trip home are put in that bag.  Many say that by week 35 of pregnancy that bag should be ready – even placed in the car.  It’s about preparing.  

But preparing for the birth of baby is not just about packing and getting everything on hand that will be needed at home.  That’s the fun stuff … the exciting stuff – the joyful stuff.  

But preparing for the arrival of a baby also involves un-packing.  It often includes getting rid of stuff – to make room for the baby.  Cleaning out the room where that will be the baby’s nursery, unpacking a closet to help store the baby’s things.  Things like that.  

That un-packing, putting things in order, that purging, letting go of things, is not as fun or exciting as the packing the hospital bag, baby showers, and setting up the baby’s room.    

It’s hard work.   It can be dirty, unpleasant, even stressful.  It might be letting go of things that we been keeping for a long time – thing were attached to – to make room.    

As kids, we couldn’t wait for the Christmas decorations to go up.  That was fun.  But my mom always made sure that before we unpacked an ornament, we cleaned and tidied up the house.  And that wasn’t as fun.   

But looking back, it make sense.  Without that first step, the tinsel is just covering up, or hiding a mess.  A clear surface allows the beauty of the decorations to truly shine.   

During Advent, we’re preparing for the coming of Jesus.  The second half of Advent will focus directly on preparing for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming as a baby at Bethlehem.   But the first half of Advent is focused on preparing for Jesus’ second coming at the end of time.    

The readings of this First Sunday of Advent speak to us about preparing – about always being prepared.  Of preparing and purging.  Of packing and unpacking.  Of pulling things together and letting things go.  

The prophet Isaiah’s image of being prepared is climbing the mountain of the Lord.    

Isaiah reminds us that preparation includes beating swords into plowshares, leaving war and fighting behind.   Isaiah reminds us that preparing means making peace – especially peace between people.  

Saint Paul reminds us that now is the time to wake up and get it done.  To cast out the darkness and put on the armor of light.  

Then Jesus tells us directly: Stay awake. Be prepared.  

Let’s make this Advent then a real time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. Certainly His coming to us at Christmas.  But also His coming for us at the end of our time on earth.  Preparing so that we can always be ready.   

Just as we prepare for the arrival of a baby by packing that hospital bag as well as cleaning things up, we need to pack and unpack to get ready for Jesus’ arrival.   

We should really heed Saint Paul’s words.   That sense of doing it now.  Even though we have four full weeks of Advent this year, we shouldn’t put things off.  We never know what might happen.   

So what will we pack our Advent bag with?  What prayers, what good works, what will we put together to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus?   

And what will we unpack, get rid of, move past, let go of to make room for Jesus – to make room for Jesus.    

And there not just things.   

They can be memories, attitudes, grudges, judgments, hurts, and disappointments.   

We need to clear them out to allow ourselves and each other a second chance, forgiveness, freedom.  

Here’s a challenge for all us in our packing and unpacking.   To think of the two main couples of the Advent journey.  Mary and Joseph.  And Elizabeth and Zechariah.  What can we learn from them?  What do they model for us? 

Certainly Mary’s faith and yes to God.  

Joseph’s trust and faithfulness. 

Elizabeth’s surprise … that sense of renewal or new springtime in her life – having a child when it was thought impossible for her – but not for God.  

And Zechariah.   Even though he was struck mute because he didn’t believe the angel’s message that he and Elizabeth would have a baby so late in life, we can learn from his silence.   That sense of being quiet and still.    

Let’s take some time this first week of Advent to think about reflect on faith, trust, new beginning, and silent waiting as we prepare for Jesus.  

Reverend Neil S. Sullivan