As a child I was always one who had a terrible time waiting for Christmas morning. Given the chance, I would have opened my presents at the earliest moment possible. Fortunately, my parents always had the good sense to make us boys wait. While other families we knew had this enviable tradition of allowing their children to open just one present on Christmas Eve, this was strictly forbidden in our house. As I reflect back with benefit of age and parenting experience, I now believe my parents were wise in teaching us that good things are worth waiting for.
I suppose I haven’t grown up that much since then. This is still hard today. While I am less excited about opening presents, I find great joy in watching others; especially those close to me tear the paper away from the gifts piled under the tree. And given the chance, I could easily yield to the temptation of my children who annually plead with me, “just one present Dad; can we please just open one present early?!” I must admit, I have to fight off every urge within me to allow it, and consequently deliver that heart-breaking resounding “no!” Fortunately for me, Athena is a strong partner in this heartless act. I have to keep telling myself, and the children, that good things are worth waiting for.
So what do we do while we wait? We make preparation. Until the hour strikes and the gift is given, we wait and prepare. And thus spake St. John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The preparation to which St. John calls his followers, though, is of a strange sort. It does not involve “trimming the hearth and setting the table,” nor does it involve any of the other requisite “hauling out the holly,” or “setting up the tree before my spirits fall again,” or even “carols at the ‘spinnit.’” Rather, it is a work of self-examination. In order to prepare for the coming of the Lord, St. John the Baptist exhorts us to consider the ways in which we have failed ourselves and each other, how we have been hypocrites about what we claim to believe, and about how we have overindulged in unhealthy and unhelpful behaviours. Most importantly, having examined ourselves, we are called to repent.
Now, I sense that this exhortation probably lands with a resounding “thud” into the midst of our pre-Christmas celebrations. “Oh, Father Dan,” you might say, “trimming the tree is so much more fun!” It is true that you will get no argument with me about that. I love trimming the tree with some good carols on the “spinnit.” But let us consider for a moment the nature and purpose of that special gift that is set before us; that gift comes not under the tree or wrapped in paper, but rests under the precarious shelter of the roof of a cattle stable and is wrapped in swaddling bands. This gift, the most precious gift of all, the one for which we wait, is given to us a salve for our human wounds and a balm for our bruised souls. This gift is given to mend broken hearts and broken relationships. It is offered to restore wholeness to broken lives and bring joy to all who have lost their way. This gift is no ordinary gift. No, it is the most amazing of gifts – the gift of Emmanuel, God with us.
Oh, how we long for such a gift and all its benefits. How can we wait for Christmas morning? How can we wait to receive such a blessing and offering of grace? But we must. We must wait and we must prepare. The preparation that is set before us is the preparation of the heart. It is time for us to look within ourselves and realize just how much we need that most precious of gifts and to search out our own brokenness and discover exactly the wounds to which that salve will be applied and the bruises that the balm of Christ will soothe. And most importantly, to search ourselves and understand that there is nothing I can do to heal my wounds, but with the Lord all things are possible: Come, Lord Jesus.
Where meek hearts will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.