The following is an excerpt from "Living Well through Advent 2014," I wrote for Living Compass and Morehouse Publishing. You can order a copy of this booklet through the Resources section of our website.
We had some friends over for dinner recently--nothing fancy, just a casual gathering. We made a spicy vegetarian chili and even asked our guests to help with the preparations while we caught up with each other's lives. They were happy to grab a paring knife and help us trim the numerous vegetables that were going into the large pot on the stove and to help us prepare our salad. Preparing a part of the meal together ended up being a big part of the fun of our evening together.
It is also true that part of the delight of Advent comes from preparing together, preparing together with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, for the upcoming feast of God's Incarnation. Preparation, both communally and individually, is the essence of Advent. Just as a gardener needs to prepare the soil before the seeds are planted, or a friend prepares to have friends over for a meal we also need to prepare for Christmas. We need to prepare our hearts to be more open to receiving the seeds of God's life-giving Word. Isaiah's words ring clear in both the Old Testament and Gospel readings today, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" (Isaiah 40:3, Mark 1:3).
So how might we approach this preparation? One way to approach it is to reflect on the root meaning of the word prepare. This word has two components. "Pre," of course, means before, which speaks to preparing as being something we do before or in anticipation of something that will be happening soon. "Pare" means to trim, or to cut. Think of the paring knives you have in your kitchen or the knives that we and our friends used to trim the vegetables that were part of our recent dinner together.
It is not uncommon for someone in a state of post-Christmas exhaustion to reflect back and wish they had done things differently. Such reflections are, in a sense, an act of “post-paring.” The person is looking back and wishing they had made different choices, and often that includes wishing that had done less, that they had done a better job paring down certain activities or expectations. Of course it is impossible to post-pare, but it is indeed possible, and in fact desirable, to pre-pare. While there may be many things we find ourselves preparing for this time of year, both Isaiah and John the Baptist remind us that the most important prep work we are doing is preparing the way of the Lord.
Throughout the upcoming week we will invite you to reflect upon what you might want to pare, what you might want to trim out of your life in these coming weeks. Think of something that you might choose to let go of so as to allow more room, more time and energy for preparing for Jesus' birth. In our Living Compass Faith & Wellness ministry we talk about how we first get a “whisper”, a feeling that something just isn't right, from God when we are not living our lives in alignment with God's desires for us. Sometimes the whisper is in regard to something we need to trim or pare from our lives, something we need to do less of in our lives. Only when we take the time to be quiet, working to seek out and listen to the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, paying attention to God's whisper can we then repent, and make new choices, choices that will more fully prepare for us the way of the Lord.