Advent is a time of preparation. As we prepare to celebrate the festival of Christís birth we also look forward to what Paul refers to as the day of Christ, when Christís kingdom comes into fruition, putting an end to pain and suffering and filling us with joy as we live in the light of godís glory. Preparing for Christmas is perhaps quite straightforward. We decorate; we prepare food and share our Christmas spirit by exchanging greetings cards and presents. But advent also calls us to prepare ourselves for the Day of Christ, and this involves looking inside ourselves.
Rather like Lent, Advent is a time to take stock, a time to clean out and purify. Just as perhaps we will prepare our homes for visitors, cleaning out the spare room, making sure we have enough to feed and entertain our guests, it is also a time to clean out and prepare our hearts to welcome the presence of God. Malachi speaks of a messenger preparing the way of the Lord, working as a refinerís fire or laundererís soap. Purging stains and getting rid of impurities so that we become pure in Godís eyes. John the Baptist took on the role of this messenger, preparing people to receive the teachings of Jesus by searching their hearts and purifying themselves through the symbolic ritual of baptism.
It is unfortunate in our day and age that preparations for Christmas in the world of the media and commerce seem to begin earlier and earlier, and can, if we let them, distract our attention from the true meaning of the festival, tangling us in a web of greed and pleasure seeking, tempting and enticing us to spend more and more. It might be easy to be drawn in to judging the love we have for each other by the amounts we spend on presents. We must be careful that as members of a materially rich society we donít end up spiritually impoverished, or even morally bankrupt. We donít have to look very far to see that hand in hand with the luxury and comforts of our economy centred world goes despair, abuse, neglect, alienation and conflict.
In preparing for Christmas we need to examine in our hearts how much we are motivated by possessions and the ideals of society, and how much our hearts are governed by the need to spread Godís love to all his people. The greatest Christmas present we can give to this world is the knowledge that some day we will all enter into a kingdom where suffering and despair have been banished, and the hope that if we can follow the right path, which we believe to be the teachings of Jesus, we can bring something of that kingdom to the communities around us. But to convince others we must first convince ourselves. They will not respond to the do as I say, not what I do message that has been sent out from churches for thousands of years. They will not be persuaded by clever argument or threats of hell and destruction. The message of Godís word has, over the centuries, been confused with valleys of ignorance and mountains of misunderstanding. It is time to get the message straight; and that message is from the heart.
The seeds of the kingdom are planted in the heart and need a pure soil in which to germinate. Unless we allow them to grow in our hearts, removing growth inhibitors like greed, envy and pride, then those seeds cannot bear fruit. Where that fruit can grow, the fruit of the kingdom, Paul calls them the fruits of the spirit, will blossom in our relationships and plant their seeds in those around us. This is the way the kingdom can be built around us on earth. From a pure heart will grow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. These are the spiritual riches that our society needs to embrace. If this advent we spend some time cleaning out our hearts, examining the quality of the soil and nourishing it through prayer, through study of the scriptures and through fellowship with others who follow Christ, then we can truly be part of the greatest Christmas present the world will ever know.