Matthew 3:1-3 – John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
Advent. A season of hopeful anticipation, joyful preparation, expectant waiting. John the Baptist prepared for the coming of Jesus and we, too, take four weeks of every year preparing for the coming of Jesus.
“Make your house fair as you are able, Trim the hearth and set the table. People, look East and sing today Love, the Guest is on the way.”
As we sing “People, Look East” this Sunday, we literally describe what so many of our families are doing during this season in their homes: putting up the lights and the Christmas trees, decorating our tables with Christmas centerpieces, not to mention running around trying to find that perfect gift for our loved ones, waiting in lines, sitting in traffic, searching for an empty parking spot at the mall. Or more accurately for us this week: driving home from work, quickly eating as we change out of work clothes, leaving the house again, forgetting that water bottle we left on the kitchen counter, heading over to the church, singing until 9pm… wake up and repeat. (Have I said “thank you” yet? J)
It’s a crazy month. But somehow most of us find the time to prepare our homes for Christmas. We make time to hang those lights and put up the tree. Or for some of us who hate decorating, we at least go buy a Christmas candle and light it so the house smells like Christmas. Preparing our homes for Christmas is important to us.
But what about preparing our hearts? I know, I know… we hear this message every year - we should prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. But what if the coming of Jesus was tomorrow? Have you ever dreamed that you were dying? If so, what did you do in that final moment? I get the death dream every so often. Maybe I’m flying on a plane and it starts to go down, my car drives off a cliff (someone can interpret these for me later), but when I’m asleep, I don’t know it’s a dream. It’s full reality for me at that moment. And what do I find myself doing? Praying. Praying hard. Preparing my heart to meet Jesus. I always wake up and say, “Man, I’ve gotta pray more.”
Prayer changes us. I asked a mentor of mine about prayer once and his response was “You begin by giving God a small amount of time in your day, and then give him a second part of your day, and then a third part of your day, and slowly you realize you’re praying all day. You’ve given him all of it.” Jewish practice was to pray at certain hours of the day or night. Early Christians continued this practice, but over time, we’ve left it to the monks.
I was challenged by my time in the Middle East. I’d hear the call to prayer at 4am and the entire town would wake up to pray. Me? I’d yawn and turn over to the other side of my pillow, hoping I could get back to sleep. Over time I decided to dive into The Liturgy of the Hours, the official set of prayers and readings in the Catholic Church prayed daily by the monastic communities. I can’t say I’ve held true to praying it, but if you’re looking to dedicate more of your day to God, the Liturgy of the Hours is a great place to start. With that said, the books are expensive and confusing so do some research to see if you can find alternative options.
The Anglican Church uses the Book of Common Prayer, which is similar. There’s a great website for these prayers: www.commmonprayer.net Daily, Midday, and Evening Prayers are available. I’ve found the Evening Prayers especially meaningful. I replace the hymns they provide with my favorite hymn or worship song. When I’m tired of singing, I just youtube a worship song and sit in silence.
My encouragement to you (and me) this month is to dedicate a certain part of your day in prayer to God, preparing your hearts for His coming. If your prayer life is dry, find a new website or book to guide you through. Or just decide to put on worship music for 3 minutes before you get out of bed in the morning. Dedicate your days to God. Prepare your hearts. Love is on the way.