“Prepare the way of the Lord.”
That’s the word from John the Baptist in the wilderness. It’s the thing we’re meant to do in Advent. But I’m wondering what that really looks like. It’s different for each one of us. We each prepare the way in our own way.
Case in point: a priest I recently met who told me about his Sunday morning routine. He leads worship at 8am, as takes place in many Episcopal churches. So he arrives at 6am to get ready. He goes into the church by himself, sits in the chair from which he will later preside at the liturgy and prays for a while for the church and for the grace to lead the church. Then he begins to move around the church, in a private procession, stopping at stations along the way where ministry will unfold later that morning.
He goes to the narthex (a.k.a., lobby) where he prays for the ushers and greeters, and their ministry of hospitality. He goes to the choir loft and prays for the musicians who will help people worship, in full knowledge that the person who sings prays twice. He goes to the sacristy to pray for the ministry of the altar guild, as they prepare to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. He prays at the lectern for those who will read scripture. He stands in the pulpit and prays for the preaching that will take place. Then he returns to his seat, says final prayers, preparing the way for the encounter with God in worship.
I’ve had my own routine in preparation for Sunday, but let’s just say it’s not quite that prayerful. It’s been about checking on coffee and bulletins and sound system and lights and signage. The fact is, the way I often have come to church is less like this priest I admire and more about crossing out items on my to-do list. Sometimes it’s more like going to a movie or a concert, hoping that I’ll be entertained or entertaining, that I’ll be pleased or pleasing. Sometimes it’s just what I always do, a mindless/mindful mix, intention drifting into habit. There must be a better way to prepare the way.
How do we set intention for an encounter with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with the Holy One? How do we prepare the way? One church I know posts tasteful signs around the nave. The signs read: Deep Silence Observed Before Worship. That may not be right for every community, but anyone could tell that the place was preparing the way. Another church I know provides prayers for congregants to say at home, prayers for Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday evening, and Sunday morning before going to church. Again, it’s about preparing the way.
Preparing the way has to do with more than Sunday, for sure. And thanks be to God, it’s not just clergy that do this work. As Verna Dozier, great lay leader in our church, said: “What happens on Sunday morning is not half so important as what happens on Monday morning. In fact, what happens on Sunday morning is judged by what happens on Monday morning.” In many ways, Monday through Saturday we are preparing for Sunday. Our words and actions, day in and day out, constitute that preparation.
On this Monday morning in Advent, listen for the voice in the wilderness, John the Baptist saying prepare the way. His loud voice reaches across centuries and continents to you and me, with a reminder that we each can prepare the way of the Lord, getting ready for Christ to come into the world, into our neighborhood, into our church, into our hearts.
Greet One who comes in glory, fore told in sacred story. Oh, blest is Christ that came in God’s most holy name.
All lands will bow before him, their voices will adore him. Oh, blest is Christ that came in God’s most holy name.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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