This Advent, Nan Thomas will share four Sunday reflections with us on these themes: hope, prepare, watch, and rejoice. Nan is deeply thoughtful about spiritual formation, a topic she pursues as an InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries staff member and as Associate Director of Faculty Development at Union University. In addition, Nan was part of the founding team that imagined the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) and made it a reality. We’re grateful for her ongoing advice and encouragement, and for this Advent series.
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain. —Isaiah 40:3–4 (ESV)
Advent calls us to hope and to prepare. If you think about it, hoping and preparing tend to go together in ordinary life. We often enjoy “preparing” as much as the event itself, whether it is big things like preparing for marriage, preparing to give birth, preparing for retirement, or ordinary things like preparing for vacation, for a visit, or preparing a presentation. It seems to me that because I am hoping for a great dinner party, I begin preparing well in advance. Hope often inspires preparation, so it is not unusual that Advent emphasizes that our job in the present is one of preparation, making ready to receive what will be offered now and in the future. We tend to think that we orchestrate the opportunities of our lives, but in contrast the Biblical emphasis is on preparing to receive from God and from the good graces of other people. We all know that it is after we receive from God that we are most able to give to others. Our communities benefit from our time of preparation for Christ and from what he gives to us. Over time, as we seek God and prepare to find God, preparation becomes a lifestyle—a way of living more fully in the present with an eye to the future, similar to the way that Jesus lived.
Advent beckons us to prepare our hearts to welcome Christ in many ways. Honesty and repentance are good places to start. We all need to create space and time in the presence of God and begin to see more fully who we are. Often a tension exists between desperately wanting to be known and wanting to hide ourselves.
C. S. Lewis offers a great image of this in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer:
Ordinarily, to be known by God is to be, for this purpose, in the category of things. We are like earthworms, cabbages, and nebulae, objects of divine knowledge. But when we (a) become aware of the fact—the present fact, not the generalization—and (b) assent with all our will to be known, then we treat ourselves, in relation to God, not as things but as persons. We have unveiled. Not that any veil could have baffled this sight. The change is in us. The passive changes to active. Instead of merely being known, we show, we tell, we offer ourselves to view.
As we sit in silence and honesty before God we offer “ourselves for view.”
We begin to lay off every encumbrance and move to repentance of the sin that so easily entangles. We can repent of all that has offended God and all that holds us back from what is possible in Christ.
Questions for Reflection
- In what ways is God calling you to make straight the path in order to receive Christ?
- What is the rough ground in your life that needs to become level?
- How has Jesus not only forgiven you, but broken the power of canceled sin?
We thank you, God, for this Advent season and for your call to us to prepare to receive because you have so much to give us. Hear the prayers of your people:
Forgive us for rushing and running, always being in a hurry and not taking the time to prepare for anything and thereby becoming less able to receive. Please forgive us as well for the irritability that comes when we hurry;
Increase our capacity for honesty before you and reveal to us the possible ways in which we are currently deceived;
Strengthen our commitment to intentionally seek you during Advent and enable us to not be encumbered by cultural expectations for this season;
Merciful God, who sent your messengers to prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)
About the author:
Nancy Flack Thomas has been on InterVarsity staff for twenty-seven years and currently serves on the Faculty Ministry leadership team of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, with a particular focus on staff training and spiritual formation and discipleship. She also serves as the Associate Director of Faculty Development and previously as an adjunct professor of political science at Union University, a Christian liberal arts university in West Tennessee. Through each of these positions Nan seeks to encourage Christian faculty in their spiritual and professional journeys.