Prepare a way for the Lord - make his paths straight. (Matthew 3:3)
An important figure, every Advent, is this strange person, John the Bapist. Like one of the prophets of the Old Testament, he adopted an unusual life style - he lived in the desert and fed off locusts and wild honey - and in stark terms he warned people of the dangers of the times.
Prophets weren't those who predicted the future, so much - that is a misunderstanding. The prophets, rather, pointed to the signs of the times, and emphasised the old wisdom: "Actions have consequences". So if you don't want these unwelcome consequences, then change your actions. Repent, in other words. Repent - and my prophecies might not come true.
But sometimes the prophets did something else as well. They didn't just identify bad consequences, but they also gave reason for hope as well. They pointed out that in spite of their bad or unwise actions, God still loves his people and will rescue them even from their foolishness and disobedience.
And this is what John does. Yes he warns. But he also provides a hope. And he calls the people to be ready. Ready to welcome the new King, the Messiah, the Lord, the Christ. He presents a hope of salvation, but also a challenge to be ready to greet that hope.
Make a straight path. - He calls the people to prepare their hearts, prepare their homes, and prepare their lives to welcome the One who comes.
Advent is a time when we all commanded, like those people, to hear the words of John the Baptist, and act upon them. Like him, we are called to prepare a way for the Lord. [In our case, it won't be a straight path through the desert sands, but rather through the winter's snows. ]
But it will be straight path. A true path. A joyful path.
We have so much to do at this time of year. There are the presents, the visits and welcoming of family, the decorating of the house, meals and school performances to attend. Much joy and much enjoyment.
And we should also prepare our hearts. Repent and make our confessions. Spend some time in prayer, reflection and reading. Ensure that the Christmas message of hospitality and generosity comes truly from the heart and not grudgingly from our duty.
And by the example of our joyfulness and love, invite others to see the joy of Christian living and the truth of our faith.
To come before Christ not out of habit, or custom or duty, but truly out of Love.