My advent reading today (day #2) was Mark 1:1-8.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8 ESV)
My first thought was, “How is this part of Advent? How does this prepare me to receive the incarnate Jesus?” It quickly became clear to me (in a “duh!” moment) that it makes perfect sense. Repentance (symbolized by John’s baptism) clears away clutter and makes the path straight for Jesus. Obstacles are removed and space is created by repenting of those things that keep me opposed to grace.
For me, I am repenting (present tense because I’ll have to do it all Advent long) of an elusive self-hatred that has been tolerated and even cherished by my ragamuffin self for far too long (more on this later). I am also repenting of all my attempts to make life work and to make my life “make sense.”
This message of Advent repentance reminds me how much Advent has in common with Lent. It is a period of pregnant waiting for life to emerge out of death and barrenness (remember the conditions in Israel when Jesus came? things were bleak to say the least). Whether it’s the womb of Mary or the tomb of Golgotha, we wait in the midst of sorrow, loss and powerlessness for the Author of Life to speak resurrection, to speak life. Advent, like Lent, is not a time (predominantly) for joy and celebration, but reflection and lament. The season of Christmas (like Easter) is the time for celebrating.
For me, the image of the stable is increasingly becoming where I wait and try to give voice to the pains and sorrows that reside within me but have not yet been given a chance to express themselves. I imagine I arrive there a long while before Mary & Joseph are forced to rest there after being rejected at the inn (more on this later too). As I wait I let the dirty, smelly and earthy place fill my senses and shape my waiting into a place into which Jesus can come for me (not for the world, but for me specifically).
My self-hatred shows up in this scene as a berating Pharisee barring the entrance, constantly telling me I’m not worthy of God’s coming, that I’d better give up and just leave, because no one will ever love me. Again, this is where repentance comes in for me. By God’s grace, I need to kill this Pharisee/older brother/self-hatred that bars my entrance into my own humanity. If I can’t get past him, then I won’t be able to own my true humanity before God, I won’t be able to own who I really am (and am not) before God. If I can’t do that, I’ll miss the coming of Jesus entirely. God help me.