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Being Prepared: A Faith Walk

First Sunday in Advent: November 28, 2010

By Lynn Sloan Barnes

Isaiah 2:1-5

The prophet Isaiah talks about God’s reign. Isaiah invites God’s people to walk in God’s light: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isaiah 2:5).

Once again we stand on the threshold of the Advent season, our expectant hearts excited by the remembrance of the coming of Emmanuel, God with us. God walks with us shedding God’s light along the way. Looking over our shoulder, we stand in awe of what Christ’s coming has meant to the world and at the difference we have experienced in our own lives. Now as we turn our faces forward, following the light of God leading us onward to embrace this time of joy, be “on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with … the worries of this life” (Luke 21:34, NRSV). Don’t miss an opportunity to recognize Jesus along the path, the one who sheds light along our way.

We know the story of Jesus’ birth well enough to recite it. Christmas carols spring to our lips with lyrics memorized by years of singing them. Secure in our knowledge of the reason for the season, it is easy to get caught up in the busyness of the holiday and the anxieties of life. We may put ourselves in danger of being caught unprepared if we start this seemingly familiar leg of the journey without first unloading the burdens that weigh down our hearts, whether they be worries, guilt, sorrows, fears or some other burden.

We must not “let the sharp edge of [our] expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping,” as Eugene Peterson paraphrases part of Luke 21:34 in The Message. Only by lifting up the burdens to God may our hearts be freed to experience the joys of the journey. Only then may our eyes be opened to see Christ as we meet him along the Advent path “in the distressing disguise of the poor,” as Mother Teresa put it. We may miss an opportunity to serve Christ through acts of service to others.

All too often we content ourselves at this time of the year by some generous activity for the poor—collecting food, filling stocking with toys for needy children, donating funds for one charity or another. These are wonderful acts of kindness, but one might characterize this as sending love from a distance. However, the Jesus we are called to follow demonstrated love by touching, healing and spending time with the poor. John Wesley expressed his concern that as we Methodists moved above the poverty line we would lose our compassion for the poor due to the lack of contact with them.

Today’s society makes it easy to avoid significant involvement with those in need, and so it is a challenge to do so. It takes deliberate effort on our part to spend significant time with the poor beyond minimal contact through volunteering at the food pantry or the homeless shelter. Most of the time we simply do not make the sacrifices necessary to befriend someone less fortunate.

Perhaps this will be the challenge this Advent: to personalize our relationship with the poor and thus enhance our ties to this Jesus in disguise. With our eyes and ears opened by the Spirit may we seize the opportunity to befriend someone in need. It may take some effort on our part to reach across society’s barriers, but that is just what Jesus did!

We must get ready for the Advent journey by preparing our hearts. Let us clear all the burdens holding our hearts down. Emmanuel is here with us today, but our hearts must be open, even made vulnerable, for us to meet our Savior along the way.

The best of all is, God is with us. —John Wesley

Let us pray:

God of every season, we lift ourselves up to you as we embark on our Advent journey. Help us to identify the burdens that weigh down our hearts and then empower us to give those burdens up to you.

We ask special blessings upon Dianna Dudleson, a member of our mission staff who celebrates her birthday today. Also we ask that you bless Robinson School in San Juan, Puerto Rico, today and always as the staff members there share your love through their work.

May our love for you and for our neighbors grow and prosper to reflect your unending love for all the world. Make our hearts strong in holiness as we strive to see you in the faces of our sisters and brothers. Enable us to break down the barriers set up by society to isolate us from the poor in our communities, and teach us your way of reaching out to build relationships with those outside our social circles. May the assurance that you are always with us make us bold and fearless as we continue our faith journey this Advent season.

We ask all this in the name of our brother Jesus. Amen.

Lynn Sloan Barnes is a deaconess who lives in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Last Updated: 11/24/2010

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