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Prepare the Way of the Lord

  • Posted on Dec 7, 2009

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smother; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Luke 3:6

Time to prepare. That’s what John the Baptist tells us.
Time to prepare for the season.
In my household as a child, we all knew that the big event of the season was the annual Christmas party at our home.
My parents’ Christmas party really.
I believe that everything from Thanksgiving on was aiming towards that night.
Our Christmas party was a trim-the-tree party.
The Christmas tree appeared sometime the week before the party in our enclosed porch.
Lights were strung.
But no ornaments.
The ornaments would come on the night of the party.
Guests would bring a handmade ornament for the tree.
The next day we would add our own.
As a child, it seemed that the party was little about the tree.
Since, as usual, I was the only child at the party, I got to observe the adult behavior.
There never seemed to be any people around the tree—oohing and aahhing and admiring the twinkling sight and inhaling the pine scent.
There were two places the adults were.
Many were gathered around our dining room table to partake of the goodies.
There were the pigs in a blanket—little hot dogs in crescent rolls.
There was the turkey.
There was the Smithfield ham—ordered by my mother from her hometown and steeped and cooked in a magical concoction of brine for a few days before the party.
I tried to like the salty ham, but preferred to stay with pigs in a blanket.
I often hid under the dining room table with the dog during the party. 
While the dog enjoyed the ham and turkey scraps falling from the table, I watched the shiny high heels and black wing-tips glide by.
But the main center of activity was the living room.
That was where the silver punch bowl resided.
And in the punch bowl was the infamous St Cecelia’s punch.
That was my father’s domain.
Like the Smithfield ham and the Christmas tree, St Cecelia’s punch was created over several days.
It consisted of slices of oranges, lemons and limes in a soup of many and varied liquors.
It would steep in the cold garage for a few days before the party.
My father would go out to the garage to observe and stir the punch.
That’s where all the adults congregated during the party.
As the conversation grew louder over the evening in the living room, I stayed by the tree—beholden by its bright lights and beauty.

As we grow older, we take on our own holiday traditions.
Ways of preparing for the season.
As I think back to my childhood, I wonder what would have happened if John the Baptist had appeared at our trim-the tree party.
I imagine him appearing in the middle of the gowned women and tuxedoed men—right by the punch bowl and St Cecelia’s punch.
What would he have said?
Would he have gotten in the front door?

How does John the Baptist enter our holiday preparations?
Does he enter at all?
Do we really want to hear a call to repentance at a time of year that evokes all sorts of tender memories. Tender and painful.
Folks we see no longer. Loneliness.
Parties are ways to combat these feelings. But all too often parties can be occasions to cover up our deepest feelings of the season.
In part, that’s why St Cecelia’s punch is a popular item.

I’m not here to call a halt to holiday parties.
I’m here to wonder today what a spiritual Advent preparation for Christmas might look like.

I hope that you’ll join me at the annual Advent Lessons and Carols service at Memorial this coming Friday, December 11. We will gather for a light supper at 6:30 in the Parish Hall and then move to the church for the service at 7:30 pm. Candlelight will fill the church as we hear Advent lessons, sing Advent hymns and enjoy Advent anthems sung be the Memorial choir. Maybe in this time, we can begin to prepare for our spiritual journey in the new year. If you can’t be here for this event, check out my blog later in the week. I’ll suggest readings to share with a loved one or read by the fire in the days to come.