“Come, let us climb the mountain of the Lord!” Advent begins with a bang. We are on a journey, a pilgrimage, on our way up. We are going to the mountain of the Lord’s house, to the place of instruction, to learn from him, who is meek, and who beats swords into plowshares.
This beautiful reading from Isaiah fills us with a sense of movement. Our life is not about “being” a Christian in any static way. To be a Christian is to be alive, to be moving, to be on our way: to be loving the Lord, and seeking his face. O house of Jacob! Come! Let us walk!
Love is the principal of movement. To sit still is to be satisfied. To move is to be filled with desire.
The Psalm beautifully emphasizes both the movement and the impulse that drives it. “I rejoiced when they said to me, let us go up to the house of the Lord!” Yes, I want to go! I want to seek him. We long for the peace of Jerusalem, for its compact unity, for our brothers and friends. We long for the God to whom we give thanks, who makes this house of peace for us.
Advent, it is sometimes said, is a time of waiting. Perhaps it is better to say it is a time of longing. Longing for the coming of Christ, and longing for the peace he brings, the passionate love among neighbors that he exemplifies and pours into our hearts. Expectation is not expectation if we just sit around twiddling our thumbs. To long for Christ is to prepare for him: make him room, straighten the paths, level the mountains.
The New Testament readings give us different angles on the same story. “As it was in the days of Noah,” says Jesus. We can skip over that too quickly. In the days of Noah, there were two kinds of people. Most were not preparing; a few were. Noah was not just “waiting” for the rains to come, he was working, making his house fair as he was able.
Jesus goes on to say, “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.” But we must interpret this in light of the days of Noah. On the one hand, no, we don’t prepare for the Lord by building an ark – or stockpiling canned food, or guns, or whatever. In fact, we prepare for the Lord through our ordinary lives: out in the field, grinding at the mill, living our lives.
On the other hand, we might read the two men out in the field as if the coming of Christ is random. No, the “one who will be taken” is the one who has prepared his heart for Jesus, who has looked forward for him, longed for him – and lived like he longs for him.
Thus he closes the series of metaphors with the master of the house, staying awake. “A thief in the night” is a strange description for Jesus. But the point is, we will miss him if we are not watching. Christ passes by every day; we miss him if we are not watching. Stay awake!
Finally, Paul gives us his same take on this in Romans. Jesus said, “You do not know on which day your Lord will come.” But Paul says, “You do know”: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep!” We don’t know when Jesus will come; we do know that we should watch. Watch! Prepare! Be alive!
Paul runs with the metaphor; we need not dig too deep into the imagery to understand the point. “The night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day.”
The imagery of Isaiah (let us go up!) and Jesus (the days of Noah) are more romantic – and we should romance with them. But Paul takes us to the point. The way we go up, the way we prepare, the way we watch, is simply by living upright lives. Our only armor is the armor of light: not to sneak around in darkness, doing things we are ashamed of, but doing what we know is right, in the plain light of day.
The secret of Jesus, the secret of Advent, is that we fill our ordinary life with extraordinary longing, extraordinary love.
How do you prepare your heart for Jesus?