Advent is a season marked by four distinct postures. The first week focuses on the prophecy of God about the coming messiah and the coming kingdom. Since I was on vacation, we missed that installment in the blogosphere, though I'm sure it will reappear here before too long.
The second posture of Advent is preparation. In the readings we hear Isaiah calling to the exiles and John the Baptist calling to Israelites, "prepare the way of the Lord! Make the paths straight!"
Sometimes, I think the church needs a some time in prep school, a bit of JUCO, and Advent is the annual reminder of that reality. Because, you see, preparation is an activity, not just a state of mind. To prepare, you must do something. Like the doomsday preppers (or survivalists) who find new ways to live in a dystopian future, the church must actively learn ways to live in the coming Kingdom of God.
This requires a change not only in outlook, but in practice. To prepare the way of the Lord is to, in part, engage in the spiritual discipline of habit formation. Committing not only to daily prayer or Scripture reading, but to daily acts of service and daily works of friendship. To prepare the way of the Lord is to live like the Lord is already here! For John, that is repentance. For Isaiah, that is comfort for the outcast and proclamation of God's good news of redemption.
The world is the church's prep school because we are constantly called to prepare the way of the Lord. This is our JUCO. But here's the thing: we don't graduate from here. Rather, God is working to transform this place into the Kingdom of God. Rather than leaving for another program, we are participating in God's reconciliation of all things, the redemption of all creation. We aren't learning to leave this place. We are preparing for an eternity spent in God's restored kingdom, not only in heaven, but here on earth.
In Advent, we ultimately prepare for heaven and earth to crash together in the Bethlehem manger. We're preparing for this new reality, where eternity takes on time in the person of Jesus. Rather than prepare to leave, now we prepare to truly live life abundant here, now, with Christ.