Advent, Part 2: Preparing
This week on the Allender Center Podcast, Dr. Dan Allender is joined by Dr. Chelle Stearns, Associate Professor of Theology at The Seattle School, to continue our series on Advent by discussing the theme of preparation. What does it mean to prepare for our Lord’s arrival?
Dan: “How do we prepare our hearts for glory? We’d better be open to being stupefied, to being thrown upside down.”
Chelle: “When I think about preparation and Advent, one of the things I realize is that there’s so much that happens within our culture that preparation means you have to go and consume a lot of things, you have to drink a lot of Pumpkin Spice Lattes. […] We have a very strange sense of what preparation really means.”
Dan and Chelle turn to the story of John the Baptist who, even before he was born, pointed toward the arrival of the Messiah. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus’ and John’s births are both greeted with bewilderment and wonder—a very clear sense that they are marking the arrival of something new and extraordinary.
Chelle: “Everybody’s breaking out into song at the beginning of Luke, but this is a time where they’re not singing. This is a time where everything feels unexpected and perplexing and wondrous. […] Luke is overcome by the human story in the midst of God breaking in. It’s quite extraordinary to think about. […] There are very real people in this story trying to figure out, ‘What in the world is going on?’”
Dan: “With preparation, you just don’t know how it’s going to work out. […] We’re looking at a maze of confusion, incredulity, upheaval, topsy-turvy. There’s a sense in which the season mirrors some of the craziness of the story itself.”
Chelle shares her amazement at the depths of John’s convictions and his willingness to dedicate his entire life to his conviction that Jesus is the Messiah. In the tradition of the prophets, John is set aside with a strong vocational call, but there’s more than that. “You feel like, with John, he knows something in the utter core of who he is,” says Chelle.
Chelle: “When we look at the gospel of John, we see somebody who has extreme and beautiful vision, so that when he sees Jesus he’s like, ‘Behold, look everyone, don’t pay attention to me.’ We see this throughout the visual theology tradition: when you see John the Baptist in paintings throughout the centuries, often what you see is John standing on the side and pointing back at Jesus. So here’s a person who not only has this deep identity and vocational call, but he has a vision that something greater is coming. Prepare the way for the Lord.”
Dan: “I begin to put it in this language: this holiday isn’t about gifts for my children. This holiday isn’t about the gifts that I’m going to receive. It literally is a kind of pointing my life to the one who I am not worthy to tie the strings of his shoes together. In that sense, there’s a putting of oneself under, for the sake of making known. This holiday is one in which we proclaim in the midst of all our confusion, and literally sometimes being silent because of our lack of faith. Do we really point our lives toward the one who’s coming?”
All of us at The Allender Center and The Seattle School wish you, your families, and your communities a meaningful and restorative season of Advent. We would love for you to join us for our weekly reflection series that continues until Christmas, and tune in the next two weeks as Dan and Becky Allender engage Advent and the themes of welcoming, and celebrating.