As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
"See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'"
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
- Mark 1:1-8
If you really want to observe Advent, holding off the secular onslaught of Christmas for as long as possible, there may be no better way than to read the Daily Office: the day-by-day readings appointed by the Church. To create this calendar each day, I have begun with this website. The daily readings can also be found at the back of the Book of Common Prayer; while the weekly readings are arranged on a three-year cycle (Years A, B and C), the daily readings are arranged on a two-year cycle (Years One and Two). We are at the very beginning of Year One.
At long last, eighteen days into Advent, we hear of John the Baptist. Now, this is one of the funny things about Advent. We’re preparing for Christ to come on three different timelines:
- Waiting for the baby to be born
- Waiting for Jesus to begin his adult ministry
- Waiting for the return of Christ
The appearance of John the Baptist is a major development in the second timeline. In the weekly readings in church, we heard from him on both the second and third Sundays in Advent.
My family has been using an Advent calendar that tells the Christmas story in little chunks each day. In that story, Mary and Joseph are already on their way to Bethlehem, and the Magi are already in Jerusalem meeting King Herod. This Advent calendar is concerned with getting the entire story in before Christmas Day. But nowhere in the Daily Office have we heard a word yet about Mary and Joseph, and the Magi are even further away—they won’t come until Epiphany on January 6.
However you observe Christmas, it’s a good idea not to rush it. Christmas is ten days away: a lot can happen in that time. And then, Christmas lasts for twelve days—a lot more time still to observe the season. Growing up, my family usually decorated the Christmas tree on December 19 (my parents’ anniversary, conveniently) so it wouldn’t dry out before January 6. We also gave little stocking stuffers for each of the twelve days. Now that I have my own family, we observe Christmas the same way. This weekend, we'll go hunting for a tree. There probably won't be a big selection left. We way wind up with something that looks more like Charlie Brown's tree, but that's OK.
“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!”