Advent continues as the four-week season leading into Christian celebration of the nativity of Jesus Christ (Christmas), in whom Christians believe God to have taken human form in a human lifetime. Ancient Christians believed that His human life and death served to demonstrate God's promise to Israel and through them to all humanity that death is not the end of human existence because they affirmed the reality of His physical resurrection in the events Christians will later celebrate at Easter.
This second week of Advent is a week during which Christians meditate on the spiritual experience and practice of preparation. Some of us light a second purple candle (having lit a first purple candle throughout the first week of Advent as we meditated on hope in God's promises to Israel's prophets). This is sometimes called the Bethlehem candle or candle of preparation. During this week, we meditate specifically on preparing for God's presence incarnate in our lives, embodied with us in human vulnerability. We pray with both Isaiah and John the Baptist, who quoted Isaiah's prophecy that all will see God's salvation without obstacles, a promise we affirm this week with gratitude and hope (Luke 3:4-6, Isaiah 40:3-5).
The following meditations may help us to remember the preparations earlier believers made as they awaited the fulfillment of God's promises of divine presence with us and salvation of ALL people, especially in relation to Bethlehem. For those who wish to practice spiritual preparation this week, abbreviated versions of one of meditation each day is released through Twitter:
Meditation 1: After the angel Gabriel announced her pregnancy with the messiah, Mary sang, "God remembered his mercy, the promise he made to our ancestors" (Luke 1:54-55). A key ancestral promise of God that Christians celebrate this season as fulfilled was proclaimed by then ancient Hebrew prophet Micah. He prophesied that a son and ruler of Israel, a "shepherd" who "will be our peace," would one day be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:1-5). Christians believe this prophecy was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, whose family had traveled to Bethlehem to be counted during a Roman imperial census (Luke 2:1-3). Though a time of violent conflict ensued as Micah prophesied, the enduring message in which Christians hope and for which we prepare is that ultimately the messiah shepherds His flock in peace that is beyond human capacity -- "in the strength of the Lord" (Micah 5:4-5).
Meditation 2: In relation to God's promise of the Messiah, whom the ancient prophet Micah described as a Bethlehem-born protective shepherd and whom Isaiah proclaimed would make God seem even more present among us, "The people were waiting and wondering what was taking so long" (Luke 1:21). Jesus later illustrates a relation between waiting and preparing for God's coming Kingdom in the parable of 10 bridesmaids who help light the nighttime wedding procession, five of whom filled their lamps with oil and five of whom didn't get any oil so didn't get to participate. Today we remember the kind of daily preparation of spiritual vigilance that Jesus taught His followers at the end of this parable: "Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour" God will come to us in fullness (Matthew 25:1-13).
Meditation 3: When the angel Gabriel visits Nazareth to announce to Mary her pregnancy with the long-promised messiah, she is understandably confused and asks, "How can this be?" How is she to prepare for such an overwhelming and unexpected experience? God's messenger reassures her, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God's power will rest upon you" (Luke 1:34-35). Today our celebration of Advent reminds us that preparing for God's nearness in our lives doesn't depend on our own effort but rather on a resting and waiting that we share with God, Who is the source of power that is coming.
Meditation 4: As Mary and Elizabeth prepare for the birth of their children, they praise God and rejoice together (Luke 1:46-55). This week of Advent reminds us that one way we prepare for God's presence with us is to rejoice, to sing praise for what we trust is going to come to us: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and how I rejoice in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46-47).
Meditation 5: What specifically are we preparing for this week as we light the candle of preparation? What are we meditating on this week as we consider what will happen in Bethlehem? In the oldest of the four biblical gospels, Jesus tells his twelve closest companions at the beginning of their ministry together, "The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you" (Mark 4:11). Though we may never understand this mystery in our lifetimes, we remember today that in some way we can come to believe that together, God is present with and among us.
Meditation 6: When Mary finally gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem during the Roman imperial census, so many other people are also traveling that the only room left for her and Joseph is the stable of an inn, and therefore the infant Jesus has to be placed in an animal feeding trough to rest (Luke 2:7). For Christians who believe Jesus to be God incarnate, the image of the Sovereign Creator of the Universe as a helplessly vulnerable human infant, humbled to the point of being born in a shed for animals, sleeping where they ate, reveals the complexity of a God who is at once powerful and completely vulnerable, to be glorified yet willing to be entirely humiliated and demeaned to be near us. Today we prepare to embrace lives that follow this example of loving that is both fully human and fully Godly.
Meditation 7: On this last day of lighting the Bethlehem candle, we remember that the Hebrew place name "Beth-lechem" means "house of bread." Jesus used this metaphor of bread frequently, comparing God's promises to life-giving nourishment and calling Himself the "Bread of Life" (John 6:35). Today we can prepare to receive and express God's love as nourishing our whole selves and the whole selves of those with whom we share it, just as bread or food nourishes our bodies.