A few years ago, as I and the rest of the audience waited patiently for a passion play to begin, a homeless man burst into the church and began running up the aisle, screaming. He was unkempt and appeared to be psychologically disturbed. The actors also seemed alarmed, and we waited anxiously for someone to call the police. That is, until we heard what the man was screaming: "Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight! Repent! Repent!"
For the majority of the world's Christians, in the Congo or China, El Salvador or Haiti, where each day is a struggle just to stay alive, God's promise of salvation is tangible, real, and long-awaited. But for too much of the wealthy Western world, Advent is only a comforting backdrop to the season of gluttonous overconsumption. And we who are cushioned by wealth in all its forms desperately need the Baptist to shock us into preparing for the only gift that matters: the gift of God's presence in Emmanuel, "God-with-us."
This month's readings from the Revised Common Lectionary will lead us through an Advent exercise that, like God's gift of Jesus, emphasizes relationship and solidarity over things; we will seek ways to give presence rather than presents. Sojourners will build and support your Advent gifts with presence as well: We invite you to share your ideas, actions, and responses with your fellow pilgrims here on our blog.
Michaela Bruzzese, a Sojourners contributing writer, lives in Brooklyn, New York.