For over three weeks now, we have been on a Maranatha journey together, a spiritual journey, if you will, through the month-long Advent season as we make our way toward Christmas.
And today, well, we’re almost there! We’re so close to Christmas, to the glorious celebration of the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ, that we can almost touch it. Almost feel it.
But being almost there and being there are not the same thing, are they? We still have three days to go. Three more days of preparation, of making ready – not just of the packages and the food – but of ourselves. Our mind sets. Our beliefs. Our resolve. Our faith. Three days to put our own individual houses in order, so to speak, in time to welcome Jesus Christ into our lives once again. It’s a busy time! There is work left to do. We can’t stop now; we must push on …
At this time of year, I am always reminded of one of my favourite poems by the great American poet Robert Frost, entitled Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. And no, we don’t have snow yet in southern England, but I’d like to take a walk in the woods with you as I read this poem now.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost)
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep …
I don’t know about you, but with all the obligations and responsibilities which pile on at Christmas time, there’s a part of me that feels like just disappearing into the woods, sitting on a bench, and forgetting about the rest of the world. And I have done that for a few minutes today.
But, like the narrator of Robert Frost’s poem, I know I can’t do that for too long. Not now. I need to press on. There is work left to do. And, not only do I feel I must do this work, for God has called me to do it… I really want to do it too. I want to reach out to friends and loved ones near and far, with phone calls, with cards, emails, small gifts and messages of love and peace that are perhaps even more important this year because of the isolation that so many are feeling after months of Covid-19 restrictions have constrained our face to face encounters. There will be time for rest and relaxation, but first there are Food Bank donations to make, elderly and vulnerable people to check on, children and families to be reminded of the important message of the nativity story, health and safety precautions to follow, and yes, even small, socially distanced church services to take part in where possible
… But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Like Mary and Joseph, who left their homes, their comfort zones, and ventured out on the long journey to Bethlehem on a dark night all those years ago, we are called by God to make our own journeys toward welcoming Christ into our lives at Christmas. Despite the inconvenience, despite the time it takes, despite (this year) a global pandemic and the obstacles it throws into our path. We are called by God to obey; to carry on; to make the journey – for ourselves and for others.
Like John the Baptist, too, who some years later struck out into the wilderness, obeying God’s command to ready the people for Christ’s arrival. As Mark reminds us in today’s Gospel reading, As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare the way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Well, I know that I’ve got miles to go before I sleep, although these woods have been lovely to walk and sit in today. I’m off to do my small bit to prepare the way for the Lord.
May you have a blessed Christmas, wherever you are.