"Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction..."
Why, I wonder, is it so natural for this season to turn into a giant to-do list, all geared toward completion of so many minor tasks that we expect to equal up to Something Meaningful? I catch myself allowing the tasks themselves to become the whole thing... and the act of crossing things off the list as DONE seems a valuable and worthy goal in itself. The sense of achievement that I get from it keeps me motivated and barrelling through more and more little expressions of busy-ness. My five-year-old is big on "checks" lately, as in: Grocery shopping. Check. Wrap gifts. Check. Mail cards. Check.
I don't know where he gets it, this weird compulsion to list things and cross them off. (Ahem.)
But God's checklist doesn't work that way. 1) Build up. 2) Prepare the way. 3) Remove every obstruction. No task-orientation will bring such tasks to quick completion. No busy-ness will bring us, our spirits, our souls, our selves to such a state of readiness that we can "check" ourselves off the list.
Maybe, though, that's what Advent is. We've turned Christmas into efforts: shopping and menus and travel and memories and family and tradition and that's all good. But the Advent summons tells us that there is no "done." Our call isn't to some final arrival, but to making ready the road between here and there. Our task isn't to finish the job, but to be in the process of construction, brick by brick, nail by nail (for some of us even word by word). Our expectation ought not to be completion, but constant effort removing the obstacles that block the path between us and God and between us and each other.
Note to self: the Advent season doesn't end on 12/25. (Well, okay, for the liturgically OCD among us, it technically does.) But the Advent practice, the act of readying ourselves for God's presence--the process of building, preparing, clearing the way--is lifelong. If I can only remove one major obstruction--that is, my (tasky, busy, "check"-y) self--perhaps the Holy One can make his Way... even to me.