When I think of the Christmas story, I see the crèche that was displayed each year in the front hall of my family home. The manger scene began to take shape during the last week of Advent, when we cut fragrant pine branches and spread them on the hall table, then placed figurines of oxen and cows in the center. Mary and Joseph took their places amid the creatures.
Since I live near Lake Michigan, I take frequent walks along the lake and gaze out at the water, which stretches to the distant horizon. Sometimes it’s still, sparkling in the sunlight, an oasis of calm soothing me on a hectic day. On other days, gray clouds gather overhead, waves crash against the breakers below my path, and water sprays high into the air.
John the Baptist’s fiery call to repentance sounds harsh when we’re in the midst of preparations for the baby Jesus. The birth of a child is usually preceded by joyful expectation. But the child envisioned by John will come with an axe, with a winnowing fork and with purging flame.
“For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right” (2 Thess. 3:11-13).