I am a great fan of “Downton Abbey,” so when they made a full-length movie based on that TV series I promptly went to see the film. The whole film portrays what happens when Downton Abbey is chosen by the king to be the site of a royal visit. Everything must be properly attended to in order to honor the royal visitor. During the Advent season, we find ourselves in a situation similar to the characters in the movie. We too are awaiting a visit from a royal visitor. Just like the fictional Abbey, we want everything to be in order for the coming of Jesus on Christmas.
The prophet Isaiah sets the tone for the arrival of the royal visitor. First, he proclaims: “Comfort, give comfort to my people.” Then he tells us that, “we should prepare the way of the Lord.” Finally, we learn that the royal guest is God who rules with power and yet is like a shepherd who feeds his flock.
The Gospel reading focuses on the messenger, John the Baptist, who announces the visitor. Echoing Isaiah, John says, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John also shows the people that they must prepare by living a life of repentance which they manifest by receiving his baptism. He also informs them that he is not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of this king’s sandals. John’s deepest message, however, is, “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
We are quite familiar with preparations for great celebrations. Many of us are in the midst of such arrangements for our own celebrations of weddings, birthdays and feasts such as Christmas. We start well in advance; make plans and assign tasks to be done. All of this is much like the Downton Abbey movie or John’s announcement of the arrival of the Messiah.
Unlike Downton Abbey, however, there is an added spiritual preparation for our celebration of the Christmas feast. At Christmas, we commemorate not only the arrival of an earthly king but also the appearance of God in our midst. This means that we prepare our souls for the entrance of Jesus into the world. Peter’s letter tells us that our preparations should change our lives. We should conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion. We should wait for and hasten the coming of the day of God. As Christians we await new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells. Our preparation for our king entails a new way of doing things according to the manner of living set forth in the Gospels and letters. Isaiah asserts that our very lives should proclaim: “Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.”
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.