"Among you stands one whom you do not know…" That is how John the Baptist refers to Jesus when he is speaking to those who had been sent to him by the Pharisees. Imagine that, Jesus Christ is in the very midst of the people and they do not know him.
I heard a homily once that asked if Jesus walked through the door on a Sunday would we know who he was and would we welcome him? After much soul searching, I think most people concluded that they would not recognize him and that they might not be comfortable welcoming a stranger into their midst. This was the exact problem that John was warning about, this is the message of Advent: Christ comes in the least expected ways and we need to be ready to welcome him.
It is telling that our Gospel readings for Advent do not start with the preparations for the birth of the baby Jesus, rather, the first three Gospel readings for Advent tell us to prepare, to be ready, and to be on guard for the coming of the Christ. The first step in preparing is to know what or who it is we are preparing for. The second step is to think about how best to prepare. These first three weeks of Advent help us do both of those things. We are told to be ready because we do not know how or when Christ will come, but we are also given a blue-print of sorts in Isaiah for how to prepare.
We are called to make the path ready for Christ by providing comfort and care for those who need it, by proclaiming a "year of the Lord's favour". Once we begin these things, we can join with Mary in her rejoicing, and we can then be truly ready to welcome the Saviour of the World at Christmas.
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy in the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto.