Advent Reflections: What Is Your Intention?
Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.
Rev. Beth Braxton
I grew up hearing my mother say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions." That was her way of telling me to follow through with things I said I was going to do. I found out that this proverb has been around for a long time—it is an old saying traced back to St. Bernard, who said that “Hell is full of good intentions or desires.”
The little parable of the two sons in Matthew suggests follow through with intentions—what you say you are going to do! It is a narrative depiction of Jesus’ earlier statement in the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Sandwiched between a periscope on Jesus' authority and the parable of the wicked tenants, the context applies this parable of judgment to Jewish religious leaders, but Matthew probably intended a wider application. Certainly it can apply to us today. How easily “church work” degenerates into little more than simply maintaining the institution, with no excitement concerning what God’s love and grace is doing in the world. As Professor Douglas R.A. Hare says in his commentary on Matthew, “We say that we are going to work in the vineyard, but instead of harvesting the grapes we spend our time rearranging the stones along the path!”
Advent is a season of anticipation; we are called to live expectant for the birth of Christ, the Light in our darkness – “the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!” (Isaiah 9:6) – the incarnation of God to make all things new!
Is it our intention to yawn and go about the holiday festivities as usual, or will it be our intention to live out the light, the love and the peace that God gave us in Jesus? Is it our intention to go about our church duties with a ho-hum attitude, or will we open to the energy of the Spirit and let the enthusiasm of anticipated new life fill us and our work?
The Christmas carol says, “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.” It is my intention to spend some silent time to listen for God’s gift for me. It is my intention to sit and bask in the power of Isaiah’s poetry set to music in Handel’s “The Messiah.” It is my intention to wait for the coming of God.
Prayer: Lord, we pray to you, the Holy One who comes to us. Come to us with new beginnings. Come to us in Jesus Christ and make us ready to let him live in us. Amen.
Rev. Beth Braxton is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.
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