Saturday, December 3, 2011

Second Sunday in Advent: Prepare the Way!

Readings for this Sunday:  Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

“Pre- ee –ee -paare ye the waay of the Looord.
Pre- ee –ee -paare ye the way of the Lord!”

I can’t help it.  After reading the texts for this week, that’s the only song going through my brain:
“Pre- ee –ee- paare ye the waay of the Looord.

Pre- ee –ee - paare ye the way of the Lord!”
Sorry, I got carried away again. 

But it got me thinking – if Advent is a time of waiting and preparation, what are we waiting for?  And how do we prepare for it?

My tree went up Thanksgiving Eve.  If I don’t get it done by the first Sunday in Advent, it doesn’t happen.  And the wreaths for the door came this week.  It’ s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Hayes house!
We’ve got our halls decked and I’ve made a list, and checked it not once, not twice, but several times. 

So, let’s see….
Tree up – check.
Gift list made – check.
Gifts purchased – working on it.
Cookies baked – in progress.
Christmas cards mailed-  not yet.

Of course, these are things we do to prepare for Christmas.  But our holiday hustle and bustle doesn’t really prepare the way of the Lord.

We decorated the church at Pollock, and Peace will be decorated soon.  I’ve put out a plea for special music and favorite carols.  Soon I will sit down and plan the Christmas Eve worship, and Christmas day worship.  The children are rehearsing for their programs.
Again, these are things we do to prepare for Christ-mass.  Sure, preparing the church, planning worship, teaching our children the Christmas story is part of preparing the way of the Lord.  But that voice crying in the wilderness invites me to stop and take a look – how much of this is spiritual hustle and bustle and how much prepares my heart – our hearts – for the coming of the Lord?

“Pre- ee –ee- paare ye the waay of the Looord….”
 Isaiah uses the image of a great highway – fill in, bring down, smooth out.  In Isaiah’s time, there were royal highways – roads prepared for kings to use for public procession.  They were wide and straight and smooth.  Nebuchadnezzar built a royal highway for the annual procession of the god Marduk – a straight brick path where the god could be carried easily on his throne.

Highways like that weren’t easy to make in those days.  In fact, they aren’t easy to make today.
We’re talking major road construction here.  We’ve seen some of that this year out on 83, with the road torn out and new foundations laid down.  It’s long hard work, full of dust and delays. It takes time and sweat to make the path straight, and sometimes it gets rougher and more winding before the straight smooth road is finished.

Prepare the way of the Lord.  This isn’t patching a few potholes or putting down a new layer of chip-n-seal.  This is major roadwork, tearing down the road to its very foundations, straightening out that treacherous switchback, leveling off the steep grade.

“Pre- ee –ee  paare ye the waay of the Looord….”
That was John the Baptizer’s job – to prepare the way of the Lord.  He was the foreman in charge of preparing the royal highway of hearts.  He called people to repent and to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  It was a “tear out the old, lay down a new foundation, make the rough places smooth” operation.

And people came out in droves to see this prophet in the wilderness – from all over Judea, Jerusalem, city and country, poor and rich, everyone wanted to hear what John had to say.  What seems decidedly weird to us sounded exciting and hopeful to the people of Judea and Jerusalem. 
·         He word wore camel hair garments just like Elijah. 
·         He lived in the wilderness, eating locust and wild honey – just like the prophets of old who went into the wilderness to get a word from God.
·         There was the belief that Elijah, who was swept up to heaven in a chariot of fire, would return to proclaim the coming of the messiah.
·         Maybe this wilderness preacher who talked of one more powerful coming, really was Elijah – maybe Messiah was near!

People were wading into the Jordan, confessing their sins, being baptized.  Hearts were open, hope was in the air, lives were changed, God was met in the wilderness.
And the one who was more powerful than John, who baptizes with the Holy Spirit did indeed come.

 “Pre- ee –ee  paare ye the waay of the Looord….”
We're in the middle of the annual preparation for his coming.  We’re in the Christmas swing –we want to hear about peace on earth and good will toward men.  We want to deck the halls, not make the paths straight.  We want to sing joy to the world!  We want to stand at the manger, marveling that God came to us as a baby.

Instead we find ourselves today standing in  the wilderness listening to a wild man yell out to anyone who would listen, “God is coming, God is here!  One who is more powerful than me is coming.  Prepare the way of the Lord. Let every heart prepare him room!”’

I’m not sure that I know how to do that.
I think sometime the busy-ness of the season – both holiday and spiritual – makes the way rough and rocky.  We need  this time in Advent,  to step away from the Christmas tree and to let the manger wait, to spend a little time in the wilderness with John listening to the wind, listening to our breath, listening for God.   

In the wilderness, the call to prepare the way of the Lord changes from one more thing on our holiday to-do list and becomes an invitation to meet God.  Maybe all we need to do is be there and to be open.  
We might just discover that God has already prepared the way for us.

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