Time to Prepare
For Advent 2A by Tracy Dugger *Is 11:1-10*Ps 72*Rom 15:4-13*Mt 3:1-12
Do you ever feel like you’re rushing through life and yet you’re not really sure where you’re going anymore? Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our routines that we’ve forgotten what we were doing or why…How many of you have ever been driving, and found yourself at home, with no memory of how you got there? Life’s like that, the regular ordinary stuff, and the path we’re on can fade into the background…But advent is a time when we’re called to press pause, stop going through the motions, and take a look around at the path we’re on.
Advent is a time to step out of the sprint and evaluate whether you are still aligned with your destination and purpose. It’s a time to realign on the coming King! To put purpose in your steps toward Him. As you see Jesus more clearly with your eyes on the prize you can pick up the pace, run to meet Him in prayer. Run to meet Him in the Scriptures. Set your steps towards Him and you'll find a Savior that never asks us to meet Him halfway. Our smallest steps towards God are enough to draw us near, and nearer still, for he comes to meet us. Each of you have already taken an important step to meeting Jesus by coming here today.
If we had the time, I would love to ask each one of you why you are here? I know some of you are here because you are curious. Maybe some of you are hungry for something in your life, and think God might be the answer. Some of you are here to serve and worship Jesus Christ, and some of you are here because your family made you come.
Saint Paul, in his letter to the Romans calls on us to “by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are here at Church of the Nativity, and we are here week after week. We are here with steadfastness, We keep showing up. And through the continual encouragement of the Scriptures we have our hope. We are here to worship the Lord with one heart and one voice. I am here to facilitate that.
We come from different places, and countries, and we may have been raised speaking different languages, some of us have different worship styles we prefer, but together across 4 services we are one body of Christ and we serve one God. A God that speaks through the holy Scriptures and tells us to “Praise the Lord, all you nations, People everywhere sing praise!”
In the Episcopal church we believe in reconciliation. There is nothing you have done that will keep you apart from God if you repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. Jesus when he came ministered to the poor, the prostitutes and the tax collectors. All were welcome in Jesus Christ’s ministry. Because of this we say all are welcome here, here in this church. It doesn’t matter what type of Church you were baptized in. It doesn’t matter what mistakes you’ve made or sins you’ve committed since your baptism. All that you need to do is repent and return to the Lord, come and be welcome at his table. But how do we repent?
There is no better teacher than John the Baptist on how to turn your life around and prepare for Jesus’s coming. In one of our hymns today we sing “Prepare the way of the Lord.” And preparing for Jesus means that like John we need to get out of our everyday routine. And while I don’t recommend camel hair coats, and a diet of locusts and honey. We do need to simplify our lives. We don’t need to be all things to all people and to participate in every single December gathering. What we do need to do is make time for Jesus, in time for prayer, and time in our Bible to find that encouragement and hope that is promised. In the liturgical church year major festivals and parties, are always preceded by a time of preparation.
Advent is a time when we prepare our hearts and for the birth of Jesus Christ, our Emmanuel, God with us. A child born in manger who grows up to be a savior. But Advent is more than that. It is not just a time when we prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming as a child at Christmas. It is a time when we prepare for Christ’s coming again in triumph and glory. You see John’s words are as true now for us as they were then for the Israelites, “The kingdom of God is at hand!”
In the words of prophet Isaiah “In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people. People from all over the world.” We are promised that Christ will come again! The kingdom of God is soon! But why isn’t it now? Why hasn’t it already come? What is Jesus waiting for?
I don’t know! But I have an idea. God has shown throughout the Bible that he uses ordinary, sinful, even broken human beings to accomplish his will and work in the world. I believe God is waiting to send Christ back because he is waiting for the full measure of the harvest. He is waiting for us…. To turn towards the Lord. And once we do that. When we repent and turn our lives away from sin, and turn towards following Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we then are in a very real way are “preparing the way for the Lord.” We are “making straight paths.” Sounds simple right? How hard could it be?
And yet even something with crystal clear instructions can be very hard to do. Ask anyone whose ever tried to lose weight? In theory all you have to do is burn off more calories than you consume. Simple yet incredibly difficult to pull off sustained behavior change in the face of our hungers and appetites. Sin is like that to…when we are accustomed to indulging it, it can be very hard to change.
Thankfully we are not alone as we seek to change our lives and change our society to be one of love, justice and peace. No, far from alone. John describes us as being baptized both by water for repentance and by the Holy Spirit with fire.
I pray as you journey in this season of advent that you will be touched by the Holy Spirit. That your faith in God will be set on fire by the Holy Spirit, and you will make straight paths for the Lord to live in your life, in your marriage, in your family and in your community.
Every week in the Episcopal Church we pray a collect. A collect is a one sentence prayer that summarizes and directs our worship. Today we prayed in the collect for God to give us grace, grace to heed the warnings of the prophets and to forsake our sins.
What sins in your life do you need to forsake? Maybe they’re the biggies, the seven deadly: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, Sloth
· Pride is excessive belief in one's own abilities, that interferes with our recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity.
· Envy is the desire for others' traits, status, abilities, or situation.
· Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.
· Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.
· Anger is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath.
· Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.
· Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.
It is only by forsaking our sins that we can look forward to the coming of Jesus Christ. We can greet the second coming of Christ without fear. Forsaking our sins doesn’t mean that we will become perfect. But it does mean that we make room for Christ in our lives. We clear from the path of our life the obstacles, the things that get in the way. By forsaking our sins we clear out the thorn bushes of greed, lust, envy, addiction, and hatred that choke our path. Quite simply Advent is a season not of perfect hearts and your lives. It is a season to make room in them. Make room for God’s love, Make room for God’s grace, make straight paths for the Lord. Set your steps towards Jesus and you'll find a Savior that never asks us to meet Him halfway. Our smallest steps towards God are enough to draw us near, and nearer still, for he comes to meet us.