Advent 2: Preparing

Sermon preached for Advent 2, Sunday 9th December. Scripture readings: Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 3:1-6

The calendar tells me today is Sunday 9th Dec in the year of our Lord 2012. This particular year is almost done – 23 more sleeps and we will be in a new year.

This is a special season, anticipation, mounting excitement, to-do lists that get longer by the day, end-of-year office parties, club parties, street parties, families gathering.

The season of rising temperatures, roses blooming and cherries ripening.

The season of crowded shops, crying children, stressed mothers, oblivious fathers.

The season of careless spending and endless preparation; Christmas and New Years are coming fast.

Christians have all that too – we live in the same world, we are not exempt the stress.

Yet at the same time we live by a different calendar.

It the second Sunday of Advent; a day on which we look forward with hope. By the Church calendar this is not the end of the year but the beginning of a new one.

This is our season of looking back and looking forward, a season for turning our minds to God. A season in which we take stock of how things really are and then – as if looking through God’s eyes – seeing how things could be.

It is a season of hope-filled anticipation and preparation.

At one level the preparation is all too obvious – and here it blends with that of our neighbours. The busyness, the queues, the cleaning, the pantry stocking (for those that can afford it); the worry (for those who cannot).

We add the church decorating, the choir rehearsing, the carol singing, extra services.

It is a joy-filled, hope-filled, time of year. A time when we celebrate and proclaim that Jesus the Christ, Emmanuel – God with us, came to be with us.

A time when we prepare our lives – for his coming again.

Malachi and Luke also speak of preparing.

Malachi writes:

I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come…

Luke names him: John son of Zechariah, John the Baptist as we know him. And more than a name – a time.

In classic Luke fashion we are enabled to set John’s preaching precisely in time and in context. AD27 seems to be the year and the context one of high hopes for the fulfilment of OT prophecy.

The list of names points to hard times, characterised by severity and cruelty under Tiberius, a Rome that at the time was marked by political chaos and moral degeneration.

We see God’s people ruled by a pagan power; their land divided, and their religious leadership at the mercy of Rome.

Into this mix John is called not for his own glory but to prepare the way of the Lord who only a few months after John would enter centre stage.

In Galatians 4:4 Paul picks up on this idea.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Why was the time right?

Given the conditions there was high hopes that now was the time: tyranny reigned and the people longed for freedom, they were looking for the promised deliverer.  This longing was only added to by 400 years of silence from God. Before that God had been speaking through the prophets, like Malachi and like Isaiah who Luke quotes, and the people had waited.

In fact their waiting goes all the way back to the dawn of their memories, as early as Genesis 3:15 the promise of a Messiah is first made.

Luke picks up on all this; by quoting Isaiah he reminds them of the promises then makes the connection to the long held expectations of the people.

Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low…

But there is a BUT!

Who would this messiah be? Exactly what would he deliver them from? What is meant by prepare the way of the Lord?

Malachi said that suddenly this messenger whom you desire would come.

Yet at the time their desire was for freedom from oppressors, freedom from circumstances that hemmed them in, that degraded them, that oppressed and stole from them.

Was that the type of Messiah Jesus proved to be?

Not at all! And when we study the Scriptures in their context I don’t believe the prophets were ever saying this.

First and foremost the prophets called the people to return to their God, as did John. Luke makes this clear:

the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The people longed for a Messiah who would bring their enemies to their knees. John preached, and Jesus was, a Messiah who would bring them to their knees.

In this season of preparation and expectation I wonder what do we expect in the Messiah?

What are the desires of our heart?

Jesus meek and mild sounds like a nice safe Messiah. One who we can goo and ooh and aah over, one who does not ask much of us, a baby – and what could be safer than a baby.

Babies make us feel good – we smile, all is well when a baby gurgles.

Is that the Messiah we desire? one who makes us feel good, warm and snuggly.

Does not sound much like the Jesus I know.

Or maybe we are looking for the hero Messiah. The super-messiah who will rescue us from our foes.

It’d be good wouldn’t it?

Imagine a world where there was no disease, no need to worry about cancer. A world in which there were no tyrants, no intimidating bosses or school yard bullies.

It could be even better, imagine a Messiah who would bring prosperity, gone with the mortgage, no crippling credit card debt, champagne on tap.

If any of these are the Messiah’s you are looking for prepare yourself. Prepare to be disappointed.

For in my understanding Jesus wants to start with us.

He is looking for us to bow the knee, to turn away from our sins, to repent and to return to God where we can receive his love.

And once having dealt with us he invites us to join him in sharing his message and living his love.

For God is seeking to change the world, but not by force of arms, but by a far greater and more effective force – the power of crucified love.

John and the prophets call us to prepare for a new sort of world – a Thy Kingdom Come world, in which Jesus and God’s love, reign.

A world in which we bow our knee and learn to trust God’s wisdom for our lives.

Is that the Messiah we prepare for?

It should be, because that’s what we see in Jesus, and when he returns he will be looking for men and women who lead lives like his: crucified lives.

So this Advent – how are you preparing?

Rather than looking out the window and lamenting the state of the world I suggest you look in the mirror and prepare yourself.

What is there in your life that could do with a make-over? What can you do to prepare?

Many of us could do with adding some prayer

Read and meditate on the scriptures

Or is it time to practise generosity? If you want to be free from the hold that money has on you – give some away. It will bless others and you at the same time.

How are you preparing your heart for him?

Soon we will be singing Christmas carols. One favourite is “Joy to the World,” it has this line:

Let every heart prepare him room.

It won’t just happen – we need to prepare room in our hearts for Jesus. And like any room cleaning it often means clearing out the clutter and debris that separate us from God.

John calls us to prepare by repenting.

This Advent we are called to prepare – let’s do so by letting go of our sins and anything else in our heart that holds us back from having space for the Christ child.

And let us make sure we do one more thing.

Let us speak what we know, let us spread the Word, share God’s love.

You see life in Christ is never about us alone.

If it had been John the Baptist would have stayed in his cave meditating, instead he came out and shared what he knew, he prepared the way.

So for us.

Christ’s coming affects every valley and mountain, every crooked road will be made straight, and the rough ways smooth.

And all people will see God’s salvation.

This is why it is such good news – it is for ALL people. No one should be left out.

So as we prepare we share.

That’s the Christian way.

Thus this Christmas our Parish Council is encouraging us to share with the Fleck family so that they in turn can pour out God’s love to people whose lives are devastated by HIV/Aids and the isolation that brings.

By supporting them we ‘prepare the way’.

Likewise you may feel called to support Christian Broadcasting, and as you do you ‘prepare the way’.

Or closer to home, maybe you’ll bake some biscuits for a neighbour, visit someone in hospital, share your faith with words and actions

Every time you do you ‘prepare the way.’

Luke shares a promise with us:

 all people shall see the salvation of God

This is good news. Jesus is coming, and all people will benefit from that.

We don’t know when or how he will come, but we know he will.

Today as we wait in hope, prepare for that glorious day, prepare your heart, prepare the world. Prepare, for Jesus is coming.

Arohanui - Ian