By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
December 5, 2010
Read: Matthew 3:1-12
You are ready for Christmas. Your lights are on outside, the best in the neighborhood. Maybe best in town. The presents are bought and wrapped, the goodies are baked, the Family Christmas Letter is written, run off, stuffed, sealed and mailed. Best of all, your tree is up. It’s straight this year. It’s even. It is decorated to absolute perfection.
You sit down in the most comfortable chair with a mug of mulled cider to congratulate yourself for a season well done, when you hear a knock at the door. You answer. Barging into your home is a scruffy smelly looking guy clothed in a camel’s hair shirt. His breath smells of the locusts he had for his last meal and the wild honey is still dripping down his beard. He has an ax. This, your first Christmas visitor, strides past you directly up to your perfect Christmas tree. He takes the ax off his shoulder and, laying the blade to its base, he measures the distance for his first swing.
You may be ready for Christmas. But are ready for John the Baptist? (from John Wolf, desperate preacher site)
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” And John tells us to repent and not just to repent, but to bear fruit worthy of repentance. John preached a message of repentance. We tend to think of repentance as feeling bad about sin –– feeling guilty. But repentance is more than feeling bad –– much more. Repentance is doing something positive –– changing –– turning around and facing in a new direction. The genuinely repentant person doesn’t just feel bad. He or she also tries to begin living a positive life. When God calls us to repentance, he calls us to change the direction of our lives.
So what does it mean to prepare the way of the Lord? To make his paths straight?
A couple is expecting their second child and is trying to figure out where to park baby number two. After several lengthy discussions it was decided that the husband’s study would have to go, his library moved to his office or divided up into smaller bookshelves throughout the house. He loved his library dearly, but there was new life on the way and that way had to be prepared. The analogy holds. Whether it is our own baby we are expecting or the baby Jesus, or a grown-up Lord coming in great power and glory, we are called to prepare the way for new life in our lives, to make room for it by letting go of our old ways, even our old loves, as painful as that may sometimes be. It is either that or prepare ourselves for the news that we have been passed over because there was no room in us.
There is a book entitled Wait Without Idols and whoever the author was, he or she may as well have been Isaiah or John because that is at the heart of each of their messages. The grass withers, the flower fades, heaven and earth will pass away Each of them tells us that it is only when we stop believing in all of these and stop looking to everything that is not God to save us, only when we are able to empty our hearts and wait without idols, that there is room for God almighty to bring us himself.
What is surprising is how deceptive some of our idols are. Anyone can turn and walk away from a golden calf, and I expect that most of us could toss our savings out the window if we believed our souls depended on it. These are obvious idols. But what about, say, the idol of independence—the belief that everything will be all right if we can just take care of ourselves and not have to ask anyone else to look after us? Or the idol of romance—the belief that we can face anything in life if we just have one other person to love us the way we are, and to love in return? Or, as a variation on that, the idol of family—the belief that if we can just gather around us a close, committed family, our happiness will be unassailable.
Then there is the most deceptive idol of all, the idol of religion—the belief that if we go to church and struggle, really struggle to live a life of faith, then our souls will be safe. Name your own idols. The list is long: the idols of health, of friendship, or patriotism…What? You say. These are all good and noble things! Of course they are. How else could they become idols? That is the first criterion of an idol, that it gladden our hearts and nourish our souls, because that it is how we learn to believe in it and depend on it, and finally to cling to it as the only possible source of life. The only problem is that as long as our hearts and souls are full of what we know will sustain us, we have lost our ability to receive the as-yet-unknown things that God has in store for us. We are full up; there is no room at the in. God is looking for a nursery, but we are inside the study with the door closed.
During Advent we are invited to come out, to let go, to open up—not to forsake the things we love and want for our lives, but to forsake them as idols. That means learning to hold them lightly, without clinging, and to be willing to give them up when it becomes clear that they are taking up too much room. Because during Advent we are invited to prepare the way for something new and unknown in our lives, brought to us in person by the living God. So what will it be for you? What might new life mean for you ? But what has to go first? What is taking up too much room?
It is all right if we don’t know the answers, because that too is what Advent is about. It is about preparing a place for something new in our lives, for new life in us, and then waiting without knowing, waiting with nothing but faith, hope, and love for company in the stillness that teaches us how completely we live at God’s mercy, a mercy that promises everything, that promises the advent of God himself to those have saved him room. (Barbara Brown Taylor – Mixed Blessings) Prepare the way of the Lord. Amen.
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