“Prepare The Way!”
Advent 2 December 6 2015
Today is the second Sunday of Advent, the time in the church year when we focus upon the coming of Christ into our world. As we focus upon the surprising ways God comes into our lives, the way God can come into our lives and completely change things, we focus upon how God has come into our lives and into our world in the coming of Christ.
But so what? Does it really make a difference that Christ has come? And if so, what difference does it make? What difference does the coming of God make in our lives and in our world? What does it mean for us that Christ has come? What does it mean for us, for the way we live our lives, that Christ has come?
As we busily prepare for Christmas, these are the questions we should first ask ourselves, and not what am I going to get or what am I going to give or how are we going to fit everything into our schedules. The question we should be asking is why are we doing all these things in the first place? We can say it’s because we celebrate and want to share the birth of Christ, and that is a great reason, but what does it really mean to us that Christ has come?
Our preparations for Christmas are shifting into high gear, aren’t they? In the church we have 2 more practices before the Cantata and a lot of other things going on. And today is Dedication Sunday, so we are thinking about commitment to God’s mission in our community and the world through what we do here at Edgewood and our individual parts in that mission. Our responsibilities outside the church are piling up, too. Not many more shopping days left. You may be getting to the point that you can’t worry about “the perfect gift” for everyone on your list. Maybe you feel like there’s not enough time for all the parties and commitments you need to make and not enough time to see all the people you need to see. And, of course y,our work and day to day routines don’t let up, do they?
Indeed, we are in high gear now. We are all rushed. Do you ever stop and wonder — why? Maybe you came to worship this morning just a bit preoccupied. Maybe you came to worship today just a little tired. Maybe you came to worship today looking for a chance to rest. Maybe you came to worship today looking for some word of cheer to let you know that it will all be alright, just keep doing what you’re doing and it will all come out in the wash. Maybe you came to worship today looking for the sweet baby Jesus to help you remember what it’s all about.
And what do we have before us today in our scripture passages? Not sweet baby Jesus, but Malachi, and not with a promise of peace but of cleansing with fuller’s soap and fire. Not a sweet, reassuring thought at all. We also have John the Baptist, not with a call to come and see the sweet baby in the manger but a call to repent and prepare the way for God. Not restful, pleasant thoughts but thoughts of change, change in our lives and in our world.
Malachi and John. Messengers of cleansing. Messengers of repentance. Messengers of righteousness. Messengers of change. Messengers of God. Two wild-eyed radicals going against the grain to tell us the Lord is coming, and if we are not careful we are going to miss Him.
Maybe you’re offended by the inference that we may not be ready for the coming of Christ. What do you mean, Bill? How dare you say that I may not be ready for Christmas! Don’t you know how hard I’m trying to squeeze church in with everything else we’re trying to get done? I’m working just as hard as I know how to get ready for Christmas!
I’m sure you are. So am I. We all are. But again, why? Why are we so busy? What real difference does the coming of Christ make to us, every single day of our lives? Is outward preparation and busyness and rushing and getting everything just right what it’s all about? Is exhaustion supposed to be the only thing we are to feel as we prepare for our celebration of Christmas? Is exhaustion supposed to be the only thing we are to feel as we celebrate the fact that God has come into our lives and into our world?
Where is our joy that Christ has come? Where is our commitment to let the coming of Christ make a difference in how we live? Where is our commitment to letting the coming of God into our world through Jesus Christ make a real difference in our lives and in our world? Yes, what difference does it really make that God has come into our world through Jesus Christ?
Malachi knew what it was like to see folks pre-occupied with outer appearance but not caring about a life-changing faith in God. The people in Malachi’s community were a proud people. They had returned from captivity in Babylon. They had re-built the temple. They had re-instituted worship. So Malachi’s words to them were not very popular, to say the least. You see, Malachi knew that their worship was superficial. He knew they didn’t let their faith make a difference in how they lived. He knew how they neglected and mistreated the poor and needy. He knew w how the things of God didn’t really mean anything to them. He knew how God’s will for justice and righteousness meant little to them. He knew their pride was a very false pride. And he knew God was going to change all that. He knew that God was going to take them and cleanse them and the process would not be an easy one.
God was coming, Malachi warned. But would they be able to stand the cleansing power of God? When God came to set their hearts right, could they stand it? They needed to be prepared. They needed to be changed people before God came. Not an easy message to hear.
But that’s John’s message also. John knew that the time Malachi spoke about had come, and John knew the people had to be prepared, and not just outwardly, but in their hearts and in their minds. He knew the people had to repent, and not just be sorry for not going in God’s ways, not just be sorry the world was not a place of God’s love and justice. He knew that people had to repent. He knew they had to change their ways, and he knew they had to change the world.
Eugene Peterson in his translation The Message doesn’t translate the Greek to say that John’s baptism was one of repentance as do most translations, he translates it to read that John’s baptism was a baptism of life-change. A baptism of life-change. The Lord is here, he said. Change your life! John knew that the coming of Christ had to change people’s lives and change the world.
Malachi and John were messengers of cleansing. They were messengers of repentance. They were messengers of righteousness. They were messengers of change. They were messengers of God. Their words were God’s words. And on this second Sunday of Advent, their words are God’s words to us. If our celebration of Christmas only leads us to hurried activity, regardless of how good that activity is, then our celebration of the coming of Christ is not sufficient. It will end with the singing of the carols and the opening of the presents, then like the decorations be put away until next year. I don’t fool myself into thinking that we will stop all the feverish activity. I’m not even suggesting that we should. In fact, much of our activity is good and even necessary as we celebrate Christ’s coming into our lives and into our world. But what I am saying is that, in the midst of everything else, we must take time to let the coming of Christ really change us and work to really let it change the world. No, we have not yet arrived at the sweet baby in the manger. But maybe Malachi and John can help us reorient our celebration and change our lives. Maybe our Advent this year can be not only a celebration of what has happened, for Christ has come, but maybe we can actually let Christ’s coming make a difference in our lives and in our world. Wouldn’t that really be something to celebrate? Maybe we can let it be time of recommitment for us. Maybe you can let it be a time of recommitment for you. Wouldn’t that really be something to celebrate? Maybe you can let the coming of Christ truly be a life-changing experience for you, as John said it must be. Wouldn’t that be something to celebrate?
Today is not only the Second Sunday of Advent, but this year it is also Dedication Sunday for us at Edgewood. That means that in a few minutes you are going to have an opportunity to bring your pledge cards for 2016 to the front, and, in a act of dedication to God, place them on the Communion Table. Use this time of dedication as a time to re – dedicate your life to God and His mission we are on here at Edgewood Presbyterian. Use this time of dedication to let God change your life, so that you can play the vital role God wants you to play in His mission to our community and the world.
Let the coming of Christ make a real difference in your life. Let the coming of Christ make a real difference in how you live your life. Let yourself experience the life-change Christ brings us. Let the coming of Christ touch you and give you hope. Let the coming of Christ truly change the way you live as you no longer go so bull-headedly in the ways of your will but reorient your life towards God’s will for yourself and the world.
God can do this in your life if you let Him.
Then we really would have something to celebrate, not just now, but always. On this Second Sunday of Advent, this Dedication Sunday, let yourself be filled with the life-changing power of Christ, and share that power of Christ with those around you. Amen.