Second Sunday of Advent
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Service of Advent Lessons and Carols
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come. Amen.
In just one year, my family has managed to clutter up the garage of the parsonage.
You see, there is no way that we’d ever fit our minivan in that garage, anyway,
built long before the minivan era.
And in a house built in an day when closets needed to hold only a few suits or dresses and nothing else,
the garage has become our storage unit,
our massive walk-in closet holding everything from
bulk-purchased canned and dry food, to
children’s bikes, extra diapers and wipes,
and a weed trimmer I swear I’ll eventually fix.
But there’s a problem … the stuff in the garage seems to be inexplicably expanding,
growing at a rate that increasingly makes it difficult for me to get to the garden shears
or to the case of Diet Pepsi sitting on the bottom shelf.
And every Tuesday morning I spend several minutes moving bikes and a wagon and a stroller or two
out of the garage and onto the driveway,
clearing a pathway for our recycling bin,
also stored in the garage,
so that I can drag it to the curb for collection.
Preparing the way of the recycling bin – it’s my Tuesday morning routine.
In our Gospel text today we hear about preparing the way not for a recycling bin, but for our Lord.
St Luke borrows some lines from the old testament prophet Isaiah
to describe New Testament prophet John the Baptist:
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
Prepare the way of the Lord.
John, who preaches the coming of the Lord and offers a baptism of repentance,
prepares the way of the Lord, and bids us to prepare, too.
On my Facebook page this week I asked friends what “preparing the way of the Lord” means for them.
One friend wrote that preparing the way of the Lord means getting out of the way,
and another wrote, similarly, that it means getting stuff out of the way,
making the path clear and straight, uncluttered, for God to enter the world and our lives.
Not unlike the efforts I make every Tuesday to clear a pathway for my recycling bin,
preparing the way of the Lord involves making a straight and easy pathway,
raising the valleys and lowering the mountains, the Bible tells us,
smoothing the rough roads and straightening the crooked roads,
moving aside anything that gets in the way.
Now, this is fairly easily done in my garage each Tuesday morning,
but let me tell you something …
right after I get that large blue bin to the curb,
I put that wagon, those strollers, and the other junk right back into the garage.
That is, I make a clear path when I know the recycling bin has to come,
I prepare the way on Tuesday morning … and then clutter it back up a few minutes later.
Isn’t that kind of like our spiritual lives, too?
We can clear things out for a bit, make a pathway for faith and spirituality,
indeed, for our Lord himself,
but then we manage to clutter it back up again.
I wonder if we turn our attention to faith disciplines,
to clearing a spiritual pathway in Advent and Lent,
and before significant faith milestones,
such as reception of First Holy Communion,
or Confirmation, or new member reception …
I wonder if we are able to make a straight spiritual pathway in these seasons, in these situations,
because we know that something is coming –
the celebration of Christmas or Easter,
the celebration of a First Communion or Confirmation,
a culmination of weeks or months or even years of preparation.
This has been the case in our household.
In preparation for our daughters’ first Holy Communion,
we’ve attended classes and talked at home about the meaning of the sacrament.
And as we’ve started the season of Advent,
we’ve geared up for our nightly ritual
of gathering around the Advent wreath and lighting a candle,
saying a prayer and reading a passage from scripture,
singing a verse or two of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,”
and then praying together the Lord’s Prayer.
This is our way of marking time and getting ready for Christmas.
But then Christmas comes,
the evergreen wreath has turned brown and dry,
and the candles – particularly the candle from that first week of Advent –
have burned low to a stub.
We discard the wreath and candles and, indeed, the nightly routine,
as we do the gift wrapping paper,
and we return to life as normal … until Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent,
when we gear up with another set of special spiritual practices for the season.
Yes, with a goal in mind, we are able to stick to our spiritual disciplines better,
to make the crooked straight and the rough smooth,
to prepare the way of the Lord in our daily walk of faith.
But then I got to thinking … except for when I have to take out the recycling,
I’m not so good at removing the clutter from my garage.
And even then I just take it out for a moment and put it back in.
I’m certainly no good at getting rid of all the stuff that is in the way.
The same goes for my spiritual garage.
I might get my spiritual groove on in Advent or Lent,
or in preparation for my daughters’ first Holy Communion …
But find me in July, far from the preparations of Advent and penitence of Lent,
and I’m probably on a more ordinary spiritual routine …
a bit more lax in prayer and Bible study,
a little less intent on talking with my children about God and church …
You see, I can crank up the spiritual disciplines when I know that something is coming …
the birth of our Lord at Christmas,
the resurrection of our Lord at Easter,
the reception of the sacrament for the first time today.
Yes, I can make a path somewhat straight,
I can knock a few rocks from a mountaintop for a few weeks …
But sustain it? Prepare the way as John the Baptist would have us do?
Gosh, that’s something much harder to do.
In fact, it is impossible to do.
Surely we cannot knock down mountains and raise up valleys on our own.
That is God’s work to do.
Surely we cannot make the rough places smo
oth and the crooked straight.
That is God’s work to do.
Yet these words are given to us – yes, as a command that we cannot fulfill on our own –
but also, and perhaps more importantly, as a vision of what is to come,
to show us what God has in store for us and for the world …
less, perhaps, a literal vision of God’s pathway as a straight highway through a great plain –
though our friends from Nebraska and Kansas might like that! –
but a vision where pains experienced by rough and crooked roads,
and where the cavernous separation formed by mountain and valley
are no more.
So the call to prepare for this day and this kind of a holy highway is less a call to action
than it is a call to expectation, a call to keep our eyes open,
a call to hope and wait and anticipate the day when the pathway is made clear
for our Lord to return.
And while we wait,
we prepare for that day by reminding ourselves of the promises of God,
promises that nurture our anticipation and strengthen our hope.
Promises of God about which we read in the Scriptures,
in the Bibles that are presented today to our 3rd graders.
Promises of God that cause us to sing words of praise and thanksgiving,
as did the children of our Sunday School this morning.
Promises of God that are spoken to us each and every time we receive the body and blood of Christ ..
gifts of God, given for you … as will five of our children today for the first time.
Promises of God … these are what sustain us, what feed us, what nurture us
as we wait and prepare for our Lord to come again,
to make all things new,
to clear out the clutter of our lives and of this world.
Come, Lord Jesus. Make a straight path in our spiritual garage,
enter into our hearts, into our lives, into our world.