Sunday, December 10, 2006

Advent 2 - Year C

NB: With a wee bit 'o help from Willimon's Pulpit Resource, and Worship that Works

With Christmas just hovering over the horizon, Advent becomes something we put up with. Maybe because that’s the way Christians have been doing it for two thousand years. So there must be some wisdom in it. It’s sort of like eating your broccoli just so you can get some ice cream.

But since we’re stuck with the Advent blue before we get to put on our Christmas white, we might as well hunker down and get comfortable, because we might be here awhile.

I think if we’re honest with ourselves, and maybe with each other, Advent is where most of us live most of the time.

Advent has been compared to the anticipation of a child’s birth. But I know from experience that such a wait is not all joy and hope, it’s also fear and trembling. Will the child be healthy? If she’s not, will I be able to deal with the challenges she will face? Will I be a good parent? What will the world be like that she will inherit? Or even more fundamentally, will she like me?

There are two sides to the Advent story. The first is, yes, a saviour is coming, and that’s good news. The flip side is that we need a saviour in the first place, and that’s the bad news.

I think that’s what the prophet Malachi was trying to get at. He sounds angry in today’s passage, doesn’t he? You almost need to dodge the fire spitting from his mouth. It’s the kind of stuff you expect an old time prophet to say. And you can certainly hear where John the Baptist drew his inspiration from.

It was the same old story with the prophet preaching the same old message. God’s people have broken their agreement with the Almighty. They’ve done awful things to each other. They’ve forgotten their God.

So, there’s a sobering side to this season of getting ready. In just two weeks we will turn our hearts and minds to the babe of Bethlehem born to be our redeemer. If you think John the Baptist's demands are tough, wait until you hear what Jesus asks from us!

That is why John's work is important for us. It helps us prepare, like training for a race or a contest. He has us work our spiritual muscles. John is helping us to get ready for Jesus, so we can hear what he asks of us and what he promises for us, as nothing less than an entrance into the land of light and joy.

So, consider this our second Sunday in training. Think of John the Baptist as our spiritual coach; making us do our sacred calisthenics, stretching us, challenging us, until our hearts are pounding and our muscles ache.

He prepares us to receive the Divine intervention that has come and will come again. He strengthens us to work for and expect righteousness. He shows us what it means to be a voice crying in the wilderness.

In our daily living, in our work, on the news, and even as part of our entertainment we are surrounded with acts of selfishness, power grabbing, and manipulation. We are part of a culture that says, "Go ahead; if you want something, just take it!" We know in our hearts this is not what we were made for. But if we start to question, refuse or challenge these things we find out pretty quickly what it’s like to be a voice crying in the wilderness.

John offers us courage, and stirs our hearts to hope and commitment, so that we can do what he is asking. Is it worth the risk of ridicule and scorn to turn away from the things that will destroy us? Is it worth the laughter and contempt to show the world another way of living?

John doesn’t say if it is worth it. He only invites us to take the plunge, telling us to prepare for the coming light that will never be overcome by darkness.

“Darkness? What darkness?” You ask? 30 000 children died last night of hunger and malnutrition related diseases, and 30 000 children will die tonight, largely because the wealthier nations of the world haven’t learned how to share.

What darkness? There were no salmon to be caught in the Yukon this season, and no one knows exactly why. Some native folks are frightened, faced with the prospect of culling their sled dogs and finding food somewhere else for the long winter.

What darkness? The Middle East seems to be coming apart at the seams, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon, and Canadian soldiers are still dying in Afghanistan in a mission without defined goals or a clear end.

That’s what I call darkness.

Yet we are called to prepare ourselves.

What does that mean, prepare? How do we do that?

In our second lesson for today, Paul insists that our good works are the result of God’s work among us. God began the good work among us; God will bring it to completion. He also says the harvest of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ.

In other words, it is not we who are building the kingdom of God – the kingdom of God is already built! But we are called to plant “advance signs” of the kingdom.

Like signs on the road, “Warning – falling boulders ahead” or “deer crossing ahead.” Instead it’s “Warning – God’s kingdom ahead” or “God-crossing ahead.” Our preparations are to be the warning signs of God’s coming – they are not the actual event itself.

We can set up the signs that let others know God is coming. Signs that God is alive…the signs of love, and care, a cup of cold water for anyone who is thirsty, bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, visits for the sick and imprisoned. Announcing good news to the poor, letting the oppressed go free.

The other piece of good news is that God is coming to us. John asks us to prepare the way of the Lord, which means God is coming to our lives, into the very midst of us. God does not choose someplace extra special, or unusual, or particularly good. But in our lives – that is where God is coming. Bless this mess – and God does. God comes to us to bless the mess of our lives.

We live in an in-between time. Theologically, Advent and Christmas aren’t really seasons, they are ever-present realities. Christ is coming, now. Christ is born in us, now. Christ will come again, now.

That’s where, I think, most of us live, at least most of the time – in those in-between moments. Paul says that he is “confident that the one who began a good work among us will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” I think that the confidence Paul is talking about is a confidence that spawns hope. A defiant hope. After all, isn’t hope by its very nature defiance against despair, a light challenging the darkness?

Prepare yourselves. Get yourselves into shape, so you can live in your lives now the signs that God is here. Be – you, yourself - the flashing neon light, the quiet roadside sign that points to God’s presence and power. And show all those around you that God’s presence is a blessing now – in the mess of whatever darkness surrounds you.

That’s the defiant hope that is God’s gift to us today. AMEN.


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