Prepare the Way of the Lord

The Rev. Anne Grizzle

Today, the second Sunday of Advent, we read from Isaiah 40, and then in Mark 1 the Isaiah words come to reality in the life of John the Baptist:  a voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  Prepare, prepare, prepare.  We know in these days about preparing.  This is the season when everyone is busy preparing for Christmas.  Yesterday I was with a family that had had a shock they were not prepared for.

This sanctuary was filled with family and friends of Joe Farrar, a decorated Green Beret who had served his country and a private sort of person who slipped in occasionally to the 8 am service here at Trinity.  He had been out to lunch with a friend on Friday, felt a little sick but better when a friend checked on him that afternoon.  By Sunday he was dead in his home of natural causes, a shock to friends and family who loved him and were not prepared for his death. But we read two familiar Scriptures at his service that assure us that even when we are not prepared for death or what life brings us, God is prepared.  God prepares for us in this life. Psalm 23 which most of us can recite, reminds us that the Lord is our shepherd who makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside quiet waters.  Even in the presence of our enemies God prepares a table before us.  God is with us, preparing our way, being present even in the midst of big messes. But God also prepares for us a life to come.  For Joe’s family, as well as for all who have loved ones who have died in this past year — this can be a particularly hard season.  Jesus tells us, in John 14, to not let our hearts be troubled because he has prepared a place for them and for us in our Father’s mansion which has many rooms.  Even when no human is there at the hour of our death, it is indeed a comfort to know that the God who created us and knows every hair on our head, is there at our last breath receiving us into the eternal kingdom. And our souls are scooped up into the arms of the God who every Sunday at communion reminds us His blood keeps us in everlasting life. 

In Advent we are asked to turn the tables on God, for us to be the ones preparing, like John the Baptist’s voice in the wilderness saying, “prepare the way of the Lord!”  Our images of how God prepares for us can inspire us to put our own efforts into preparing for the Lord.   And how do we prepare for the Lord?   Christmas tree decorating is fun and festive, with their lights reminding us and those who view them that light shines in the darkness.  Christmas card sending is jolly and kind, meant to spread good cheer.  But I want to challenge us all to two other sorts of Christ preparing that are at the heart of making way for the Lord.  The first is inner.  The second is outer.

The first is inner. Advent is the start of the Christian year. For us Christians Advent rather than New Years is the time for self reflection of the past and dreaming with God for the future. Amidst  all the world’s cries to be busy, busy, busy and to buy, buy, buy,  we who want to follow the Christ should actually be counter cultural following our Lord who regularly went away to the wilderness to quietly pray and gave up the riches of heaven to come and serve the poor.  I hope each of us will take some time – a morning or evening, a walk in the woods, a day carved out of our schedule and set aside for reflection.  Simply be present to God, behold the beauty of the Lord, read the Scriptures slowly, listen for the angels in our own lives.  John’s preparing involved repentance – taking a look at hard look our lives and turning it around for God.   There are the times we know we have sinned, like when we scream at someone we love, walk on the other side of the street when we see someone we want to avoid, give in to addictions that keep us bound, pass along gossip that only harms another, spend time on Facebook when we had promised God and ourselves to do some reading of Scripture.  But there are other times that only with reflection do we realize we may have disappointed God and the Spirit is inviting us to change something in our lives.  Reflective repentance is important if our general confession of sin is to have any real meaning.  And in the quiet, we might also hear a new call – perhaps a person to love or a service to offer or a way of praying.  These invitations from God rarely come in shouts but whispers and it can take some quiet to hear them.  These are the real gifts of Christmas for our inner lives.

The second is outer.  James reminds us that if we say we love God but do not love our neighbor what kind of love is that.  Jesus tells us if we only love those that love us we are no different from others. The true challenge is to love the less beautiful, the difficult, even the enemy. Who is that for you —  try to think of one and make a Christ present to try to love that one better.  In Matthew 25, Jesus reminds us that whenever we feed the hungry, invite in the stranger, visit the sick or imprisoned, the least of these, we are actually visiting Jesus.  So this is a way in which we give our gifts to Jesus.  Many of us do this as a way of life, serving at noon lunch, partnering with our brothers and sisters in Haiti, being the friend of the lonely neighbor.  But Advent preparing the way of the Lord invites us to take another look at where we might find and care for Jesus.   Perhaps the Spirit will tap you on the shoulder and point you to the cranky uncle, the sick neighbor, the child you got to know in Haiti, a person in prison that might be your baby Jesus to who you bring your gifts.

We are about to come to a table God, the great preparer, has set for us – the communion table.  Whether you are in the mist of enemies, facing death or the loss of a loved one, or sense a new call to ministry, come to this table prepared for you.  Come for solace if you are bereft – receive the comfort that the prophet Isaiah spoke about that came after so many years of prophetic conviction.   Come for strength to step into your particular call to prepare the way of the Lord in this season. Come for hope – remembering that this blood keeps you in eternal life with the one who is coming again in glory.

Prepare, prepare, prepare – God has prepared a way for us.  And we are invited to prepare the way of the Lord.  And as we do, whenever we are called to be scooped up into Jesus’ arms, whether by death or Jesus’ coming again — we will be prepared.