People, Get Ready for the King
SERMON: 2 Advent C December 9, 2018
We all have heroes or people we admire. If you could entertain your famous person, who would it be? How would you prepare? I know I would get my apartment in order - do a thorough cleaning, and put up some new curtains. When I worked in residential treatment for adolescent male offenders, the benefactor, the late Monsignor O'Brien would visit at least three times a year. The director of the facility would have a special staff meeting to let us know when the Monsignor is coming, and we would organize the residents to do a thorough cleaning of the facility. The best part for the guys was doing the physical work because they could see and enjoy their labor for a long time. On the day of the Monsignor's arrival we would gather on the lawn, looking skyward as we awaited the sound of the helicopter. Then we would begin with a round of continuous applause until the Monsignor joined us on the lawn.
In ancient times the same kind and level of preparation would happen for a reception of a king. In the book of Malachi we heard the words, "see I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me. . . . indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts." We know the messenger was John the Baptist, sent by God to tell the people to get ready for arrival of Jesus - the Son of God - the King of kings.
John's message was simple, but complicated. His instructions were clear, yet difficult to follow. Malachi describes the coming of Jesus as being "like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap." Jesus, is like the soap, used by launderers of olden days to clean and whiten clothes. He came to purify you and me and cleanse us from our sins.
There is an old man who wanders up and down-Market Street and the east bound arterial that is known for his proclamations. People call him 'Freedom" because he is constantly shouting "freedom, freedom, Jesus loves you, love your neighbor, stay sober!" I often think of freedom from what; and freedom for whom? This man could be our present day "John the Baptist". Not everyone pays attention to him, and some call him crazy; as they did John the Baptist. Freedom however, gets my attention because his messages always leaves me thinking about some social issues.
How many of us are receptive to taking or following directions from others? We place our lives in compute apps and are totally dependent on Google maps and Siri; than we are on the God's word. Yet, the day is coming for each of us when we will be called to see Jesus, the Son of God in all his glory.
So, the challenges are: Are you ready? Are you ready for an encounter with God? God longs for fellowship and intimacy with us. In the Collect this morning we prayed for grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, so we can get ready to receive Jesus Christ our Redeemer.
Today's Gospel shared, "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 shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth."
Every one of us has parts of our lives that are sunk down. After all, we've all sinned and fall short of the God's glory. The fact is that we don't measure up to God's standards of perfection, and we need to recognize that there is no shame in seeing these shortcomings in ourselves and acknowledging them.
When John preached about raising the valleys, I believe he was saying that there are areas in our lives that are in decline; where we have fallen short, and our living is below God's best for us. The low areas may come about because we neglect our spiritual lives; we lack genuinely love to our neighbor, disobedience, unconfused sins, and unforgiveness. Remember the homeless in our community who sleep in cold abandoned buildings at nights; the drug addicts lounging on the park benches and the immigrants besieging the borders hoping for a chance at a new life in safety. As we prepare the way of the Lord, let us raise up the needs of those around us in a tangible way. Every valley must be raised, and every low area built up so that the Lord can come in power and bless us.
Not only do the low places have to be built up and filled in, but the high places must be leveled. Boulders and rock in the way must be broken or removed. The mountains and hills speak of the hard, resistant area in our lives that need attention before the Lord can come to us.
Often, we cannot see the high places in our lives. Pride in all its various forms is so deceitful that we may see it in others, but not in ourselves. Yet, these things can block and hinder God's deeper work, without us knowing our realizing it. The spirit of pride must be dealt with and we must be brought to a place of brokenness, raw submission and humility before the Lord. Only in the broken places can we make a highway for the Lord in our hearts so that He can come to us.
If we maintain focus we can keep on the straight road. Have you ever been overwhelmed by life only to realized that you are not heading in the right direction or that your priorities are screwed up? If we could look back at our lives journeys, the twists and turns as we push forward only to realize that we didn't really know where we were going.
There's only one solution for this problem, and that is to realize our purpose for being here. When Jesus came to earth, He encountered people and problems every day that could have distracted Him from his purpose. However, in every instance He told the people that he was headed for the cross. That's why He came, and He never forgot it.
A young man once told me that with my degrees I could be making tons of money doing something else. He bragged that he was making a lot more money that I could, in a day with less effort. This was possibly true. However, the risks were greater. The key questions were - What was my purpose for working in drug treatment, and was I following that dream? Is this the path God would have me take? I believe we ought to live our lives with spiritual blinders on. There are hundreds of great opportunities you and I can pursue in life, but only one is God's chosen for us. Putting on blinders don't just keep us from turning left or right - they keep us centered on what is most important to God for us.
So, when the low places are build up and the high places are brought down, the last part in preparing the highway is to grade, roll and smooth the bumpy surface of the road to make it completely even. The uneven areas in our lives could be inconsistencies in our Christian living - the ups and down, and the hot and cold; the rough places still need the refining to make our lives smooth and straight. We need to ask Jesus to deal with the rough places and replace them with an even Spirit-filled life.
We have our directions - so, let's get busy so we will be ready to meet Jesus this Advent.
Please join me in praying the Collect for the day. Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation. Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
A sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 9, 2018, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church,
Poughkeepsie NY, by Diaconal Postulant Julett Butler.