Saturday, 5 December 2009

Advent 2C: 'Be Prepared... to be amazed' - sermon for Sunday 6th Dec '09

Sermon for Sunday 6th Dec. '09   

Readings: Malachi 3: 1-4; Philippians 1: 1-11; Luke 1: 68-79

In a far away land,
In a far away time,
There lived a people oppressed by a foreign power…
Occasionally, some amongst them would shake their fists at their overlords, and some would rebel…
but they were too weak and too powerless to resist for long. 
Mostly, the people kept their heads down and just got on with the business of living and making the best out of a bad situation.
In this far away land, so long ago,
the people felt forgotten by their God…

In their distant past, their God had travelled with their ancestors,
had rescued them from other opressers
and spoken with them through inspired visionaries – prophets…
The voices of the prophets had given hope, reassurance, in the dark times…
The voices of the prophets warned and promised:
Warned of judgement, spoke of justice,
promised God’s mercy, rescue, love and grace.
But the prophets had long since gone.
God seemed far away.
And then…
the silence was broken by the cries of a wailing infant.
A prophet was born.
His name was John.

John was the answer to prayer of a childless couple: Elizabeth and Zechariah.  And it was said by folk far and wide that the hand of the Lord was upon John and all wondered what would become of him.
And Zechariah, filled with awe, thanksgiving and the Holy Spirit prophesied:
He saw God once again saving his people – liberating them from oppression.
He saw the beginnings of God’s promise to his ancestors coming true, coming to fulfillment…
 and his son was the one who would usher in that fulfillment… preparing the way, preparing God’s people…
John, prophet of the Highest.
John, messenger of God.
God’s voice once again sounded through the land in John’s words of repentance, salvation, forgiveness, and compassion. 
In John’s message were words of light and life and peace and hope.
John’s words were words of preparation for the One who would follow, who would be greater than him:
‘Be prepared.
Be prepared to see
what God has done
what God Is doing
What God will do…..
Clear the decks
Make the roads straight
Get rid of the obstacles…
Get rid of anything that will stop you hearing and seeing what God is doing’
That, in a nutshell, was what John was all about – calling God’s people to stop, look, listen and prepare:
To be prepared for the coming of Christ.

And if we were to continue reading the gospel, we’d find out that many people did listen to John, messenger of God.
They flocked to hear -
And, on hearing
They chose to change, to repent…
to turn their lives around to face God, not look the other way.

And, there were also those who didn’t listen.
They were just busy getting on with their lives
And the sounds of their busyness blocked out the sound of God’s words….
God’s life-giving words.
…Such extraordinary words –
Words about God’s Word – Jesus –
God become human... Jesus - 
God’s ‘extraordinary’ Word…
The Word ignored in the routine humdrum of the everyday.
But whether God’s people responded or not,
Whether God’s people prepared… or not.. light grew in the darkness regardless…
a light which the darkness has never been able to fully extinguish:
the light which shines, on those who live in the darkness under the shadow of death….

On this second Sunday in the season we call ‘Advent’ we encounter John… who called God’s people so long ago to prepare for an encounter with God.
And down through the years, John continued to call God’s people to prepare to encounter God…
And his message meets us here … now …
In this time
In this place.

As we were reminded last week, Advent is the season of waiting… and in the waiting time, we, too, prepare to encounter God.

It can be a hard thing to swim against the tide of tinsel and glitter in the headlong rush to Christmas.
In the jangle of tills and the jingle of carols we find it harder and harder to hear God’s voice…
Pressurised to worship at the altar of consumerism, to worship the retail God who is never satisified, it takes all the energy we can muster to fight against it and to remember the real ‘reason for the season’…
We can easily get caught on the merry-go-round that seems to twirl faster and faster ….
Almost unable to stop and take time.
But sometimes… the busyness is also a way of avoiding that encounter with God. 

The reading from Malachi talks of God’s coming in dramatic terms:
Of a refining fire, of purification…  
Malachi says:
‘Who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand firm when he appears?’
Perhaps sometimes it just feels safer to hide under the tinsel and glitter?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor killed by the Nazis for speaking out against Hitler,   talked of the way we sometimes approach this encounter with God.  He said:  
‘We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.  We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect:  
that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.   
The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for every one who has a conscience.
Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. 

God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world.  
And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love.’
Dietrich was a man who knew at first-hand what it was to have the light of hope in the darkest of times and in the darkest of places. 

In this time,
In this place,
how are we preparing to encounter God, made flesh, this Advent?
John’s words challenge us.

They force us to stop,
to think…
And to ask questions: 
Is there something we need to do to make it easier for Christ to enter our terrain… and to be known in the world?  
Is there some path through our souls which we need to straighten, to smooth? 
Is there some mountain of an obstacle that needs to be levelled so that Christ will meet less resistance in us?[1]

As we prepare to encounter God, I’m reminded of an old Celtic saying about meeting Christ in the stranger’s guise. 
It reminds us that we are all created in the image of God…
As we encounter one another – even, or especially in the midst of this busy waiting and preparing time – are we prepared to see and to encounter Christ in one another?  As Paul saw Christ in and at work in the lives of the Philippians, do we see and encourage one another to be little Christ’s?

Someone once said that Advent is ‘preparing for the long view :
we reflect on the coming of Christ…
past, present and future.' [2]
Christ past – in the miracle in the stable in Bethlehem;
Christ present – born again in our lives now;
Christ future – when he will come again at the completion of all things.’
Advent is a time that prepares us for more than Christmas…
At Christmas it is right to sing the well-loved carols of joy, that tell the story of the Christ-child… but the story is bigger, so much bigger:
We are also telling the story of the God who sees the pain of His people and who breaks into His world to lead us out of pain and darkness. 
God gives birth to hope where there is despair,
Light where there is shadow,
And life where there is death.[3]
It is the greatest story
A story deep and rich and beautiful;
A story which lasts forever;
A story that makes sense to prepare ourselves for.

If we stop and listen, perhaps we might just hear a miracle:
The beating of a tiny heart…
The heartbeat of the One who became one with us and for us.
Let’s watch.
And prepare to be amazed as we encounter God.  …

Let us pray:
Loving God
You are not distant or detached
You meet us where we are.
In this season of Advent
Help us prepare to look for you behind the tinsel and the glitter,
That we may worship you in spirit and in truth,
and in hope-filled joy.  Amen. 

[1] See Jan Richardson's fabby site The Advent Door
[2] Rev. Dr. David A. Killian on the wonderful Sermon Nuggets site
[3] from the wonderful Gord Waldie

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