Advent 2—Year C—December 9, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen.
How long does it take you to prepare?
It depends on what you are preparing for, right?
It takes a very different amount of time to prepare for a normal day than it does for a holiday right?
You spend a lot longer preparing for a History test than an eye test.
So how long does it take to prepare for Jesus Christ?
I don’t know the exact figure, but it is a long, long time.
The preparation started long before his birth. Prophets like Malachi started preparing the way. They proclaimed that the Lord was coming to save us, to purify us, to make us righteous, to put us in right relationship with God. It was millennia ago that it was first explained that it was not just up to us, but the Lord was the only one that could get rid of our impurities, our sins. There were no sacrifices, or acts of penance, or indulgences that could do that. For us it is impossible to completely repent and turn our lives around, but for God, nothing is impossible.
And then John the Baptist took up the job of preparer. The voice had changed, the rulers in the palaces and temple had changed, and the diet of choice had changed, but the message did not. God is the one who will make the path clear and straight. It is only with God’s help and guidance that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
But it did not stop there. Then the Gospel writers and the various communities of early Christians worked to continue to prepare the way. They recorded the good news of Jesus Christ, the whole story, and how it impacted their life. But they also worked against many earthly forces: emperors, destruction, persecution, and strife, to continue to share God’s promise with the world. Without them, Christianity might not be so wide spread, or even legal today.
Centuries ago, the way began being prepared—it began being prepared for YOU! Malachi, and the other prophets, told us, taught us, reminded us that God “promised of old to save us from our enemies”—to forgive our sins and grant us eternal life.
And that preparation has continued through your life. It was at your baptism that the Holy Spirit came upon you. The promise began to be lived out, as you died to your sin and were raised to eternal life. But the preparation continued. On that day your God-parents and parents made a promise to prepare the way for you, to bring God’s word to you in the form of the Bible, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creeds, and the Ten Commandments.
It might have been those same people that continued to prepare the way for you to really know Christ and understand his immense promises for you by bringing you to church, or teaching to you pray, or modeling how to live out God’s purpose for this world every day.
Or maybe there were others who also prepared the way for you. Who has been God’s messenger for you? And I’m not just talking about the pastors who preached at you throughout your life. I’m asking who was it that brought the Word of God to you the first time you really “got it,” the first time that the Holy Spirit worked something in you, the first time the Gospel of Jesus Christ changed you and your life?
I remember this moment for me came the summer before I started High School. At a weeklong youth event, my small group leader was God’s messenger for me. She was that voice that cried out to me in my wilderness. Through her leadership and a guiding meditation exercise, I had a prayerful experience with God that was different than anything I had ever experienced before. It was then, for the first time, that I understood that God loved and cared personally FOR ME, and that Jesus’ death and resurrection meant something FOR ME. It is one thing to be able to hear the Word of God and repeat the promises verbatim, but it is another thing to experience the Word of God, to finally understand that they are promises to you.
Without the preparation of Malachi, John the Baptist, the author of the Gospel of Luke, my parents, and my small group leader, Patti, I would never have experienced the Word of God the way that I did. This happens in a different way for each of us, but God has surely prepared and continues to prepare the way for the Word of God to come to you, sometimes in a new a way every day.
But still, the preparation is not over. For as long as sin lurks around this world, we need the Word of God to continue to work on us. And it is precisely that Sharing IN the Gospel that Paul talks about that facilitates this. Through hearing the Word of God read and preached, praising God in song and prayer, and sharing in a new way of being around the Eucharist, the Word of God continues to come to us, work on us, influence our lives. It is how we, right now today, experience the “tender compassion of our God.”
And once we are fed and forgiven, nourished and strengthened, we are sent out into the world to continue the preparation. As part of our sharing IN the Gospel, we are called to do a little bit of the sharing OF the Gospel, in word and in deed. Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, is God’s prayer for all of humanity, that our “love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight.” Malachi & John the Baptist, as messengers, prepared the way so that we too might be God’s messengers today. God continues to work through them, their prophecies and hard work and stories, but God also works through us to bring the Word of God to the whole world wide so that the produce of the harvest of righteousness might be all the more bountiful as the Word of God comes to each new hearer and works on them, and changes their lives. Amen.