Friends, in the Gospel that I just proclaimed, we hear Isaiah’s wonderful words, “A herald’s voice cries out in the desert, prepare the way for our God, make straight every path.” This message, every time I hear it, speaks “Advent” to me. It is the quintessential call to my heart to begin preparations for so great a guest—Jesus, our Brother.
At this busy time of year, we might ask, “How do we celebrate appropriately and not get over-stressed?” It would seem that we must each day carve out some moments of quiet and reflect on the awesome mystery of Jesus desiring to come into our existence and to be one-with-us—Emmanuel. If we don’t, we might lose sight of this one key idea—the over-the-top love of our God in electing to become one of us. We don’t want to get lost when this season is so much about being found—found by our God who loves and cares for us beyond anything that we can imagine!
Isaiah’s words are really all about preparing the way—making a straight path through the wilderness—filling every valley, bringing every mountain low—they are poetic words that really speak to hearts ready for change. The people that John preached to were hungry for justice and a life wherein they didn’t need to constantly struggle to live under the oppression of Rome and others who had been invaders to their land.
Today these same words come to us who are hungry in some of the same ways. Many in our great land don’t have enough to eat on a daily basis, or a home to rest in, and be safe. Across Europe, refugees stream in from the oppressive government in Syria, trying to out-run terror in their lives.
A portion of these refugees will eventually come to our country to find a home and safety if those who are led by fear can finally open their hearts. This week we experienced yet another mass shooting that leaves us simply sickened by our seeming inability as a nation to stop this terror and mass destruction in the hands of people unable to even manage their own lives.
The words of John in today’s gospel proclaiming a hope-filled message to people hungry for this news—that the savior they had waited for so long, was about to appear—is a message we too long for, now! In many ways, our world needs to be saved and we wonder what we can do.
It is hard to be patient amid the strife all around us, yet Advent calls us each year—now—today—to just such patient faith and trust. Jesus, our brother, who came ultimately to show us the way, began as we did—as a tiny, innocent baby—small, yet with so much potential. As I watch our grandson grow and change, the Scriptures that speak of Jesus “growing in wisdom and grace” hold new meaning, not only for him, but for each of us.
Each year when we celebrate this miracle of love and total giving, we should be amazed. The idea that our God would love us this much to want to become one of us is something that allows the most reserved among us to open up our hearts, even for a day or two, and see the hope that love can truly bring when practiced each day of our lives.
It is this hope that we must hold onto in the troubling times in which we live—wars being fought in many places around the globe, people in our own country that apparently choose the tools of terror rather than negotiation, the language of fear and even hatred for those who are different rather than the language of understanding and love; our seeming inability in the halls of Congress to find common ground and instead, pushing for singular, close-minded ideologies.
The readings chosen for this Sunday, unite us to our forebears, the Israelites—a nomadic people, and serve us well today as we watch and pray for those from Syria fleeing oppression for the safety, hopefully, on foreign shores, in Europe and the United States. No doubt these present day refugees are people of faith—they couldn’t leave places of birth and all they knew without the trust that a good God was watching over them. This theme continues then in the Gospel with John calling the people to prepare a straight way for their God to enter their lives—God comes in ways that we least expect—Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus were refugees. The Israelites’ preparation was and ours must be about changing our lives—about turning back to God.
Faith calls us to this straight path—to change in our lives. We cannot look at suffering in our world and do nothing. We must call the lie when we witness the lack of movement in our Congress and call them to the task for which they were elected—the work of all the people, not just the top tier. We must challenge leaders in Church and State who call themselves “Christians” and do none of the work that their brother Jesus did! The beautiful season of Advent calls us to seek out the God of our hearts—to remember that God wants to be close to us, to get into our hearts and reside there—helping us to find our way, living our lives to the fullest.
But often, the path to our hearts isn’t straight, but cluttered with the distractions of life that we throw in the way, and it is hard for God to get through and for us to see God in the everyday, in the faces of those we meet, day in and day out. We need to look often into our lives and check where we put the focus—are we always busy with things—always keeping active, so that no time is available for quiet reflecting, having a talk with our God about the bigger issues that our world faces and what She/He would like us to do about them.
I have always thought that the idea of gift-giving at Christmas coupled with the outstanding gift of Jesus to each of us works well together. But we must remember to keep it all in balance—the presents without Jesus are missing a key component and Jesus without the natural expression of sharing the love with others through our own gifts is missing something too! And the ways that we can choose to give are as many as the people that each of us is—finding ways that speak to our hearts and come from our hearts. This week brought the wonderful news that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, upon the birth of their daughter, Max, made a gift of 99% of their stock in Facebook, $45 billion worth over their lifetimes to the newly-formed Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, something we are told will benefit many causes. Now, while we don’t know all the ramifications, this seemingly generous gift is moving in the right direction. Most of us can’t give in like fashion, but each of us can give in the ways we are able.
The increasing joy that people of faith feel at this time of year comes from the realization that our God in Jesus comes to walk with us, showing us the way to life in all its fullness. Jesus, Emmanuel, which means, as you know, “God-with-us,” chose to take on our humanity in its completeness, to walk-with-us, showing us the way to be truly human, as God intended, and as a result, to become more like God. The two natures combine in Jesus—humanity and divinity with the sole purpose—to take us along.
We become more like Jesus Paul tells us in the reading to the Philippians by allowing our love to grow and through it our understanding and wisdom—his prayer for the Philippians is that their consciences would clearly guide them and that their conduct would be blameless. He prays that they will be people of justice. The hope that he gives them is the realization that the God who began this good work in them, certainly will continue to be with them perfecting their actions. The same message is true for us and because it is, we cannot witness the trouble of our times and do nothing. We must find a way to speak truth to the powers that be in our world and Church and demand of them and ourselves what Jesus showed us so clearly in his life among us.
While Jesus graced our earth, he was a light shining in the darkness and he came that we might better live. Let us use these precious Advent days to prepare for the best gift any of us will ever receive—Jesus, God’s Own, our human brother for the journey!
So my friends, our task during these holy days of preparation for the joyous feast of Christmas is to prepare a straight road for Jesus to share with us—a road big enough to give him room to be part of our journey.
I spoke at the beginning of my comments today about the “herald’s voice crying—prepare a way for our God” as encompassing the season of Advent for me. Whenever I hear this scripture, I am reminded that it is time once again, if I have forgotten, to make Jesus more a part of my journey. And this is a good message for us not only as we prepare for remembering Jesus’ coming into being at Christmas time, but for each and every day of our lives, especially if we claim to be his followers.
It will be important for us to take notice of how he came into our existence—poor, vulnerable—as a baby, and that he grew in stature and grace. Perhaps that tells us that our journey might be one of growth too—we won’t accomplish the task of being a true follower all at once.
We are comforted in this Advent season of hope as our spiritual family, the Israelites of old were, as they returned from exile; as the Philippians were by Paul’s message about Jesus—that surely this good work begun in each of us by our loving God will continue to be perfected now and until Jesus comes again. May we each be blessed today and for this awesome journey!