Advent – help!

Sermon Dec 10 2017

It’s so busy this time of year isn’t it? These first weeks in December are probably the worst, because all the end-of-year do’s are upon us. Take a plate here, go out for dinner and spend too much money there, break-ups, prize-givings, and then there’s Christmas to prepare for.

It’s really stressful, and many people don’t cope. It doesn’t help either that it’s been so hot.

What does Scripture have for us?

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,(That means us)
and cry to her that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

 

These words are indeed comforting, aren’t they? A bit weird though, and hinting of other worlds, a brighter future, which is so much the end- time focus of Advent.

God tells us through Isaiah that we are comforted. It’s all ok, and it’s going to work out fine. God is speaking tenderly to us, just like a parent who soothes an upset child. We can all feel like out-of-sorts children when we are so busy and stressed, but God is there to comfort us.

Our penalty is paid – that means we are forgiven, and this ties back the narrative of a special new baby to the reason that baby came down from heaven for us. To pay the price of our sins.

Sometimes I look at advent wreathes – especially the sparsely-decorated ones with mainly holly and a few little red baubles, and ponder on how much they look like a crown of thorns. The two images are bound us together, and enrich each other.

Isaiah goes on to tell us to prepare the way for the Lord – to make the paths straight, to prepare a highway for him in the desert.

When ancient emperors were due to come into a town, the road crew always made sure the road was straight and even – obviously they never came to Christchurch, or if they did it wasn’t along Breezes Rd!

John the Baptist picks up this prophecy and tells us again to make the paths straight. He’s not talking about the next year’s work for Citycare. He’s talking about the work in our hearts. At Advent our focus is to make the way for God to come straight into our hearts. We need to remove the detours of busyness, the stumbling blocks of idolatry, the road cones of sin and apathy, from our lives, so we can slow down, open our eyes and breathe God into our lives. Slow down and breathe is always a good idea when we are busy, but no more so than during Advent. There are so many other calls on our time and our attention, that it really isn’t easy to make the path straight.

But how can I do that, you may ask. I’m so distracted with all I have to do. Or, for some people, I’m so distracted by being cut off from the fast pace of life as we see it on tv ads and in all the malls and junk mail.

It’s not only having too much to do that can distract us from God. For many of us here, and in our community, the lead-up to Christmas is sad and lonely. No one has invited us to an end-of-year do, no one has sent us a card, or dropped in with fruit mince pies, no one remembers the lonely when they are so busy making plans. Poverty and isolation can make our paths windy too, if we let them.

 

Come back to Isaiah’s words, and be comforted, that God speaks tenderly to us, that we are never forgotten, even if the world forgets us.

Isaiah then talks about how short our lives are, that we are like grass, browned off in the summer sun, blown away in the wind, here one minute and gone the next. That sounds quite depressing really doesn’t it, a bit like, what is the point? I think it’s good that this feeling is there in scripture – it helps us relate, and then shows us the way forward, because we are not left there. We are told that the word of God is eternal, and that God’s love and care for us will last too, even if we are like grass clippings blowing along the gutter.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

We are the flock, God will feed us and care for us, cuddle us to herself. We can trust God to be with us, even when we are crazy-busy, or not busy enough, or sick, or unemployed, or sad, or lonely.

In our reading from 2 Peter, we learn that God is verry verrry patient, and a thousand years are like a blink of an eye. That reminds me of a joke actually;

A man was praying, asking God, Lord is it true that a thousand years are like a second to you? And that you own all the cattle on a thousand hills and that a million dollars is like a dollar to you?

A booming voice answers form the clouds. Yes son, it is true.

Well then, lord, can I have a million dollars?

The answer comes: In a sec.

God’s timing is not our timing, and it can feel really hard to wait and wait for prayers to be answered. But we are encouraged in our reading that God will indeed return, bringing ‘new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home’. We must be ready, living lives of righteousness, and loving others with the love that flows from God.

Words like righteousness can lead to smugness can’t they? Of course I live a good life, I am polite to everyone, I pay my taxes and wash my milk bottles before I put them out for recycling. Not like that one over the road.

See how easy it can be for judgement to slip in? Maybe a righteous life is something that can be added to. As we get used to one habit, and don’t have to think about it, we could try adding another one.

In my twenties I had a job in a music shop. To start with I was working in the office, doing the banking and accounts. As I got the hang of that job, I learnt how to re-order the stock we needed for each day, and display it. Then, when that was going well, I was taught how to repair some instruments.

If anyone had tried to get me doing all those things on the first day, or even the first month, I would have been overwhelmed, and struggled to do anything.

It’s like that with habits of righteousness too. Get one thing going so it’s automatic, but whenever you notice the smugness creeping in, pray about finding another path that you can straighten.

We might have to go into some unfamiliar places to straighten all our paths. The people of Judea and Jerusalem went out from their city and villages into the desert, in the heat and the dry, where there were no supplies. Presumably if John ate locusts and honey that would be all anyone could find to eat. They heeded the cry to repent, to turn their lives around, and they waited for someone more powerful to come after. As we wait for the powerful one, yet to be born as a vulnerable child, stuck out the back with the animals, may we make our ways straight for God to enter in.

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