Grace to you and peace from God our creator and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
How are your Christmas preparations going? … that bad, huh? Is your tree up? Is it decorated? What about the outside of your house, is that all ready for Christmas? House cleaned for guests or parties? Christmas cards sent? All your presents bought yet for all your kids and grandkids? Are they all wrapped? Are all your cookies baked? Travel plans finalized? Gosh, I’m tired just thinking about all the things I still have to do yet!
These texts for this 2rd week in Advent aren’t exactly helping, either. Here we are, half way through, and there is still no sign of Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise men, star, manger, no Christmas NOTHIN’.
Instead, we have… John the Baptist. He is NOT one we usually associate with Christmas cheer… and we certainly will never find HIM on a Christmas card, or as one of the light-up, blow-up characters we see in people’s yards. I think it’s kind of hilarious that we see just about EVERYTHING ELSE on Christmas cards and as those blowup, light up characters…. Polar bears, snow globes, penguins, Yoda, Snoopy driving a Christmas train… Maybe a Mary and Joseph… everyone BUT John the Baptist!
Which is such a shame, because John the Baptist is perfect for this role – a larger-than-life, weirdly dressed guy with a strange diet, living out on the edge of town, doing his preaching and baptizing thing.
Bur really, John’s job is NOT to look pretty on his own Christmas card. His message is a baptism of repentance and “Preparing the way of the Lord” out in the wilderness… and that sounds kind of weird on a Christmas card, doesn’t it?
As much as he seems like a rock star, John is pretty clear about what his role is in the coming kingdom of God – he’s the opening before the main attraction, the guy who gets the crowd pumped up, the billboard that tells you how long until the rest stop. He’s laying the groundwork for what it to come – because something so amazing is about to happen, it is going to just BLOW people’s minds. It’s going to be a complete reorienting of everything - the desert highways will become straight, the valleys will be lifted up, the mountains will be made low, the uneven ground will be made level and walkable, and the rough places flattened out.
If John DID have a Christmas card, the inside might say, “You think I’M ‘out of this world’? Buckle up, buttercup. You ain’t seen NOTHING yet!”
|Meme credit: Mike Russo|
He is of course talking about Jesus. The word of God made flesh. The son of God. The Christ, the anointed. The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the prince of peace. Mark spells it out in his first sentence: the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. THIS is who we are getting ready for during these four weeks before Christmas, which we call the season of Advent.
But you may have noticed… that this is NOT the message we’re getting from pretty much everywhere else. The church kind of feels like it’s John the Baptist in a Christmas-overdrive world every December – we’ve had nothing but texts about getting ready, staying awake, and preparing for Jesus for weeks now… when all around us, we’ve heard nothing but Christmas songs and seen nothing but Santas, Christmas trees, and ads for stuff, stuff, and MORE STUFF!!! We find ourselves caught between ramped up secular Christmas in all it’s trimmings, and in celebrating the birth of Jesus. We’re constantly bombarded, distracted, stressed, and depressed this time of year, aren’t we? Can I get an Amen?
We can’t get away from it… it’s on the radio… in every store… even as we drive. If you’re coming from the north down 413, you’ll notice that every few weeks Peddlers Village advertises some new event happening. Last week, I noticed a new one is up – have you seen it? It says simply, “Now is the time to shop.” Yikes.
So, what are our choice here? Are we to go don some fur and head out into the fields of Bucks County, to eat bugs and completely separate ourselves from the world in order to find the “true meaning of Christmas”? Tempting…. But perhaps not. Or are we to completely succumb to the barrage of Christmas cheer?
What if… Jesus can still be found… even during the frenzied preparations for Christmas? What a novel thought. What if the very “material rituals of getting ready for Christmas – the very distractions that are accused of removing Christ from the celebration – can constitute gateways to deeper faith”? (quote from "A Season of Little Sacraments")
This is the very premise of a book I picked up a few months ago called “A Season of Little Sacraments.” In a glut of Advent devotionals, all claiming to bring a much-desired sense of sacred back into the season (when they are just adding one more thing to do on our list) … this book reminded me that Jesus can be found in both the sacred AND the mundane… in things as ordinary as hanging Christmas lights, creating an Advent playlist on Spotify, or getting ready for a holiday get-together. What if Jesus shows up in these things, even in the crazy Christmas prep, even when we don’t feel quite ready?
A friend who is also a pastor shared how her own family’s preparations for Advent and Christmas has embedded themselves in the mind of her three-year-old. She told him that Advent is coming, and that is why they put blue lights on the tree. She told us “He's convinced "Advent" is a person (a girl, specifically) who is blue (literally, not figuratively), and that we need to get ready for her and make her feel welcome by putting up blue decorations.” According to her son, my friend concluded that we know that Advent is female, and that her toddler understands how to make people feel welcome by making them feel they belong with the colors that reflect them. Out of the wisdom from the mouth of babes, my friend exhorted us to “go and do likewise,” as her own “toddler John the Baptist” has preached.
We may NOT ALL be called to BE John the Baptist… but we are called to be LIKE him. As followers of Jesus, baptized with the Holy Spirit, we are all billboards for Jesus – NOT by saying “now is the time to SHOP” of course… but perhaps instead to take a page out of John the Baptist and the Prophet Isaiah
Our message instead might be - “Now is the time to REPENT of our habits that leave our lives too cluttered for God…. Now is the time to GET READY for Jesus coming… Now is the time to WELCOME the stranger among us…. To lift up those that have been brought low…. Give COMFORT to those who need it…. To REMEMBER the forgotten and ignored…. LIFT our VOICE on behalf of the voiceless…. To POINT the WAY to where God is at work in the world and say, ‘Here is your God!’”
Here is our God, who strengthens weak hands and feeble knees when they are weighed down by change and sadness.
Here is our God, born to us as a tiny helpless infant.
Here is our God, who died and rose again for you, even when you are too stressed and distracted to notice.
Here is our God, showing up in AA meetings, at the grocery store, and at Starbucks.
Here is our God, who makes sandwiches and give coats to the homeless.
Here is our God, who will see to the finish what has been begun in all of us.
Our God is here, in the frenzied activity of the season… in our un-readiness and unpreparedness… a new kind of Kingdom is still being born, and we are still invited to be a part of it.
God is preparing God’s way among us, right here and right now. We’re in a kind of our own advent time. How would WE, as Family of God, fill-in-the-blank – “Now is the time to ______”? What are we known for in the community? If Family of God suddenly disappeared, what kind of impact would that have? What kind of hole would that leave? Would people notice? What kind of mission is Jesus preparing us for here in Buckingham? Are we awake to the signs?
We’ve had rough places and some valleys in the past. We can’t go back to the way things used to be, and yet, we’re unsure of the way through the wilderness we find ourselves in. We’re not quite sure exactly what God is getting us ready for. We’re probably not “ready” in the sense that we’re not what others’ might consider “successful” or “thriving” or “sustainable” yet.
But Jesus didn’t wait until the world was “ready” in order to come. Jesus worked with what he had. And Jesus won’t wait to use us until we’re “ready,” he’s going to use as we are. Likewise, we CAN’T wait until WE think we’re “ready” to point others to Jesus and help birth this kingdom into being.
Ready or not, it’s time to prepare the way of the Lord.
Ready or not, it’s time to point the way to the manger and the cross.
Ready or not, it’s time to welcome the stranger, help the needy, comfort the suffering.
Ready or not, its time to work for justice and peace in this world.
Ready or not, it’s time to love one another, whether we are black, white, or blue.
Ready or not, here is our God! Amen.