Sermons

"Don't Just Wait...Prepare the Way For the Lord": Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B

"Don

Dec 17, 2017

Passage:John 1:6-28

Preacher: The Venerable Chris Wrampelmeier

Series: Advent

Category: Love, Outreach, Faithfulness

Keywords: advent, love, outreach, waiting

Summary:

Advent is often described as "a time of waiting." But as we look at the example of John the Baptist, we see that we actually have a model of "waiting" that tells us we are to "prepare a way" for the Lord through our actions, our love, and our treatment of those who need God's presence.

Detail:

Growing up in Washington, DC, my father drove to work downtown. My mother did not work, but she did not drive a car either. In those days before the city built its subway system, we got from place to place by bus or by walking. At an early age, I used the bus to come home from school andto accompany my mother on errands.

I remember waiting a lot. There was no cell phone app to tell you if you just missed the bus or if the bus was late. I saw many buses pull away as I ran to the stop, condemned to sit there for 20 or 30 minutes until the next one arrived. If the weather was decent or there happened to be a bus shelter, I could read a book to pass the time. Otherwise, I just waited, my life on hold.

We have all experiencedwaiting, whether it be at home for the repairman to arrive, a doctor’s office for an appointment, the DMV for a driver’s license, school during those final minutes before the end of the semester, work for five o’clock to come around, or, most painful of all, church for a deacon’s sermon to end. Many of us have waited to turn 18, then 21. Some of us are waiting to retire. Some are waiting for the right person to come along. Some may be waiting to join their right person in the life hereafter.

Waiting is passive. Waiting is frustrating. No one likes being stuck in line. Waiting gets a bad rap, probably deservedly so. As the great American author Dr. Seuss wrote,

You can get so confused

that you’ll start in to race

down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace

and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,

headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

                                      The Waiting Place…

 

…for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go

or a bus to come, or a plane to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go

or waiting around for a Yes or No

or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.[1]

 

“Waiting” is frequently used to describe what Advent is about. The Episcopal Diocese of Texas’s website begins its discussion of Advent with this sentence: “The good news of Advent is that if we wait, while we wait, in the waiting, God comes.” I don’t like that image of waiting. To me, it is too similar to my experience waiting for DC Transit; if I waited for the bus, while I waited, the bus came. Surely Advent means more than just waiting. Surely Advent asks something more from us.

To find my answer, I look to someone who might be one of the hardest people to emulate. In today’s Gospel, John is not someone who passively waits for Jesus to arrive. “Passive” is not a word that describes John. He anticipates the coming of the Lord; he acts. Called to be a witness, John testifies to the light, his testimony causing such a stir that the religious leadership travels all the way from Jerusalem to interrogate him. John claims no special status. He is not the Messiah, Elijah, or a prophet. John has importance only because he acts for the coming Christ, God the Son. John becomes the voice of whom Isaiah spoke, the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” In preparing the way for the Lord, John distinguishes himself from everyone else who merely waits for the Messiah, hoping one day the Messiah will arrive.

Isaiah spoke of making straight highways, lifting up valleys, lowering mountains, smoothing rough places. The prophet’s words remind me of a book I recently read on America’s first war as a nation. The war was against a Native American confederation in Ohio during President Washington’s administration. As the American army advanced through the virgin forests, pioneers led the way. These woodsmen chopped down trees, cleared stumps, built bridges over rivers and through swamps, and created a highway for the other soldiers and the baggage train to follow.  It amazesme to think that men with just brute force could clear such a way and permit an army to travel relentlessly forward day after day.

That kind of effortis how the way of the Lord is prepared. When the way of the Lord is prepared, the landscape is forever altered. To prepare the way for Jesus, John upends his world. He calls on everyone to repent, and many heed him and are baptized. John challenges the people’s complacency and readies them for change, readies them for the arrival of the Christ.

Like John, each of us is a witness to the Christ who will come into the world. This holiday season requires far, far more from us than opening a new day on an Advent calendar or shopping for presents, waitingfor Christmas Day to arrive. Advent calls us to transform our landscape to prepare the way for the Lord. What is each of us doing in our private lives and in our public advocacy? What are we doing collectively as a church? When the master returns, will he be happy with what he sees? Given how much Jesus preached about caring for the poor, the widows, the orphans, and others unable to protect themselves, what will he think about how we treat the rich and the poor, the famous and the homeless, those who live in luxury and those who live without health insurance? Do we treat each person equally under the law? Even if the poor have competent legal representation, do we rig the laws to advance the causes of the rich and powerful? How will Jesus respond to what we have done? Isaiah tells us, “For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing.”Are we acting to prepare the way for Jesus or are we just waiting for him to come, leaving him with all the work to do when he arrives?What would John say if he were here? Would he call us a “brood of vipers”?

Yesterday, we took a step toward preparing the Lord’s way. We invited 47 children who have incarcerated parents or step-parents to the Parish Hall for brunch, activities, fellowship, and a visit from Santa Claus. Lacey and Ryan Turman decorated the Parish Hall to perfection. Thanks to the amazing generosity of the members of this church, not only did each child receive pants and shirts and fun gifts, but the children and their family members ate a wonderful brunch from Youngblood’s Catering. Santa, and the children’s reactions to Santa, made us smile wide and laugh hard. We are truly blessed that Santa Claus each year can come before Christmas to our church for this party. The heartfelt gratitude of our guests showed us what joythe giving of giftscan bring. Afterwards, parishioners volunteered to take the remaining presents to the families who could not come to the party. The party was the culmination of much work and giving by this church.

The Angel Tree party makes the Lord’s path straight for two reasons. The first reason is that the party shows how special these children of prisoners are. We serve them. They are the guests of honor. They are not the guests of honor despite their parents being in prison; they are the guests of honor because their parents are incarcerated. I think Jesus would really like this last-being-first aspect of the party. The second and related reason is that the Angel Tree brings good news to the captive parents. Angel Tree allows the prisoners to be the cause of the gifts, for they begin the process that ends with the party. We give the gifts in those parents’ names.Even in a cell, these prisoners can provide in some way for their children. Even in prison, these parents can have dignity.

This church does other great work, such as feeding lunch to the homeless today, but we as individuals, a church, and a society have so much farther to go. The recent national debates over health care, income tax reform, violence against African-Americans, and sexual harassment and violence against women heightened our awareness of social justice issues in 2017. Our challenge in 2018 is how to address these and many other issues—not as Republicans, Democrats, or Independents—not as rich or poor—but as followers of Christ in the Episcopal tradition. Our related challenge is to communicate with others about hot-button topics while still loving our neighbors as ourselves. As Episcopalians in this parish of St. Andrew’s, we are well-positioned to meet these challenges: to listen, to aid, to bridge divisions, and to bring hope.

I ask during this blessed Advent season that each of us pray without ceasing how we will make that path straight for the Lord, how we will raise valleys and lower hills. I ask also that each of us acts on those prayers. For as Dr. Seuss assures us,

Kid, you’ll move mountains!

So…

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea

you’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way.[2]

 

[1] Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Random House (1990).

[2] Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Random House (1990).