ADVENT 2, A
(taken from my sermon on Advent 2 C in 1997)
This season of the year often turns me into a Scrooge muttering, “Bah Humbug!” much more often than I’d like. Beyond the gross commercialization of Christmas, there are two major issues I grumble about each year.
One of them is beginning the Christmas season on or before Thanksgiving. Advent gets lost altogether. I prefer to finish my gift shopping before the decorations and that awful Muzac fill the stores. Otherwise I’m sick of it all, even my favorite carols, by the time Christmas arrives. I try to put up my tree less than a week before Christmas and then sit there and ooh and ahh. I keep my decorations up at least until Epiphany. I try to ignore all the outside lights that people seem to put up on Thanksgiving weekend, at least until the week of Christmas. Without the dark and quiet reflective time of Advent, Christmas seems to loose its meaning for me.
For this, the second Sunday in Advent, the Gospel lesson tells us about the coming of John the Baptist. John says, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Then he quotes from Isaiah: "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
What does this mean, really? At the literal level the words paint a picture of a road-building project, sort of clearing a grand avenue through the wilderness so the Lord who is coming may walk comfortably and grandly among his people. It echos the triumphal processions often used by the Greeks and Romans to honor a conquering general.
But what has that to do with us and with this 21st Century celebration of Advent? I think that clearing a path through the wilderness is a concrete metaphor for the internal task we are meant to complete during this season. The wilderness we must tame and straighten out is the wilderness inside ourselves.
Now, when our backyard gardens are resting beneath the snow, is the time to cultivate our inner gardens, to smooth out the hills and valleys and prepare the soul so that God can reach us and work in us and through us. This is the time to look at ourselves, at our spiritual lives and our lifestyles, and to ask what is there that blocks us from living fully, from being the servant God calls us to be. Advent is the the time to re-consider our lives and to remove the clutter so that God can re-enter and take his proper place at the very center.
If you’re like me, you have a secret garden tucked away where you’ve tried to lock away the dark parts of yourself — the rage, pettiness, jealousy, envy, — whatever demons, that in spite of locks and walls, still rise up unbidden from time to time. They cannot be contained by walls or locks, so you must open the door and take down the walls, exposing your own darkness to the light of recognition and forgiveness. God know you and loves you in spite of that darkness, so do not try to hide it, either from God or from yourself. This is how we make a path for God through the wilderness of our being and prepare for the return of the great light.
The second aspect of the secular Christmas celebration that irks me no end is the gooey, sentimentality in which the Christmas story is so often wrapped for public consumption. It’s easy to get sucked into this — who doesn’t get sort of ooh, ahh gee whiz about a new baby? And it’s hared to say Bah Humbug! to the Christmas specials that are so full of sweetness and light.
The problem with sentimentality is that it creates rather momentary emotions that do not really change people. You may get the message but miss the meaning. In looking up John’s quote from Isaiah, I think I found an antidote for our inclination to sentimentality. These words follow soon after the passage he quoted.
A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower faces, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. . .
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.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
Who has directed the spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor has instructed him? Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice? Who taught him knowledge and showed him the way of understanding? . . .
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted, but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary they shall walk and not faint.
THIS is the God for whom we wait. Do not be fooled or misled by the sweet helpless baby to be born in Bethlehem. The God who comes into the world is the God of creation, the God of power, and the God of grace and love. This God inspires the deepest awe. So prepare yourselves — and make a way for God to be reborn in you this Christmas. AMEN