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This Week's Sermon !

December 7 -- 2014 -

Isaiah 40: 1-11
Psalm 85
2 Peter 3: 8-15a
Mark 1: 1-8

How Many Sleeps?

When is Christmas? How many more sleeps till Santa comes? I know I’m a minister and we’re in church and I’m supposed to KNOW the answer to the more important question “How long till Jesus comes?” Hint: both Santa and Baby Jesus arrive the same night. Just to assure you; I do know the answer, but if I were to tell you that would make for a very short sermon.

If you are a parent of small children the “how many sleeps till Santa comes?” is a very real and persistent question this time of year. You answer it at least daily! You wonder if you will be ready; there is so much to buy; there are so many toys and whatnot to assemble in Gramma’s garage that you wonder if it will ever get done. Or you wonder how you are going to pay for the most basic of a Christmas celebration.

If you are the church choir director your question is, “how many more practices till the “big night”. The “big night” could be Christmas Eve, or the Choral Evening, or one of the other extra events that get tacked on to the usual Sunday worship schedule. You look at the decreasing number of practises till the “big event” or “big events” and both you and the choir wonder if you will be ready in time.

For me, “how many more sleeps” reflects the number of extra services that I have to prepare and how many of them will get mixed up in my head. How many different ways can I tell the “old, old story of the birth of Jesus. We’ve all got a lot to do folks and only 17 more sleeps (or if you have afternoon naps you get 35 sleeps). That number sounds better, doesn’t it!

The voice of John, the Baptizer, rings out, “prepare the way”. Of course he is echoing the words of the second prophet to use the name Isaiah, who said, “prepare a way in the desert” and assured the people that their God would come with might.

How do we do this: preparing of the way? Well, if its Santa you are preparing the way for, you clean the chimney or make sure you leave the front door unlocked on the night in question! (unless you believe the 1994 Tim Allen version in which the magic of Santa’s reindeer makes a fireplace where there is none). To prepare for Santa - on Christmas Eve, you get the children to help you make sure all the clutter is picked up so Mom wont be embarrassed and Santa wont trip in the dark! Almost any ruse to get your kids to pick up their toys is a good thing! Long before these 17 (or 35) sleeps though, every kid knows about that list that Santa is making and checking twice. John the Baptizer uses the language of road building - the literal kind where one part of the road and the surrounding fields are pared away and the extra soil os carted over to a place that needs building up. In some places it would involve blasting great amounts or rock and the construction of bridges and overpasses. Earlier this summer there was construction between here and Berwick - not sure what they did but they did a lot of the work at night when the highways were not as busy. As you may remember, the work involved many high intensity lights lining the roadway which was supposed to make the work safer but it was very hard on the eyes! It made me resolve not to go that way at night until the construction was over and done with.

Perhaps home renovation could be another metaphor for this kind of change and preparation! I remember the day the plumber arrived at the manse to fix a slow drain in the bathroom upstairs From my office I started to hear the sound of water dripping on the kitchen carpet. I took a quick look and then called up the stairs asking the plumber to come downstairs and when he did his comment, to the sight of water dripping through the kitchen ceiling was, “Oh, this is not good”.

So after a few meetings of the manse committee, a few phone calls, some waiting, a few trips to the hardware store, a number of weeks of showering at the neighbour’s house, while watching workers, equipment and new stuff go up the stairs and workers and old stuff go down the stairs, I had a new and functioning bathroom and I did not have a shower in the kitchen! It was a necessary disruption and, in the end, it was a better bathroom.

We know that road-construction and house renovation are both done in the hopes that life will be better. Better pavement, better road grades, clearer sight lines and twinned highways make for safer and better travelling. Sometimes house renovation is a choice and largely cosmetic, sometimes it goes along with necessary repairs.

Building a highway for God, is not really a great deal different. Just as a home renovation or a highway project does not happen on it own, we have to participate in the building of this highway for God.

The people to whom Second Isaiah was speaking were in exile and there were there, far from home, because their ancestors had forgotten the centre of their life as a people was a just and faithful society. This Isaiah proclaims a new day and a second chance. They were not going to have a free ride though; they had to live in the way their ancestors had agreed to when Abraham and Sarah made that covenant many generations before. The people to whom John the baptizer was preaching were living in their own land but they were under the iron fist of the Roman Empire. While they were far from free they did have choices they could make with respect to the kind of society they lives in - particularly if they were a member of the elites, and benefited from the system the way it was!

John the Baptizer uses the images employed by the prophet Isaiah generations before. Build a highway so that God will come to us. Build a highway, do the spiritual and other work necessary to show openness to the life-changing Spirit.

When we think about waiting for Jesus though we are usually thinking about the “baby Jesus”, and when Christmas comes and goes without adequate preparation, it can be as if the Jesus we await, remains a baby forever. Once January comes around we are done with Christmas.

I think one of the reasons Advent, as the church celebrates it, is supposed to be this time of preparation is that in these four weeks of Advent we focus more on the Christ than on the Christ-Child. While the world waits for the cute and cuddly baby Jesus in swaddling clothes, we must remember that he came to change not only individual lives but also the entire world. The bottom line is that he didn’t come to stay in the manger. Like most children he came to “get big” and make his mark in the world.

We are waiting for Jesus birth, yes! But we are also waiting for the training wheels to come off and for him to strike out on his own, to form a relationship with the God he knew as father and call us to a life of faithful living. This God has a different idea of time than we normally do and we are called to take this similar, long term view. We are waiting for him to make a difference in our lives and in the world! In order for him to make that difference we have to prepare.

Parents prepare for a baby by getting a crib and a car seat and little bitty clothes and all of that stuff but parents with the long term view also realize that they must eventually plan for the teenage child and open an RESP or some other kind of savings plan to pay for the higher education of their child. Parents know that babies grow up fast and that they will be running to keep up with their growing child.

We are left with an important question. What difference will this baby make for us in February, in July, in September? We all know about New Year’s resolutions and how quickly they go by the wayside for the most part.

Real change is hard, because humans seem to be hard-wired for stasis, for repeating old patterns and old habits, even if these are harmful. Change takes effort, help and being very intentional. In Advent we are called to embrace the change that will be needed to truly embrace the message of the one who came to bring peace and goodwill to all. This is the hope of all the sheep being cared for and safe in the gentle arms of God the shepherd. ]

This is not preparation for one evening of nostalgia and cuteness, it is preparation for the long haul. It is preparation for the life changing, world changing of the one on whom we pin our hopes.

Are you getting ready?

Amen.

1995- 2014 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.





For some good stuff go to:
journeywithjesus.net-a weekly webzine for the global church
journeywithjesus.net

The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!


Links to My Other Pages at this Site

  • Sermon Ideas 4U Sermon Archive Site!
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  • The Kings United Pastoral Charge
  • Who is Beth Johnston
  • An Anniversary/Memorial Service Sermon
  • A Sermon for a "Covenanting Service"
  • Sermon on Teenage Suicide
  • Story Page (Called 'Q')
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