Luke 3: 2 – 20
One of my favorite pictures of my son, Fisher, is from one of his marching band competitions at MetLife Stadium. It is a close-up of him in his uniform with the field a green blur behind him. He is holding a mallet in each hand and he is leaning in, poised expectantly over his marimba keyboard.
His head is turned slightly and I know he is gazing intently at the Pit Director…waiting for his cue, anticipating his entrance. He stands, engaged, poised and ready to do his part in bringing the music to life. I love seeing him captured in that moment of urgent waiting.
It suddenly seemed like such an Advent moment…that barely breathing, eyes wide open, “get ready waiting” for something momentous about to happen….
That’s Advent waiting….
Advent waiting is not at all like waiting for a bus or a train…that impatient, distracted waiting…that bored waiting and waiting to simply get where you are going. Advent waiting is not at all like waiting in the doctor’s office…”killing time”…waiting to be next…waiting for your turn…waiting to be out of there!
Advent waiting is not like trapped waiting in the line at the grocery store…mindlessly browsing tabloid titles to see if there really are aliens, or miracle potato chip diets, or what famous couple has broken up…again…
Advent waiting is more like waiting for beloved company to arrive that you haven’t seen in far too long…Advent waiting is like waiting to finally be discharged from the hospital and go home…Advent waiting is smelling spicy pumpkin pie baking in the oven and checking the timer again and again to see how many more minutes before it comes out warm and ready to slice….
And, of course, Advent waiting is a pregnant young woman and her faithful husband frantically searching for a safe place to shelter and welcome their son into this world…
But it takes more than waiting and watching for Fisher to know the precise moment to lower his mallets and join in the music….it takes preparation and practice, lots and lots of practice.
Preparation is also a part of Advent.
John the Baptist is in the Jordan wilderness, preparing the way, preparing the way of the Lord, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John is waiting and watching and preparing for the one who will come after him to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
John tells the people, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
John is telling his followers not to rest on their laurels or their history. John tells the crowd that their work is never done, their purpose is never fulfilled, and that their ability to bear good fruit is limited only by their lack of work and preparation.
So, the people come to John and ask him, “What then should we do?”
John answers, “If you have two coats, share with someone who doesn’t have any; share your food.” He instructs tax collectors to collect no more than the designated amount. He tells them to refrain from graft and skimming, to refrain from upping the tax demand and then keeping the difference for themselves…it is why tax collectors were so hated…they used their power and authority to bilk and prey upon the powerless among their own people…
Soldiers also come to John and ask, “What then should we do?” John says not to extort money using threats or false accusations. He instructs them not to use their power and might in order to bully and take advantage of those who are powerless.
John’s words still ring true for us today where too many people in positions of power and authority still bilk and prey upon the powerless for their own political agendas and their own personal gain.
John’s voice crying out for repentance and justice, reminds us all of God’s instructions to take care of the weak, not to exploit them, to make sure that others have the equivalent of what you have; that if you are eating, ensure that others are eating; if you are clothed, make sure you are clothing others. If you have shelter, then you must endeavor to provide shelter and sanctuary for others who have no place to go.
So, “What then should WE do,”..to prepare ourselves, to be watchful and ready to reach out and act in God’s name, to join in and do our part in bringing God’s kingdom to life? How can we prepare ourselves to help in making the world not just whole, but holy?
We prepare ourselves the way musicians do, by practicing. That’s one of the things we are doing here when we gather to worship together. We are practicing.
We practice becoming one mind in Christ, by reciting scripture, and singing, and praying together, becoming one voice. When we sing and pray out loud together, we even begin breathing as one. W…e become one great breathing, speaking, singing, instrument… God’s instrument… …making holy music together… …becoming God’s love song …rejoicing together in God’s name.
When we reach out and offer a sign of Christ’s peace to each other, we are practicing welcoming our neighbor, we are practicing putting God’s Word into action in the world…with that act of putting out our hand in Jesus name, we are imitating Jesus reaching out to everyone he met, not hesitating to stop and turn aside from his intended path, never hesitating to touch…to see, to heal…anyone…and everyone.
We join in saying Confession, to practice repentance to release our hearts from their burdens and to remind ourselves that we aren’t perfect…but that we are perfectly loved. We confess, so that we learn what a gift it is to receive grace and forgiveness, so that we can open our hearts and offer grace and forgiveness to others.
We gather for Communion to practice making room for everyone….and to remember that even the simplest acts in our lives, eating and drinking, when shared with others, become sacred and holy.
We gather each week, so that the lessons we read and hear, become a part of us, God’s Word sinking into our flesh and bones, layer after layer…week after week…month after month…until enacting God’s word becomes a reflex.
Just like Fisher poised and waiting who has practiced his part until he doesn’t have to think about it…he trusts the director, the music, and the other musicians, he trusts his body and his heart…and when the moment comes…he moves…he acts…without hesitation…doing his part to bring the music to life.
We come here each week to prepare a way for the Lord…to prepare our hearts to be ready to move at God’s command…to reach out without thinking or hesitation when there is need…We practice until God’s Word becomes who we are and how we are in the world.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written when he was in prison, waiting to see if he would be executed. Expecting death, he fearlessly wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
What then should we do, to prepare a way for the Lord?
Let us practice urgent, engaged, Advent waiting, gazing intently for signs of our creator…waiting for God’s cue, anticipating God’s entrance. Let us join together and stand, engaged, poised and ready to do our part in bringing God’s kingdom to life…
Acting without thinking about it…
Trusting in our bones, trusting with all our hearts, and above all else, trusting in God.
Fear not! Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
It is Advent.
The Lord is near!!