Message by Pastor Pokora – December 6 – Second Sunday of Advent

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

Several years ago, my son and his family spent the Christmas holidays with his in-laws. We didn’t see him, his wife or daughters until spring.

My two daughters also informed us they would not return home for Christmas. They live in Boston and New York. Flying home would have cost about two thousand for each of their families. We agreed that was too much for a three or four day stay. So, we didn’t see them either.

With no one coming home Christmas became a low-key event. I decorated a small artificial Christmas to provide a little color and placed our creche on the mantel above the fireplace. That was about it. We didn’t bake Christmas cookies, pile presents under a Christmas tree, or prepare a big meal. Instead, my wife and I went to the Lodge for lunch on Christmas day. With no guests coming to our house, we had no reason for extensive preparations.

Last Sunday I discussed the parallel, but often intersecting seasons of Christmas and the holidays. The holidays have become a secular event running alongside the Christian observance of Advent and Christmas. Both the holidays and Advent/Christmas anticipate a coming; the holidays get ready for Santa Claus, while Advent and Christmas prepare for the coming of Christ. One season is material and the other spiritual. But with both the holidays and Advent/Christmas existing in the same space and time, we confuse them. Holidays activities become a substitute for spiritual reflection, growth and welcoming Christ.

This theme of preparation can be found in our text from the Gospel of Mark. Here we learn when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, the word of God came in the person of John the Baptist. John emerges from the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Luke believes John’s appearance foreshadows the coming of Christ. In fact, he believes John’s arrival was foretold by the prophet Isaiah.

We read from Isaiah: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see it together.”

Five hundred years before John the Baptist and Jesus appeared, the people of Israel lived in exile in Babylon. Their country had been devastated by war, their cities demolished, and they were exiled in a foreign land. They longed to return to their homeland.

Isaiah brings good news; God intends to free his people from exile and return them to Jerusalem. The power of Babylon will be crushed. The people shall cross the dessert to their native land in triumph. A new age begins. They are filled with hope. God takes pity upon them. The time of exile has ended.

The Gospel of Mark believes Isaiah’s message of liberation and the dawning of a new age sets the perfect context for John the Baptist. John, like Isaiah, calls upon the people to prepare for God to do great things for them. They must be ready to follow God to the promised land where they shall live again in peace and enjoy prosperity.

John the Baptist proclaims God intends to great things for his people. He announces God will send his Messiah to lead the nation. They, however, must be prepared to receive their Lord.

Years ago, the musical “Godspell” made popular today’s Advent theme, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Today, as we light a second candle in our Advent wreath, we are encouraged to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ into our life and this world.

Advent is a state of mind, as well as a season in the church year. During this season we prepare for Christ’s second coming, his return to reconcile humanity to God. We expect Christ to do great things for us, but we must be ready to receive him.

Let me use a football illustration to make a point. The University of Iowa completed their regular season with eight victories several years ago. Most people expected them to do better. The last few years the team muddled along with a okay record. Iowa entered the off-season with some grumbling. Season-ticket sales dipped; the school reportedly forecasted a drop of in football-related income this fiscal year.

Coach Kirk Ferentz sets out each year to examine every inch of the Iowa program. The results were encouraging. Fueled by considerable restructuring and, by Ferentz standards, a riverboat-gambler approach on the field, the team keeps on track and has a win-loss record to get them to a bowl game. But it took hard work, determination and change to reach that goal.

John the Baptist calls upon us to search ourselves and change our lives in preparation for receiving Christ. We call this process repentance. By repentance, we mean examining our lives and making necessary changes. Repentance, therefore, ought to have a specific meaning, namely, to reflect on the direction we travel both as faithful persons and, as members of the Body of Christ, the church, and change our course where necessary.

Living prepared implies more than expecting God to do great thing for us. Rather, we cooperate with God to make significant changes in ourselves. We accomplish nothing without God’s help and God expects our participation in his saving work.

Each Advent season we receive the opportunity to reflect on our journey and make sure we proceed with God’s guidance. Our congregation receives a unique opportunity to recommit itself to a vision of God’s reign and prepare itself for Christ’s second coming.

Change is not possible unless we are willing to live faithful lives. Repentance begins with the acknowledgment that by God’s grace we will ready ourselves for the change Christ brings.

With Gospel ringing in our hearts, may we be enabled, empowered and prepared to live faithfully in anticipation and hope of Christ’s coming. May we make this Advent holy by using these four weeks to ponder our life’s direction and make those changes which welcome the coming of Christ to us. Amen

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.