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Second Sunday of Advent: Year C

A Highway for Our God

John the Baptizer was special. He was spoken about in the Book of Isaiah:

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.   (Isaiah 40:3-4)

His father, the priest  Zechariah, prophesied over him when he was born:

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,

To give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.   (Luke 1: 76-79)

John’s ministry was to prepare the way for the coming Messiah promised of old. Israel had not heard the voice of a prophet of God for four hundred years. There was a longing to hear from God. There was a longing for a savior that would save the nation from its enemies. But were they ready for John the Baptizer?

The Lord spoke through the Prophet Malachi concerning John:

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight– indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.   (Malachi 3:1-3)

John the Baptizer was like a refiner’s fire. Israel needed purification. They were looking for someone to subdue their enemies, but like many of us, their real enemy was themselves. Are we ready to receive the Christ into our hearts today? Israel was not. They were living in a wilderness apart from God, though they were careful to observe their traditional religious practices. These practices were not necessarily wrong, but they were often empty.

God wants to build a highway in the wilderness which leads directly to him. Whether people consciously realize it or not, they are looking for God. God is offering them a highway on which to travel. What is that highway? Or who is that highway? The children of Israel were that highway. And today we are that highway.

The modern way of road building is to smooth out the terrain underneath. That was not always the case for Virginia before the interstates. I was once driving up and down the many hills from Richmond to Charlottesville, Virginia. My young daughter, who was riding in the back, got very sick. I won’t go into all the details. The highway we were riding was faithfully tracing out the contour of the land and it was very hilly.

What does it take to build a highway? A lot of heavy earth moving equipment. God is building his highway and we are the earth he is moving around.

Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain. e level,
    and the rough places a plain.”

God is refining us. He is reshaping us. If we will allow him to have his way the world around us will see a different terrain. Through us God will “shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide them into the way of peace.” We are living in a terrible darkness today. People need to see the light of Christ.

The Apostle Paul prayed for the Church in Philippi:

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.   (Philippians 1:9-11)

God is preparing his Church for the final harvest. He needs us to help produce that harvest. We must be pure and blameless. We must be the light of the world. That can only happen when we abide in our Lord Jesus Christ. This Advent season, will we allow God to use us as part of his highway. There may be some pain as God rearranges the earth. But if we bask in the love of Jesus all the while, not losing his peace, we will pave the way for a great harvest, both within the Church and the world around us. Amen.

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First Sunday of Advent: Year C

Your Redemption is Drawing Near

We begin a new liturgical year. Happy New Year! Advent is season of expectation. We await the coming of the Christ Child. Advent is a season of preparation. We prepare ourselves to receive him deeper into our hearts. As we move through the season we look at the prophecies and preparations for the Incarnation – God with us – the first coming of Christ.

At the beginning of Advent, however, our focus is on the second coming of Christ. This is a subject that, to me, seems often neglected in many of our churches. The lectionary readings in the beginning of  the season emphasize the second coming. We are reminded that our spiritual preparation is not only for the first, but also for the second coming.

Non liturgical churches may wonder why the need for us to prepare ourselves spiritually. Has not the cross of Christ redeemed us from sin and death? What more can we do?

We need to look at the Early Church. Believers lived in a season of Advent continually. They lived in expectation that Jesus would be returning soon. That was a primary theme of their preaching and teaching, and especially for the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote:

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.   (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

Jesus taught instructed his disciples about his second coming:

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”   (Luke 21:25-28)

He said that we should be able to read the signs which foretold of his soon return:

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.   (Luke 21:29-33)

Not only did Jesus speak about his return, but he emphasized that his disciples must be prepared for his return:

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”   (Luke 21:24-36)

If we are true disciples of Christ, then we must heed his words. What are the signs Jesus was talking about? The fig tree stood for the nation of Israel. From the Prophet Hosea we read:

Like grapes in the wilderness,
    I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree,
    in its first season,
    I saw your ancestors.
But they came to Baal-peor,
    and consecrated themselves to a thing of shame,
    and became detestable like the thing they loved.   (Hosea 9:10)

We live in the time when Israel is sprouting leaves. It was given up as dead, but then it was refound. We live in a season when Israel will be fully redeemed. As disciples of Christ, we are the ingrafted branches of Israel. Are we ready for the return of our Lord?

Our lifestyles and interests tell us that we are not ready. Jesus said: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” Look how we observe this season. There is the frenzy of black Friday. There is little recognition of the season of Advent. Christmas shopping is here in full force.

We desperately need a season of Advent. We need a time of spiritual reflection. We need a season of self examination. But God has not left us alone in this task. Jesus is coming. But Jesus is Immanuel. He is still with us. He is ready to help us. He is our source for examination and preparation. Paul wrote: “May Jesus so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

In this busy season, let us take time to be with Jesus. Yes, he has paid the price for us. What are we prepared to do for him? Will we put him first? Will be love him with all our hearts? Will we spend time with him in prayer – in his Word – in his healing and deliverance?

Yes, we are seeing signs of the end times. Jesus said: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

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Filed under Advent, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year C