Sunday’s sermon: Prepare the Way: Learning

Advent hope

Texts used – Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 3:1-6

  • Gathered yesterday with Dad’s side of the family for Thanksgiving – talking about how family and our annual Thanksgiving gathering continues to expand
    • All of us “kids” getting married and adding spouses
    • All of us “kids” beginning to have kids of our own
    • A few aging parents that have moved in with my parents’ generation
    • Gone from adding another leaf to the table to adding a whole other table to adding a kids table besides
    • It served as a reminder to me that people are always coming into our lives in new and different ways – children being born, being adopted, being fostered. Children who are between phases in their lives and “come home to roost again” – those who have become known as the “boomerang children.” Maybe you’ve invited a foreign exchange student into your home and your life. Maybe your own aging parents or grandparents have come to live with you, expanding the sphere of your nuclear family and home yet again. Or maybe someone else – a friend, another relative, or one of your children’s friends – has come to live with you. No matter who it is, throughout our lives, new people enter into our realm of existence time and time again.
      • Big part of these people coming in, at least when we know about it ahead of time = preparation
        • Making our homes ready
        • Making their spaces ready
        • Making ourselves and our families ready
    • Today, we begin the season of Advent – a season of preparing, a season of making ready, a season in which we anticipate welcoming the Christ child into the world and into our hearts anew. And as I was thinking about preparing for the coming of this Christ child, I started thinking about all the different phases of preparation when someone else enters our lives. Voilá … a seasonally-appropriate sermon series was born!
      • This year’s Advent series = all about preparing
        • Today = preparing the way by learning
        • Upcoming = preparing the way by nesting, worrying, breathing, and, finally, naming
  • And today’s New Testament reading heralds the need for preparation.
    • When I read this passage, I always envision the opening scene to Godspell[1] in my head – musically adapted and culturally updated re-enactment of this passage
      • Today’s reading: John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet, A voice crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be leveled. The crooked will be made straight and the rough places made smooth. All humanity will see God’s salvation.”[2]
      • Opening scene from Godspell: ordinary people going about their ordinary days – decidedly uninspired, basically bored
        • Woman studying in a library
        • Man driving a taxi cab and his passenger
        • Waitress at a diner
        • Guy pushing a rack full of clothing across the street
        • Ballet dancer practicing in a studio
        • And so on.
      • First, people hear blast from a bugle – sound only they seem to be able to hear (people around them either can’t hear or are choosing to ignore it)
      • And as those who have heard the bugle call begin to step away from the hustle and bustle going on around them to follow the source of that call, they hear a voice: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” To those who have heard the bugle call, this voice is as loud and as clear as a bell.
        • Throughout the rest of the musical, these called people take on the persona of those who followed Jesus throughout the gospel, listening to and learning from the Messiah before he is betrayed, crucified, and resurrected in glory
        • Spoiler alert: in the end, they return to the “normal world” … but they are changed
          • Go out with a dual message on their lips
            • Long live God!
            • Prepare ye the way of the Lord!
          • You see, in order to reach that point – that point at which they could not only proclaim their own abiding faith in God but also the point at which they could call others to faith, they had to prepare the way by learning.
            • Learning from God
            • Learning about God
    • Not so different from the way we prepare for new arrivals in our lives
      • Books and blogs and forum websites and support groups all dedicated to any number of types of “new arrivals” already mentioned
        • Want to feel knowledgeable
        • Want to feel prepared
        • And so we yearn for and seek out that education in the face of coming newness in our lives. That’s exactly the education that John the Baptist was providing for people in preparation for Jesus’ coming.
          • Preached about coming Messiah
          • Quoted Scripture pertaining to coming Messiah
          • Baptized people in preparation for the coming Messiah
          • John was sort of the teaser, the opening act, trying to get people captivated before the main event. In his teaching and preaching, he was preparing people for the coming of Jesus.
  • Obviously, there are a lot of things that we get from education and learning before someone new arrives in our lives. If you’re preparing for your first child, for example, in whatever way that’s happening – birth, surrogacy, adoption, fostering, whatever – you very quickly and startlingly realize just how much you don’t know! The desire to learn about milestones and development and diaper brands and formula and baby food and sleeping habits and car seat restrictions and car seat laws and car seat installations and strollers and illnesses and well-baby checks and immunizations … it can be overwhelming and downright intimidating! But in preparing – in learning – we can find …
    • Confidence
    • Reassurance
    • Empowerment
    • And we can find another overwhelming and powerful emotion: hope. As we learn and as we prepare, we begin to envision and daydream about what could be. Hope is the feeling that what is desired can actually be had or that events will turn out for the best. As we learn and prepare, those hopes and dreams for what could be become more developed. They become stronger. They become fuller. They take on whole new possibilities and light.
      • See this hope in OT text – prophet Jeremiah is trying to prepare the people, trying to teach them about the One who is to come: The time is coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The LORD Is Our Righteousness.[3]
        • Historical background for Jeremiah
          • Often referred to as “prophet of doom” or “the weeping prophet” because of roll he played – prophet during a “good time” but leading up to a “bad time”
          • Prophet in Judah toward the end of one of the country’s prosperous, happy times → This was never a good time to be a prophet because while all the people were enjoying a time of stability and abundance, the prophet’s task was to tell them that they were doing things that were wrong, things that were displeasing to God, and that they needed to stop because there was judgment coming.
            • As you can imagine = not a popular message
            • Not easy to believe → hard to believe a storm is coming if the sky is blue and the sun is shining
            • General population was mad at him
            • Even worse, powerful kings were made at him
          • Foretold the fall of Judah and the captivity of the king which came to pass shortly afterward → Jeremiah actually witnesses/is part of beginning of the Babylonian Captivity – time when Babylonian army conquered, captured, and carted off all of the wealthy, powerful, intellectual, talented, and important people in Judah and took them to live in Babylon → not returned for generations (70 years)
            • Huge event in the history of the people of Israel, and Jeremiah not only saw it happen, he knew it was coming
      • So in light of that knowledge and in light of the knowledge of all the sins going on around him, it’s no wonder much of the book of Jeremiah is doom and lament. However, there are also shining moments within the words of this prophet, such as our text for this morning, that are an attempt to bring hope to the people: The time is coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The LORD Is Our Righteousness.[4] → Jeremiah had been spending so much energy and breath trying to teach the people about all the bad things that had been happening and that would be coming, but in the midst of that, he offered them the greatest hope of all: a Savior, a Messiah, the One who will come to redeem and to uplift and to restore.
        • Valclav Havel – philosopher, political dissident, and president who led during transition from Czechoslovakia to Czech Republic after Czech-Slovak split in 1993: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” → Jeremiah knew that in the short term – and even in the long term, depending on how you define “long term” – things weren’t going to go very well for the people of Judah. However, in the grand scheme of faith, he knew that there was a Hope coming – an undeniable Righteousness, a Light in the darkness, a Messiah.
  • Friends, this is the same Messiah, the same Savior, the same Righteous One for whom we begin our preparations today.
    • Lit the Candle of Hope this morning → And within the light and warmth of that flame burn all the hopes that we have in God and in Christ.
      • Hopes that have already come → hope of grace, hope of redemption, hope of forgiveness
      • Hopes that are yet to be → hope of Christ’s return, hope of an eternity with God
      • Hopes for ourselves
      • Hopes for our congregation
      • Hopes for our loved ones
      • Hopes for the world
      • Hope can be a powerful light in our lives. And in this Advent season as we prepare the way for the birth of the Christ child, we do so with full knowledge that the light of that hope has come, that it continues to come, and that it will come again. Alleluia! Amen.

 

Charge & Benediction
Go in learning.
Go in hope.
Go to prepare the way for the Lord.

*And may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.*

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godspell.

[2] Lk 3:3-6.

[3] Jer 33:14-16 (emphasis added).

[4] Jer 33:14-16 (emphasis added).

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