Sunday, December 10, 2017

Year B Advent 2 2017 Don't Look At Me

Year B Advent 2, 10 December 2017
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Don’t Look at Me!”

Collect: Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

There are few pleasures greater in life than to be doing what you were born to do. Hammers were born to pound nails. Umbrellas were born to keep off the rain. John was born to prepare the way.

His role was to be second violin, and he knew it. That was why he was born.

This week I met with the Altar Guild, and I thanked them profusely, and I meant it. They help me look good, as much as that pathetic cause can be helped anyway. I get the up front, visible role, but the countless hours that they spend to make this church look so sacred Sunday in and Sunday out is often overlooked and forgotten because they do it so well. And their role is so needed, but it helps me get the message out because it is one less detail I have to focus upon. Or bevvy of details really.

My role needs their roles that needs the choir that needs the Robbs that need Margaret that needs the Stewardship Team that needs the Vestry, and it goes on and on. We all have a part to play, and all are needed in the body of Christ. Some roles are more visible, and some are hidden. Like a roadie at a concert, all of their being says, “Don’t Look At Me!”

John preceded Jesus, with a vibrant, loud, crowd-raising ministry, one that could have easily taken off and been its own thing, but he was close to God, and it had been foretold and prophesied that he would take on the role of Elijah as the precursor to the One, the main show, the long awaited Messiah.

Last week when we looked at how “Y’all need Jesus” (and I do, too), we were at one pole of Advent, we were at the Anticipation pole. Like Carly Simon sang, “Anticipation, it’s making you wait.” But this week we go to the other side, looking at the other duty that Advent places at our feet, Preparation. It takes both to live fully into Advent. Both are needed and shape our spirit and hearts in these pre-Christmas days.

Preparation is key for sanity, clarity, and performance. When the Altar Guild met the other day, the schedule was out for the first quarter of the year. Planning has already begun with them and the office for Holy Week. That is the way things have to be done to succeed. If you want to see what a lack of Preparation looks like, look at the parking lots of grocery stores on Friday. There were a whole lot of people caught off guard by this pre-Christmas snow. Bread, milk, toilet paper, all were flying off the shelves. But we have the voice of one crying in the Wilderness so that things do not have to be this way.

When you look at the story of Scripture, over and over we see God molding chaos and creating good.
  • When the earth is formless and void, God brings forth land, and creatures, and even us.
  • When the earth is full of sin and nothing is going the way intended, Chaos comes flooding in, and from it God brings for a righteous clan, Noah and his family, and all the creatures of the earth in a systematic and orderly way.
  • God has done it since the beginning and God does it in us.
I do not find it accidental that the voice crying out does so from the Wilderness, the same Wilderness where Jesus was tempted, where wild animals roamed and death could creep in from behind every rock. The Wilderness is Chaos, unkept, unkempt, and unholy.

Out of Chaos we are called, in Anticipation of something better, in Preparation for something better. It takes work to make straight paths in the desert, and it takes work to move to where God would have us be.

When my oldest daughter was born we were caught a bit off guard. The room had been painted and the crib put together, but when you show up a month early there were still things left undone. In shock and surprise, I stopped at Target to get the car seat we had picked out worried about getting her home as I did not know it would be a week away, and Steph called the kennel before she called me. Neither of us were thinking fully rationally in the excitement and fear and hope of the long awaited arrival finally being here, but still a month early. But we did not know the day or the hour or we would have had the final details done. We always think we have another day to say “I love you,” or to learn how to swim. But life is not like that. It is not predictable. It can be messy. We prepare so we can respond quickly and in the moment. Think of how many things in life we say we will “get around to” and never do.

We need John the Baptizer in our lives, or someone like him, to cry out, “People, get ready! The time is about to come!” He washes us with water, so that someone greater can give birth to the Holy Spirit in our lives.

As you have heard me say, I taught school for a long time. And when I would ask a hard question or for somebody to do something, it was fascinating to see how interesting the floor became. Every child seemed to be staring at the floor and it had to be fascinating because they just continued their gaze. Their actions were saying, “Don’t look at me!” John did the same thing, his actions screamed, “Don’t look at me!” But his was with an entirely different meaning. It was not because he wanted out of anything. He jumped right in and claimed his role. He was born to point away from himself, and point to the One. Jesus, the Christ.

Last week we began with the Penitential Order, claiming the Ten Commandments as a starting point in our preparations for the Christ Child’s coming. “Don’t do this,” they proclaim. It is always a good place to start, and once we get the “not doing” list down, we move on to the graduate school of Jesus' “loving God with all we’ve got, and our neighbors as much as ourselves.” The Do Not list is a lot easier. But taming Chaos is like that. It is not easy. It takes work. It starts with where we are, and it should take us where we need to go. It takes discipline and sweat. It moves us from Wilderness to Paradise. Structured, orderly, good.

Looking at the original passage Mark only quotes the beginning of, we see the work before us, as well as the motivation for all of this:

“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.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

John points us to Christ, “Don’t look at me!” “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29 And Christ is the glory of God revealed, but so are we. When we find ourselves in Christ, doing what we were born to do, and being who we were born to be, we begin to take on the glory of God and it is beautiful to behold. Not to point to ourselves, and like John we declare, “Don’t look at me!” Taking our places while following God’s Call, then God’s glory is revealed in us as we move from Wilderness to Paradise.

When we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, that is when God the Spirit moves in and makes itself/hisself/herself(?) at home. Like when my daughter was born, and we painted and bought and constructed furniture, we had a long list of needs and wants and hopes. It took time, planning, and work to even begin to be ready for her arrival. Remember what John says, the whole point of him is Jesus, and the point of Jesus is what? “...he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” That is it. The whole kit and kaboodle. What are we doing today to clean house spiritually so the Spirit can feel at home? And even more, if we truly have the Spirit living, moving and having its being in us, what might it ask of us? Guests always have needs or wants we may not have anticipated or planned for, and that is when we do what we can to be hospitable. We would do it for our Aunt Mabel, why would we not do it for God?

This Advent, the cries we hear, “Y’all Need Jesus!” and “Don’t Look at Me!” In Anticipation and Preparation, we make straight God’s paths, in this world and in our lives. Thanks be to God! Amen

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Blessings, Rock