Lord, we come to hear your word and learn to live by it, prepare our hearts & minds & bodies and souls to receive what you have for us today – Amen
If I was to tell you that something was - Awesome … or – Unbelievable
Do you think that what I was going to tell you something that might strike you mute, fill you awe and be so overwhelmed that you were frozen still in disbelief
Probably not – Awesome or Unbelievable are two of the most over used words that generally greatly under-produce
Words and stories have lost some of their zing – in the ever-increasing media barrage to grab our attention
I think it is fair to say that the phrase “Merry Christmas” might be the most misunderstood or misaligned of all our holiday traditions
We have become a little inoculated from the power of the message …from the power of words
Merry is a word which meant “mighty” – like when we say Robin Hood and his ‘merry’ men – we are not talking about men dancing around Sherwood Forest – but a hidden rebellious gang ready to do battle against injustice
And Christmas is literally the feast ‘mass’ or celebration of God coming into the world to forever change the world – to save the world from its self
“Merry Christmas” - Have a Mighty interruption of God incarnate to transform and save your life
We of course know that Christmas for many and likely ourselves has been domesticated in today’s culture; its power to transform has been removed
And the season leading up to Christmas is a retail season, about buying the right presents, or decorating the house or making travel plans for family and friends
The approaching the power of God to interrupt and transform our lives has been minimalize
Let’s see if anyone can recognize this:
As the right of each species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no personnel may interfere with the healthy development of life and culture.
Such interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely.
Personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture.
This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation.
Does anyone know where that comes from… feel free to call it out…
That is Star Trek’s Prime Directive – the TV / movie series
It is the rule that guides their voyages – traveling about the universe passively observing and not altering the worlds that they come across
It states that it carries the highest moral obligation…
Well, God is not a trekkie… God can’t come into the world – without the world being unchanged
God’s Love is bigger… and the coming of Christmas is all about God interrupting… God interfering… God turning the world upside right
It is an awesome, unbelieving event
Today is the second Sunday of Advent, and every year in advent, regardless of which Gospel is read, we hear of John the Baptist
We could declare today John the Baptist Sunday
Our Call to Worship, typically a Psalm, today is actually a song of praise from Luke’s gospel known as the Song of Zechariah
The Song of Zechariah heralds the dawning of the light of Jesus on all who sit in darkness.
His, is a song of Advent, as we wait for the light that has already come and is still yet to come.
Before the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he came to Zechariah.
The immediate circumstances of Zechariah’s song speak of promises and prophecies.
When he is told of the coming birth of John, Zechariah doesn’t believe, and the angel Gabriel renders him mute “until the day these things occur”.
It was truly an awesome event to parents well beyond their child rearing age
Eight days after John’s birth, Zechariah and Elizabeth take him to be circumcised.
When the time comes for the child to be named, Elizabeth, to the confusion of the assembled, insists that he be given the name John. Confusion because John was not a family name
The people turn to Zechariah, who writes on a tablet “His name is John”
“Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God”
The Song of Zechariah underscore the promises and prophecies of Israel are coming to fulfillment in Jesus, and that John is the prophet who paves the way.
On this second Sunday of Advent, Zechariah’s song is very much ours.
We see the faint light on the horizon, and we await the full, dazzling light of God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ.
We find ourselves now in-between, standing in that moment of the already and the not-yet
The light has dawned but doesn’t seem yet to have reached the deepest darknesses inside and around us.
The truth is, that moment of already and not-yet is where we find ourselves all the time.
To live the life of a disciple of Christ is to live always in Advent time, knowing that the light has come and awaiting the light that has yet to shine in its fullest measure.
The dawning of the light must sustain us as we continue on, in our waiting and in our living, and sometimes the wait for the rays of Jesus’ light upon our faces seems awfully long
In many modern translations of the first chapter of Luke there is a most unusual word applied to Jesus.
Instead of the word "Dayspring" as used in the King James Version many modern versions describes Jesus as the "Dawn."
To me this is an unusual description of Jesus and altogether correct.
The dawn is the beginning of a new day with its corollaries of beauty and power revealing itself to the world around us.
The old day has gone and has been lost in the night; a new beauty unfolds and a new power makes itself felt.
How descriptive this is of Jesus. He dawns upon the world and there a freshness previously unknown.
As the Dawn he came to give us what we need most, illumination and direction.
Light in the darkness… and direction into the paths of peace.
He came as the Dawn to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Which is all of us
The theme of awesome and unbelievable news continues in the opening verse from the Gospel today
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea (e-tur-e-a) and Trachonitis (Tra-con-i-tis), and Lysanias (Lai-SAY-nih-uhs) ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
To our modern ears Luke is merely stating the date in some funny old way
But Luke is doing much more than that – Luke the master of contrasts – juxtaposing one image with an opposing image
Luke is placing this story in the entire wider narrative of human history and it is a grand vision to speak of a momentous event in time
We are given a wide angle shot of the whole of the middle east…Luke lists seven leaders both secular and religious.
We start out with the Roman Emperor, the most powerful man in the world
The lens narrows to the governor of the Judean region – Pontius Pilate
Narrowing again to the Hebrew leaders of Herod and his brother Philip
Then the high priests Annas & Caiaphas
As an aside: Looking at the people – one will kill John and the other will preside over Jesus’ death
In this company – in this setting we are told the awesome – unbelievable story
That – the word of God came to John, it didn’t come to one of these powers with great influence but to the son of a little-known priest – in the wilderness
We cannot lose sight of the magnitude of this event… The word of God came to John
This voice in the wilderness - the heralder of the upcoming most important man to ever live is none other than John the Baptist
People have to travel from the whole of the Judean countryside and from Jerusalem, just to hear him tell a message of someone that was to follow him.
John serves as the hinge of history, drawing to a close the age of the Law and the Prophets and inaugurating the age of redemption
When, in the words of Zechariah ‘John's spirit-filled father’, "by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us..."(Luke 1:78).
Maybe… maybe there is something to ‘convicting the heart’ of one who had no possessions and lived in the wilderness, the middle of nowhere - serving God’s message – telling of the great one that is to come
Maybe it matters that those that are to hear the message have to travel for it
Maybe news of “The Christ” needs to be heard personally from a man full of conviction and passion and that you need to invest something of yourself to receive it
Maybe that is the start of the preparations – investing yourself in the news – the good news
John told, ‘all that had a desire to hear’ his message, that they needed to prepare for the Lord’s arrival…Prepare our hearts
Now in Roman times, when news that emperor was coming to town
People would get busy – making the town look its best - They would fix the road
They would smooth out bumps – they would work out the strange curves and make them straight
Then as now – when someone special is coming – you get ready – spruce up the place
John in the wilderness is calling for nothing less
John is worried about their hearts, their inner beauty
And John is living up the prophet’s role and calling the people to ‘turn towards God’
John, as the last of the Old Testament prophets, is ‘preparing a way for the Lord’
Why might people have been attracted to this message?
We might on the surface look bright and shiny, our worst acts might be well buried…
But deep down we all know that we are in need of cleaning, before the coming of the Lord, we all need the rebirth of baptism, of dieing to sin…Of repenting
What if you were given eight hours to chop down an enormous tree?
If you're like most people, you probably would grab your ax and swing furiously with all your might for eight hours straight.
Abraham Lincoln said he would do something different. He said, "If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six of the eight hours sharpening my ax."
A dull ax demands much strength; a sharp ax saves strength.
Lincoln was not referring merely to axes and trees, however, but to preparation in every area of life.
Advent is our ax sharpening time, a time to pray, meditate, and prepare for the commemoration of the greatest event in the history of the world.
Perhaps we need to consider what message John has for us,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' "(Luke 3:4b-6)
Are we ready for the Lord arrival? Have we confessed our sins
Have we built a road for the coming Lord?
§ Have we flattened the mountains, the obstacles
§ our own stumbling blocks that would be in the way
§ Have we filled in the valleys
§ the areas of our life that don’t see the light of day
§ Have we made the path straight, removed the deviant curves in the road
§ the rationalizations that bend the route
§ Have we laid out the ‘red carpet in our heart’ for the Lord?
There is a story about a pastor who found a poor old woman living in a miserable London attic.
In a half-barrel by her only window she had planted a tree.
There was little else in the room to bring much joy, and he remarked about the tree.
She answered: "I am too poor to keep any living creature, but I know the tree can live only by the power of God. As I watch it grow, I feel that God is near and will help me."
Struggle is not evidence that the redemption has not come
God coming in the flesh – to be near us, is the birth of redemption
In our society it is easy to move too quickly right to superficial, warm-fuzzy understanding of Christmas and overlook advent
We are apt to lose sight of the person who went before our Lord, and to see nothing but the cute little baby in the manager
It is clear that John’s preaching arrested the attention of the whole Jewish people, and created an excitement all over Palestine.
It roused the nation from its slumbers, and prepared it for the ministry of our Lord.
The New Yorker magazine once published a striking cartoon with the characteristic type of humor that it has popularized, which arouses mirth by the force of sheer absurdity.
At the game counter of a department store, a solid, serious matron has brought something, and the clerk is making out the sales slip.
The woman's eye has idly caught sight of a chessboard spread out on the counter with the chessmen all arranged on it.
She casually asks the clerk: "How do you play it?"
Imagine asking a clerk in a store to tell her in a minute how to play chess. Some people have put in a lifetime learning how to play it well.
Chess is not tiddlywinks. No one ever learns to play chess even passably without hours and days and months of real study and effort.
Chess in more like algebra than it is dominoes. Its mastery demands the expenditure of blood, sweat and tears.
Well, at least sweat and tears. It can't be learned in a minute.
There are parallels and the religious life is one.
You don't learn it in the minute you're converted, either.
Another parallel is Christmas.
You don't celebrate it on the one day nor do you reap its grandeur without preparation and effort.
Advent is the apprenticeship for Christmas.
The awesome …unbelievable news of Christmas will soon be upon us
Christmas – the Mighty interruption of God incarnate to transform and save our lives
Enjoy this advent season – enjoy the this time of waiting on the Lord
Enjoy this time to prepare your hearts for the coming of the Lord
Enjoy this time as an exciting gift to be anticipated, to challenge us and to bless us with the mercy of the Lord God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Light-Giving God, we give you thanks that the darkness of fear, superstition and isolation has been overcome through the holiness and righteousness of our God, and that nothing in this life can ever defeat it; as we follow God’s light-revealing path to God’s fullness of life. Amen.
 Illustration Sourcebank – Series III # 0622, ADVENT, LIGHT, JESUS - — Ernest Edward Smith, Metropolitan Assn. of Churches, Omaha, Nebraska
 Illustration Sourcebank – Series III # 2874 - ADVENT, PREPAREDNESS
 Illustration Sourcebank – Series III # 0705, RENEWAL, FAITH
Ryle, J. C. (1993). Mark. The Crossway classic commentaries (3). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
 Illustration Sourcebank – Series II #1196 - ADVENT, PREPAREDNESS