Advent 2, Yr B, 2014
Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8
Pat Coulombe
Blackburn Hamlet Community Church
7 December, 2014

Advent Sermon

It’s been quite a while since I have written a message to my sister. I think I will do that now while the house is quiet. I have so much to tell her.

My dear sister, how are you. My prayer is that this message will find you and your family well, especially the precious little ones. It seems like forever since I have seen you and also it has been a long time since I sat down to write you a letter; but now I believe that the time has come. Actually, I feel that something or someone is compelling me, prodding me to sit and share with you all that has been happening around here recently. Do you suppose that it might be the Holy One that is pushing me to share these things with you? As strange as it may sound, I believe that it must be.

Praise be to His Holy Name for calling me to visit with you in such a way as this, not in presence but by word, through this little message. And we know how special words are, for isn’t that how He speaks to us and how He has spoken to us down through the ages. Do you remember how often our dear mother said to us when we were growing up: “Children, listen to God. His word is everlasting.”

And isn’t that what we learned through the study of the Psalms. I continue to thank God every day that Mama and Papa insisted that their girls be taught to read and to study the Scriptures. How blessed we are! And I will never forget the day our teacher told us these words from the psalm: Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalm 119:89).

I continue to be amazed that His word that was from the beginning is still with us: still guiding us, still checking us, still moving us, still loving us, still calling us to repentance, still calling us to faithfulness, still calling us to stand firm, still bringing us his promise of forgiveness and mercy. So often I wonder - how can it be and yet I know, I know in my heart that it is so. “Children, listen to God. His word is everlasting.”

But I digress here, as it is so easy for me to do when it comes to His word. I could get lost in the richness of His voice. But I suppose in a way I do not digress, as the reason for this message is very tightly bound to the word of the Lord. I pray that you don’t think of me as foolish when I share with you my thoughts about some recent events.

I ask you now to take a short journey with me through Scripture. Do you remember the wonderful promises made by the Lord through the prophets of old? The promise that He would send the Messiah, the Saviour, into the world to rescue His people? Many prophets spoke of this but I especially think of Isaiah and Malachi at this time.

Do you remember the words of Isaiah: “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’” And the words of Malachi: “I am sending a messenger who will prepare your way but watch out, for when he comes he is like a refiner’s fire, and he will purify my people and make them whole.”

These words have been burning in my mind, and in my heart, recently. You see there has been this strange man, named John, wandering around in the desert, delivering what I and many others believe to be a powerful message. Could it be that John is the one crying out in the wilderness, the one spoken of by Isaiah 700 years ago? He speaks of one who is coming, a man of power, a man who will immerse people in the power of the Holy Spirit. Can this man that John speaks of be the one spoken of by Malachi so long ago? The one like a refiner’s fire, the one who will purify the people of God?

I know, I know… you are probably thinking “what is happening to my poor sister. Has she gone mad?” But no, let me tell you… there is something that Yahweh is stirring deep inside me; something like a great expectation. I don’t know what it is but I can tell you that it has created in me a deep, deep longing to draw closer to the Lord and yet I know not how. But I do believe that the answer lies in what this man John is saying.

You should see him. Such a contrast to our rich and proud leaders. He dresses himself with camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. Now, who does that sound like to you? Did we not read in the Books of the Kings that this is how the prophet Elijah was dressed? And did we not read in the prophet Malachi that the Lord would send Elijah once again before the awesome Day of the Lord? He certainly does remind people of Elijah. And can you believe what he eats: locusts and wild honey, the food of the poor and not the indulgent.

A strange, strange man indeed! But there is something so solid about him. He does not have the demeanour of other preachers and teachers. He wanders around the desert giving his message and unlike our leaders, unlike those who consider themselves knowledgeable to the point of haughtiness, he does not call people to himself. He does not send out notices and proclamations to come hear a great preacher; and yet, great crowds flock to see him and to hear him. I believe that he attracts them with the truth. I’m sure they wouldn’t want it to be known but I have even seen some very important people there.

Dear sister, people are so hungry, so thirsty, can it be that God is bringing about the fulfillment of that which he promised. We know that the exile of our people ended a long time ago but can it be that it was only the physical exile that ended and that the spiritual exile has lived on and now God is preparing us for Himself, for our homecoming. Can it be?

The prophet Isaiah told us that the Lord Himself would come, that he would come with might; that He Himself would be our shepherd and that He would gather us into His arms.

Am I wrong or far off to be expecting this? Again, remember the word of God is everlasting. The prophet Isaiah said: The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord stands forever.

Can it be that those words were meant for us also, dear sister? I believe so. I believe that somehow God Himself will come to His people and lead us. He will be our salvation. God has given us His word. I know not how this will happen…yet. But I do believe that this man John is being used by God to prepare the way to bring all this about.

You should see him. Looking like a wild man as he proclaims the message of repentance and I suppose that is where it is to start. Do you remember how often in our thanksgiving prayers we would name our many blessings and recount them before God as if He didn’t know? But He did know. Mama always said that God knew that it was when we truly acknowledged our blessings ourselves that we would see how essential it was to come before him with our praise and thanksgiving. And John says it is the same with confessing our sins. God knows what they are even before we commit them but He also knows that it is when we truly acknowledge our own sinfulness that we see ourselves exposed before Him as creatures needing His forgiveness, just like we need air to breathe. John says: confess your sins, turn away from them, turn to God; for how can God say I forgive you if we do not say I have sinned?

Sister, something is happening. It seems to me that the Lord Himself is creating a great expectation of something amazing and I do not wish to miss it. As I said I don’t know what it is but it is certainly stirring up a lot of people. This man John talks about one who is to come.

When you see John, dear sister, despite his appearance there is no doubt that he is a man of power, great power; and yet, he says that there is one coming who is even more powerful than he is. One whose very being is so great that John says that he is not even worthy to stoop down and untie this man’s sandals. And what can it possibly mean that that man, the one who is to come, will baptize people with the Holy Spirit? Have you ever heard such words?

Whatever is happening, dear sister, I want it. There is a longing that is building up inside me like a parent waiting for the birth of a child, expecting and waiting, waiting and expecting. John tells us to prepare the way of the Lord but how do we do that? How can I do that?

…………………. End of letter……………………………

Good morning dear friends of BHCC. It’s me.

The letter that I, in my imagination, wrote to an imaginary sister could easily have been a letter from a 1st century Jewish woman to her sister in the time of John the Baptist. She had heard the word of God from a strange looking man wandering in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance as a means to straighten the paths in her life so that the one who was to come, would come in. God’s Advent was upon them, you see, just as it is upon us right now.

Karen had mentioned last week that she had spoken to someone who didn’t know what Advent is. I had the same experience this past week. And these were church people. What about us gathered here this morning? Do we know what Advent is? Do we see it as a time to do the shopping, write the cards, decorate the house, do the baking, go to a candlelight service on Christmas Eve, which leads us up to Christmas Day when we open the gifts, cook the turkey, entertain and clean up. And then on Boxing Day we wake up with a sigh and breathe a breath of relief that it is over again for another year. And is it any wonder?

Now I really get to enjoy Christmas, we think. I’ll sit in my pyjamas by the fire and read my new book or do a jigsaw puzzle, maybe catch up on lost sleep. Is that what Advent leads to? I must confess that here I am describing my own life or the way that it often is. Am I connecting with anyone else here who sometimes fall into this same routine?

Now before we all run out and think that we can cancel all these events this year, please don’t. They are important: important to one another but not to God, in so far, as making the paths of our hearts straight, that is. But remember that all these activities is not what Advent is.

What we do here in the four weeks leading up to Christmas as we light the candles and say the prayers, sing the Advent songs and hymns is a wake up call as we heard last week. So often we tend to take the rituals of church life, especially in a liturgical, sacramental church such as ours, for granted. But we should never take them for granted. God gave them to us for a purpose and that purpose is to make straight the paths in the desert of our hearts.

John called for a repentant heart to greet the Lord and so when we dress the church in purple it is to remind us to be doing just that and not because it looks nice. It is in acknowledging that we are sinners, always seeking forgiveness for our sins, and knowing that when we confess and repent of our sins then we give God the chance to say I forgive you.

When we light the candles each week it also serves as a reminder of the great gifts of God: hope, peace, joy and love. And He wants us to rely on these gifts to help us prepare for the coming of the Lord.

And when we recite the creed week after week, not just in Advent but throughout the year, it is never to be glossed over as an empty ritual but stated boldly because it is our declaration that we believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When we receive the Holy Eucharist, again, it is not a dead ritual but rather an intimate encounter with the risen Lord in a way in which he commanded us; and just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus when we encounter the Lord our hearts are to burn within us. When we anoint with oil, as we will do today during the Eucharist time, it is not offering a wish that all will be well but in fact because we believe that God, by the power of His Holy Spirit, really does bless us with His grace.

Friends, the Lord is coming. The prophets of old told us to get ready. John the Baptist told us to get ready. God told us to get ready. Jesus said that he will return.

Can we expect that wondrous event together?

And can we prepare to truly celebrate his birth this year acknowledging that God stepped down that we might be raised up?

Can we behold him in a renewed and refreshed heart this Christmas as we journey through Advent asking God to prepare the way of the Lord within us and expecting that He will. Amen.

Blackburn Hamlet Community Church, Ottawa, Canada