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Prepare the Way

The Rev. Laurel Hart, Deacon

Scripture: Mark 1:1-8

I love that each of the four gospels has a vastly unique way of beginning the story of Jesus. The gospel reading in Mark links us back to the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures with their call for comfort to the exiles in Babylon. I can’t think of many periods in my lifetime where so many people in our nation have expressed feelings of loss of a sense of emotional security and hope for a healthier, safe future – we are indeed a people in need of comfort. The vision of salvation is in plain sight when we heard a repeat of the phrase “prepare the way of the Lord” in the gospel reading today. This 2nd Sunday of Advent – titled “Peace” Sunday seems a suitable time to reflect on this.

Prepare the way of the Lord. This phrase gives me pause – is it a charge? In some ways it feels like a challenge. It can seem a little overwhelming – how can I, being by human nature, an imperfect person at best - prepare the way of the Lord. After all John, the Baptist is telling us he is also unworthy. But then I reflect on the various tasks and jobs I have learned over my lifetime. For example, I know how to prepare a turkey for roasting. I watched my mom cook many years of holiday dinners– then when I had an opportunity to cook in my own kitchen, I remembered what she’d done – and looked up instructions in various cookbooks and I managed to pull it off. I know how to knit useful items: scarves, hats, sweaters, and afghans – most new projects start with instructions gleaned from books and the experience of pulling thousands of yards of yarn through my fingers. I know how to prepare a flower bed for planting a rose bush – I’ve read gardening books to learn that undertaking.

But do I know how to prepare the way of the Lord? What John the Baptist is telling us is clear; we prepare for the coming by our willingness to review our journeys and then make course corrections when we fall off the path. This is important so I’m going to repeat it - we prepare for the coming by our willingness to review our journeys and then make course corrections when we fall off the path. Sometimes we learn the right way to live by following the good examples of the saints or other good people we’ve observed around us. Or you’re a “do it yourself” kind of person who must have learned life’s hard lessons by trial and error – by stubbing toes or running into brick walls - repeatedly. Afterall, we are busy people who have demands on our time and energy so it’s not easy to stop, take inventory and accept that we’ve might have behaved poorly, been thoughtless and neglectful in our duties or even wronged another person. It can be difficult to take the step of confessing our transgressions, honestly repenting, so we can begin to make amends and or changes in our way of living.

Yet this is what Advent encourages us to do – to slow down, to reflect on our current lifestyle and wait with hope for the coming new life and the promise of salvation which it brings. Others have prepared the way before us and that’s the path we can follow, we are the bearers of the message of the good news of hope for salvation for all persons. As Christians, we are charged with spreading God’s love in this world.

This doesn’t mean that we must have only serious pious thoughts during this season. Isn’t this what waiting for Santa and Christmas treats are also about? I have heard rumors that certain people – actually one person in our midst has confessed to listening to secular Christmas music for the past several days – I’m not sure this confession included a dose of repentance.

But with kidding aside - as a deacon, even though I have retired from parish work, it is still my charge to remind the church of the needs and concerns of the world. So, I must speak briefly about the realities of this season. Not everyone – me included finds joy in the way the world celebrates this season. Oh, the twinkly lights are beautiful, and the smells can be enticing. The sales pitches on TV can make a person’s head spin with the theme of purchasing more, more, more things – leaving one to think that only material goods matter. Or that all families gather in happy celebrations around tables heaped with abundant food choices. The passage of time doesn’t reduce for me and maybe you also, the strong emotions surrounding the holiday time of the year. In fact, the years add new depths and layers as people come and go in our world or our living conditions change. These very human feelings frequently run the gamut from joy and excitement to melancholy, sadness, and confusion. Throughout the holidays, there are people who experience hopelessness or even anger because of their current circumstances or living situation or the state of political discord in our country. Families in our towns are still struggling with financial worries – wondering if their paychecks will cover groceries or next month’s rent or an unexpected repair to their car. Other people experience feelings of anxiety owing to strained relationships between family members or friends.

When we let the trappings of this season turn us around, we can lose track of this holy birth which is the reason for the celebrations at Christmas. We can find comfort in the thought that yearly we are reminded how this all began with God’s gift of a small baby to our world. We can speak words of comfort and assurance to anyone who might feel separated from God. We can share love – after all it’s free to give or receive, doesn’t require a pretty wrapping paper or a big red bow.

During his entire ministry Jesus continued to point to the good news. As Christians, we’re reminded again during this season of anticipation and preparation. Jesus promised God would be a continuing loving presence with us. I genuinely believe that the Holy Spirit remains constantly available, surrounding us every day. We must continue “to prepare the way of the Lord,” knowing we receive forgiveness even before we ask, we are fully and completely loved, and we’re given salvation on a cross.

The story goes on and we are but a brief chapter. The psalm which we recited today reminds us that “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Hold onto the promise……. Amen

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