Sermon for December 4, 2011

Sermon for Advent 2 B
December 4, 2011
Michael Coffey

I’d like to convince you
 as we come together during this middle of Advent time
 that what we are waiting for is not Christmas Day.
I know we all get caught up in the Christmas frenzy
 which right about now might have you wondering
 if you’ll ever get everything done.
  There are children’s concerts,
  and caroling, and parties with friends,
  and Conspirare and Ensemble VIII
   and Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland Holiday show
   and the Nutcracker!
 Shopping?  Traffic?  Wrapping?  Shipping?
 Cooking? Sending cards and letters?
  Why do we do this to ourselves?
It gets crazy and can run you down.
 If Advent is about waiting for Christmas Day,
  then forget it, we’re not waiting, we’re doing it,
  and it’s exhausting.

But Advent is more about life than about the pre-Christmas psychodrama.
I’d like to convince you that what we are waiting for in Advent, 
and more so, what we are waiting for in life,
  is nothing less than God, God in Christ,  
God becoming real again,
 God making sense again,
 God filling up the emptiness again,
 God coming into this day, this time,
  this need, this ache, our doubt, my fear,
   not just those of long ago,
   or those yet to be.
 We are waiting for God, the God of here and now.

It seems strange in a way,
 because God is always here, with us, 
  in the now, present, close.
Yet, something else is needed,
 some kind of preparation,
 some kind of renewal,
  so that God as great idea of presence and closeness
   and mercy and love
  can be known deeply as the God of real presence, 
palpable closeness,
   genuine mercy, tangible love.

Isaiah and John the Baptist
 called people to prepare the way of the Lord.
Prepare the way, not for a holiday,
 or even a wonderful family gathering,
 or a midnight mass,
  but prepare the way of the Lord!
Prepare the way for God,
 the God whom you are waiting for,
 the God who acts in ways that bring life
  and stir up justice
  and renew the love in our hearts.
Both Isaiah and John say it:
 Prepare the way of the Lord!
 Get ready, for God is coming to you again!

Isaiah’s people were living a dead end in exile in Babylon, 
a hopeless time after terrible suffering.
  They gave up on God entirely,
  they believed only in bad news
  and settled on shopping and greed and hopelessness.
Isaiah says to them:
 There is no dead end with God!
 Prepare the way!  The Lord is coming to bring us new life!
 Let go of your past that makes you feel like a failure!
  There’s nothing left to be forgiven for!
 Open your hearts!  Comfort each other!
  Stop believing the bad news!
  God is coming. And this is the good news!

John the Baptist
 called people out to the wilderness,
 out away from the cities where Roman coercion
  and fear-mongering robbed people of faith and trust in God.
John called them out into the wild
 to find the renewal that comes only when you get away
  and let the trees and the water and the sun teach you.
 Let go of everything that keeps you from God.
 Let go of your fear and sin and doubt
  and confess it and drown it and leave it all behind in the river!
John called them out and said: Prepare the way!
 God is coming!  Empty yourself!  Forgive each other!
Forgive yourself! Let go of blame!
Trust in the Lord!  Renew your mind!
Stop believing in bad news!
God is coming.  And this is good news!

Now to get to the rest of the sermon,
 we need to learn a song:
  Prepare the way of the Lord… And God will come to you.

Like the people of Isaiah’s time,
 like the people of John the Baptist’s time,
 we stop hearing that God is good news.
 We hear the bad news all the time.
  We hear that violence runs the world.
  We hear that money corrupts everything good.
  We hear that we are caught up in systems of injustice.
  We hear that only a very few will know the good life.
  We hear that everything we have failed at
   is being tallied and recorded 
and can and will be used against us.
  We hear all of this and we believe only in bad news.
  Dead ends.  Lost dreams.  Low expectations of ourselves,
   and worse, far worse, low expectations of God.

So Isaiah and John have something to say to us.
 Isaiah has to find some way to say it, 
so he practically invents a new term: Gospel!  Good news! 
 Prepare the way. Renew your mind.
 Stop believing in bad news. 
Believe in the good news. God is coming!

They tell us there are definite ways to prepare the way
 for God to come into our lives again,
 to be real again, to be present to us again.
It’s hard to hear it,
 because we are afraid that if we get it wrong,
  if we don’t do the right kind of repentance,
  if we don’t really mean it deeply enough,
   then somehow God will be absent,
   the bad news will win,
   the dead end is really the end and really dead.

But all of these things we do to prepare the way,
 don’t cause God to act,
 they don’t earn us the good news.
  The simply open us up to the full reality
   of the God who is always good news for us.
 The God of grace we know in Jesus by the Spirit
  is always that God for us, even in the bad news times.
 We don’t determine God’s goodness and grace,
  but we do affect whether we trust it
  and sail in it and let it take us to new places.

It’s like all of the signals floating around us
 all of the time in the airwaves.
TV and radio broadcasts fill the air around us and travel through us.
 Which ones do we tune into?
 So-called reality TV, where everyone acts like ego-centric children?
 Politicized news that always needs an enemy to blame?
 Terrible religion that creates doubt and fear in people
  about God and God’s good news ways?
 Bad news is everywhere, and it isn’t hard to tune into it.
  But tuning into good news,
  tuning into the reality of God,
   means finding the stations and the signals
   that let us hear what is already there.

As we sing the song again,
 in between each part of the refrain that you sing
  I will sing ways we prepare the way of the Lord.
 It’s a way to meditate on how we come to know good news again,
  and so it will help us prepare the way.

Prepare the way of the Lord, open your heart, and God will come to you.
1. Open your heart
2. Empty yourself
3. Let go of fear
4. Let go of blame
5. Renew your mind
6. Forgive each other
7. Forgive yourself
8. Trust in the Lord
9. Love one another
10. Welcome the stranger
11. Comfort each other
12. Give praise to God

Doing these things prepares the way of the Lord.
 They don’t make God be good news for us.
 They open us to the God who is already good news.
 They tune our minds and hearts to the good news message
  already broadcast by Isaiah and John and Jesus.
 They drown out all the bad news we keep believing and despairing over.
 They prepare us to see God in Christ becoming real again,
  God making sense again,
  God filling up the emptiness again,
  God coming into this day, this time, this gathering,
   this bread, this wine,
   this need, this ache, our doubt, my fear,
    and not just those of long ago,
    or those yet to be, but here and now.

Open your hearts. Renew your minds.
Prepare the way of the Lord, and God will come to you,
God in Christ Jesus,
 God who is already here,
 God who is already real presence in Christ,
 God who invites us to the meal of tangible love,
 God who is already now,
 God who is nearer to you than you are to yourself,
 God who is already and always good news. 


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