Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Prepare the way

Luke 1:68-79 and Luke 3:1-6

As we continue into this season of advent we are reminded in our scripture through the words of John the Baptizer and his father Zachariah and even through the events of ordinary life that this is a time of preparation.   Preparing for a new baby, preparing for guests during the holidays, preparing or lives for Jesus.  It is a time of preparation but hat the same time, advent is also a time when we are called to focus on Peace. 

This seemed like an odd combination to me at first.  Peace is something you have, something to desire, something to accomplish.  How does preparing for Christmas and preparing for Jesus bring Peace?  For many of us all this preparation brings anxiety not peace. 

Shopping for Christmas presents brings many anxiety.  As we purchase gifts we compare how many gifts each of our children have.  Did we spend too much or not enough?  Will someone be upset if they don’t get a gift this year?  Will people actually like the gifts I got them?  Even white Elephant party gifts can cause stress!   Will mine be the one nobody wants?

Then there is the prep we do for company; cleaning corners and crevices that rarely see a dust rag.  The guest room can’t be used to hide all the stuff we don’t want to be seen because it is being used as a coat room or for company to sleep in.  Did you remember to put out that ugly Santa Clause figurine that someone gave you 10 years ago and always asks about?  You want everything to be perfect- an impossible task that we attempt to achieve year after year! 

This prep work takes lots of thought, preparation, reflection and examination.  You don’t just clean like you would any random Saturday.  You have to think about the baby crawling on the floor, finding all kinds of forgotten goodies under the couch and the person who goes in search of extra chairs in the basement.  You have to remember to run interference between the Hillary supporter and the Trump fan.  So many things to think about.  All in hopes of experiencing some sort of peace when it is all said and done. 

So, if we go through all this stress to get ready for one day or one party, how do we prepare our entire lives for Jesus?  How do we prepare for real and lasting peace? 

Zachariah’s life has been one of preparation.  He has dedicated his life as a priest to searching the scriptures, understanding the prophecies and praying for a messiah.  What he’s not prepared for is for God to speak to him directly, for God to call him to be a prophet and for his son, the one he thinks he is too old to have, to become the prophet who makes the ways for the messiah to come.  Zachariah is struck mute at the announcement of this coming child so that he can get prepared.  The silence helps him to get ready for what is about to happen. 

If you’ve ever done any type of silent retreat, you will know how important this is as a time of prayer and reflection.  Often we speak too much and listen too little, to others and to God, so silence creates a space for deep study, prayer and reflection.  Zachariah has at least 9 months of this silence to ponder the words of the angel, to dig deep into scripture, to pray, discern and prepare for what this will mean for his life, his family and the rest of the world. 

John the baptizer tells us too that in order for us to be ready to truly receive the Christ we have to prepare.  John offers this preparation through the baptism of repentance.  We can’t just go on living life as usual and expect God to fix everything.  We need to participate.  We need to get ready in our lives and in our hearts to receive the one who will bring ultimate peace. 

Zachariah says that the messiah will come to save us from our enemies and while he may have been talking about Rome or some other outside force, often times, our greatest enemy is ourselves.  This enemy is sneaky and persistent, it often goes unnoticed.  In order to see it and defeat it we must spend time in reflection and prayer, searching the scriptures and ourselves.  We have to be able to acknowledge that enemy inside of ourselves, ask for repentance and be willing to leave it behind in order to fully receive Christ and be saved from it. 

Repentance isn’t just saying we are sorry-  it is being willing to make the radical change necessary to see Jesus for who he truly is and be able to accept the open and welcoming arms of forgiveness.  As we continue to read the story of John the Baptizer we will see how angry he gets when people come seeking forgiveness but who refuse to see the venom in their own hearts.   We want peace, we want forgiveness of sins but we can’t receive this until we are able to reflect on the ways we contribute to the lack of peace in our lives. 

The world we live in is one of chaos and fear.  We cry out for peace.  We pray that God will intervene and save us from the enemies around us.  We watch the news, we see stories of bombs exploding, people with disabilities and those who support them being murdered for no reason, we see people of faith being shot down in bible study and people rioting in the streets and so we beg and pray for peace.  We want Jesus to bring peace so that we can go back to living our lives as normal. 

We as individuals, as Christians, as a nation, we as citizens of this world can take a lesson from the advice of John and Zachariah.  In order to receive peace we must to prepare for it.  We need to search the innermost parts of our lives and acknowledge those places where we have messed up? 

Where do we as a nation, as a people of faith need to repent?  And are we willing to make the changes necessary to turn from our self-centered, egotistical, blame everyone else for our problems ways in order to receive the peace that Jesus brings? 

Blaming others is always the easiest way to ease our conscious but it is not the way to live in true peace and freedom.  Are we willing to do the work it takes to prepare for the coming Messiah as individuals and as a collective human race? 

We should spend more time in prayer.  More time in reflection and more time in silent contemplation and less time speaking words of hate, fear and blame.   I remember as a child being told to think before I speak.  Think about what you are going to say before it actually comes out of your mouth.  Prepare your thoughts, prepare for the outcome.  We should all take this advice.  Think, pray, reflect, so that what we say will be an agent of peace and unity not destruction and division.   

During this time of unrest and violence we pray that Jesus, the Prince of Peace will come to save us and to bring the joy and peace we so desperately want.  We are reminded in this story of the birth of the prophet, the coming of the one who will prepare the way for the messiah that Jesus came at a particular time in history fulfilling the promised made by God to the prophets. 

The fear was real.  The hopes and dreams of the world were just as real then as they are now.  The fear of foreign occupation was real, the fear of being jailed, killed or abused because of nationality and race and government and religious oppression was just as real then as it is now. 

Jesus came to bring peace then and Jesus will come again to bring peace to all the world.  Each time, we speak words of love instead of hate,  each time we offer signs of unity instead of division, each time we offer forgiveness, we will catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of Christ breaking through at this time and place in our lives and in our history.

 Are we willing to prepare the way of the Lord through our words and actions?  Are we willing to put as much time and energy in preparing our spiritual house for Jesus as we do preparing our physical house for guests?  Are we willing to spend as much time pondering and reflecting on how to make ourselves a perfect gift for Jesus as we are buying the perfect gift for those we love? 

Jesus Christ has come as a fulfillment of the prophecy of old, He is coming and has promised to come again.  Are we doing our part to prepare the way of the Lord?  Are we ready to receive him and the peace he offers?