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December 6, 2015, 9:27 AM


Malachi 3:1-4, CEB, revised
Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
        suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to God’s temple.
        The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
Who can endure the day of the Lord’s coming?
        Who can withstand the Lord’s appearance?
The Lord is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
The Lord will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
        The Lord will purify the Levites
            and refine them like gold and silver.
            They will belong to the Lord,
                presenting a righteous offering.
The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
        as in ancient days and in former years.
I will draw near to you for judgment.
I will be quick to testify against the sorcerers,
    the adulterers, those swearing falsely,
        against those who cheat the day laborers out of their wages
        as well as oppress the widow and the orphan,
            and against those who brush aside the foreigner and do not revere me,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
I am the Lord, and I do not change;
        and you, children of Jacob, have not perished.
Luke 3:1-6, CEB                
 In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
A voice crying out in the wilderness:
    “Prepare the way for the Lord;
        make the Lord’s paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
    and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
    and the rough places made smooth.
All humanity will see God’s salvation.
In the 7th year of Barack Obama’s presidency, while Mario Cuomo was governor of New York State, and Tom Wolf was governor of Pennsylvania, and Chris Christy was governor of New Jersey. During the papacy of Francis in Rome, God’s word came! It was the Word everyone had been longing for, generation upon generation. It was the Word that would change everything! It was the Word of God’s arrival among us. It was the Word of God’s Reign, Commonwealth, Kingdom coming upon us…Finally! That all-powerful word came to…Margaret Parish walking her Doug, Phil Young in his art studio, Lorrie Wolverton weeding her flowerbeds. That all-powerful word came to…Joyce Miller busily working at First UMC, Randy Wilson picking up his children, Robyn Jerauld working on her farm.  That all-powerful word came to…Mike DePauw conducting the high school band, Wendy Loucks busily shuttling children to activities, Leslie Kintner counseling college students. Prepare the way! It’s time! Change your heart! Change your life! Turn around! Turn toward God!
Oh, Luke knows how to tell this story! He lists all the powerful names, all the obvious players, all those who seek to convince the world that they are the game changers. And he exposes them as the supporters of the status quo that they are. And while he does that on one hand, he lifts up the lowly with the other. It is Mary’s song coming to life among us. Luke forces us to ask, “Where is God breaking into this world?” Not in Rome, not in Pilate’s main palace in Caesarea Philippi, not in Ituraea or Abilene. Not even in the Temple in Jerusalem! Certainly not in Washington DC, or Albany, or Harrisburg. Not even the Vatican or St. Peter’s Cathedral. Who is leading the way? Not Tiberius, not Pilate, not Herod, not even Anna or Caiaphas. It is John the Baptist…wild hairy prophet preaching in the middle of nowhere. Son of two nobodies who lived on the fringes of Temple society. Where is the pulse of transformation and change? Right here (take your pulse), beating in the hearts of God’s ordinary, extraordinary people!
And what does this Word speak to us, demand of us? Prepare! Straighten the twisted paths. Fill the dark valleys. Bring down the hills and mountains. Smooth out the rough places. Create even ground. For whom? Everyone! All humanity shall see the salvation of God! ALL! Everyone! On level, even ground! Everyone! Republicans and Democrats! Together! Liberals and Conservatives and everything in between! No one is left in the dark valleys. All humanity will see God’s salvation! This was the word Isaiah spoke to an exiled, lost and desperate people…Prepare! This was the word John yelled across the crowds who flocked to the wilderness longing for restoration…Prepare! This is the word God places upon us in this season of waiting and anticipation, not a passive waiting…Prepare!
It is so easy in our culture to set our eyes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and just fly over Advent. The stores have been blaring and blasting Christmas since Halloween! And I must confess, with the horrible events in our world over the past several weeks and months, it is tempting to set my eyes on Christmas Eve when we turn off the lights and pass that flame of Christ among us, and sing “Silent Night, Holy Night.” But if we do that, if we breeze past Advent to focus on Christmas Eve, the manger will be empty for us. We must journey through Advent to Christmas in the footsteps of Elizabeth and Zechariah, in the footsteps of that wild John the Baptizer, in the footsteps of Mary and Joseph, and that Jesus we hope to find there. We must journey in the footsteps of the prophets who worked so hard to prepare the way.
Advent calls us to prepare! Not by spending all of ourselves on decorations, shopping, parties, concerts, and events. Those are great things, wonderful things, but if we spend everything there we are not prepared for the true meaning of this season. We must spend ourselves also in preparing for God’s way coming among us, and first we do that by naming the paths and places we must make even and level. God has already given us the generalities, time in again across scripture, like in the Malachi reading: widows and orphans, foreigners pushed aside. Or from Matthew 25, the hungry and thirsty, the naked, sick and imprisoned, the stranger. It is our job to name and recognize the details that create these situations in our time. And we can name them.  Violence is creating widows and orphans in huge numbers, and then taking their lives as well—in shootings across our nation, in the Middle East, the Sudan. Millions are wandering and displaced—foreigners and strangers in desperate need. Food vacuums exist in our own cities where people can find good, nutritious food; and right here in Oneonta many wouldn’t make it week to week without the hot meal programs and food pantries.  Water is contaminated and causing sickness around the world.
And once we have named them, we prepare by acting! We stand together and stand up to those things creating the widows and orphans, and victimizing them. We work together to tear down the systems that leave people jobless, homeless, without adequate food or clean water, without access to health care and education! We act in concrete ways to transform those crooked paths and dark valleys into level ground!
Where are you called? What situations reach through the newspapers, news shows, iPad apps and grab your heart? That is your call to prepare! That is your invitation to be at work! That is our call to spend less on the things that keep the status quo, and to truly invest ourselves on preparing God’s way breaking in among us. That is our call to create level ground, so that ALL humanity will witness God’s salvation!
So on Tuesday, December 8 at 7:00 pm, let us gather in the Art Room downstairs…to Prepare! To act! No committee, planned action. If you can’t make it, let me know that you want to be part of the action. Let me know where you heart calls you to prepare God’s way. Together we can make the paths straight.
Let us pray…The Blessing for Advent by Jan Richardson:
Strange how one word
will so hollow you out.
But this word
has been in the wilderness
for months.
This word is what remained
after everything else
was worn away
by sand and stone.
It is what withstood
the glaring of the sun by day,
the weeping loneliness of
the moon at night.
Now it comes to you
racing out of the wild,
eyes blazing
and waving its arms,
its voice ragged with desert
but piercing and loud
as it speaks itself
again and again:
Prepare, Prepare.
It may feel like
the word is leveling you,
emptying you
as it asks you
to give up
what you have known.
It is impolite
and hardly tame,
but when it falls
upon your lips
you will wonder
at the sweetness,
like honey
that finds its way
into the hunger
you had not known
was there.

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