Preparing the Way in the Midst of Our Clutter

Prepare the Way3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3: 3-6)

 

So once again we encounter the wild wilderness man named John, the one who wears animal skins and eats locusts and honey (well, at least he has a condiment!) John is probably not the most pastoral one among us. He’s forthright and direct, pulling no punches. He doesn’t worry about making it easy for his hearers. His message? “Turn around, turn around NOW, get with the program…prepare the way of the Lord, do it NOW.” And there were at least some who listened, some who followed, and probably some who actually turned around.

 

We hear that we are to prepare the way all the time, particularly this time of year. And so we clean and we deck and we trim and decorate and we cook and we shop (and we shop and we shop and we shop) and we wrap and we open and we sing carols and we light candles and we assume that we have prepared the way. We do it all to prepare for the day, to prepare for the day when we celebrate the birth of Christ. OK, now are you sure that’s what John meant?

 

The truth is, we read this exhortation to prepare and we assume that we have to get busy, that it all depends on us. But where does it say that we have to build the road? We are promised a room (King James translators called it a mansion) that is just for us, a place in the Kingdom. Don’t you think the Way is already there? What preparation does the road need? Maybe the preparing that we are called to do is to clear the road that is already there, to clear the Way of the stuff that we have brought with us that now clutters the road. Our lives are so chock full of stuff and events and worries. Maybe our preparation is not about decorating or making the road presentable. Maybe it is rather about clearing a path on the road that is already there.

 

Maybe John, rather than asking us to build a way to a God that was already in our midst, was calling us to clear our pathway of everything that we have brought with us so that we can travel lightly, so that we can be nimble, so that we can be ready to change. Prepare the Way of the Lord. Make the pathway straight and clear. Do not clutter the way with meaningless thoughts and things but leave a pathway so that we can find our way home. THIS Advent, let us find our way home.

 

God is not attained by a process of addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction. (Meister Eckhart)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

And This is My Prayer

BlessingAdvent 2C

9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1: 9-11)

 

For what do you pray? For whom do you pray? Why do you pray? Do your prayers ever sound anything like the prayer that Paul writes in the epistle that we read for this week? After all, read it. This is not a prayer for comfort. This is not a prayer for healing. This isn’t a prayer for an easier life or more resources or a clear path to whatever it is for which we are searching. This isn’t even a prayer for peace. This is a prayer that the readers of this letter might grow, might move beyond themselves, might become better at being themselves than they are. This is a prayer for change. This is a prayer for us to get up and move from where we are. See, Paul’s image of praising God is people living changed lives and, in turn, changing lives around them.

 

Maybe this season of Advent is not, then, about just sitting and waiting for Jesus to show up. What if this was a season of prayer, a season of growth, a season of change? Those that came before us so long ago, those who longed for a Messiah, for someone to change the world (or perhaps just fix it once and for all), had a clear vision of how their prayers should be answered. And then the Messiah was born and was laid in a feed trough on a cold desert night because somehow the world just couldn’t seem to find the time or the space for anything else. And the Messiah grew up and asked the world to follow.   And instead of following, we dug in our heels and refused to change and went on with our important projects and our carefully planned lives. And the world trembled a bit when the Christ child died but for the most part, it went on the way it was. But we changed. Faith is being open to change. So this time, THIS time, let us not wait for what we think we know. Let us not be comforted by a baby in a feed trough or scared away by a man on a cross. Let us follow and be changed.

 

And this is my prayer, that the image of God that is within you will burst forth and become who you are called to be, taking all that you are—your heart, your mind, your body, your soul—and follow the Messiah not to the place you know, but to the place that God leads. My prayer is that you will follow the Christ and see nothing less than the Vision of God and that the world will know that you have been changed and will want to follow you and be changed too. May your vision not stop with the baby in the manger but may it grow to be the Savior of the World.

 

Authentic prayer changes us, unmasks us, strips us, indicates where growth is needed. (St. Teresa de Avila)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

No More Visions of Sugar Plums

Refiner's Fire (Lin Lopes, SouthAfricanArtists)
“Refiner’s Fire”, by Lin Lopes

Advent 2C

 

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me… 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. (Malachi 3: 1a, 2-3)

 

What is all this talk about fire? Fire is painful; fire is destructive; fire leaves ashes in its path. This is supposed to be the season of joy, full of carols and Christmas trees and visions of sugar plums. Why are we reading about this in Advent? The truth is that we would rather jump ahead and let the visions of sugar plums dance in our heads. We would rather this be easier. And so we back away from the fire.

 

Now, read it. It doesn’t predict fire. It says that the coming of this messenger is LIKE a refiner’s fire. In other words, the messenger’s job is to prepare us, to get us ready, to change us. Maybe it is a promise that those things in our lives that do not serve us and do not serve God will be metaphorically burned away or cleaned and bleached and beaten the way a fuller would do to cloth to make it clean and full. Yes, I think we’re talking in metaphors (or, as my translation uses the word “like”, I guess that’s technically a simile.) But the point is that we will all be changed. And so we back away from the fire.

 

The truth is that most of us would rather not have to change. We would rather sanitize our lives and ward off those things that create chaos and shake the foundations of our existence. We would rather just live with visions of sugar plums even though they are not that good for us. But here we are in Advent anyway, trying to navigate the darkness and the unknown, trying to find our way, trying to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ into our lives. But we have the wrong vision. The vision is not one of sugar plums or sappy sweetness. The vision is not one where God comes into our midst to tell us how great we’re all doing at running our lives and running our world. The vision is not one where the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness and looks exactly like the lives we’ve created for ourselves. You might as well put those visions with the sugar plums.

 

We are all called to change, called to grow, called to become a New Creation that God envisions we can be. It is not easy. Sometimes it may be downright painful. But like a refiner’s fire, this process will allow our true beauty to emerge. Like fuller’s soap, it will make us clean and full, a fabric worthy of clothing our King. And, as we’ve been shown before, from the dark of chaos, a new order, a New Creation will come to be—a Creation where those we’ve deemed enemies are our brothers and sisters, where homelessness and hunger and suicide bombers and weapons of mass destruction are archaic words that no longer need translated, and where the visions of sugar plums that we thought would fulfill us have been replaced by the vision that God has always held for us. But we have to be open to change and, especially, to being changed. We can no longer back away. And whatever the Vision holds, assume that it will be different than what you’ve planned! Thanks be to God!

 

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli