This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached at the diocesan worship service for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2020.
“Prepare the way of the Lord. In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.”
These are the prophetic words from Isaiah that are echoed in the Gospel of Mark. “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
And just how do we do that?
On this Second Sunday of Advent, when we find ourselves in wildernesses of all sorts, how do we prepare the way of the Lord?
In a season of uncertainty, fear and loss, how do we prepare the way?
If we listen closely to the words of our readings today, we are given clues about how we might prepare the way. Here’s the list:
- Comfort God’s people
- Lift up your voice, do not fear. Proclaim, “Here is your God!”
- Lead lives of holiness and godliness
- Wait and strive
- Repent – Confess your sins
Those are elements of Preparing the way of the Lord. I would suggest that the one on the list the is least appealing to you is perhaps right where God is calling your attention. For example, if evangelism makes you uncomfortable, proclaiming, “Here is your God” is likely to make you squirm. If you, like me, are impatient for things to happen, the word “wait” might rub you the wrong way. Let’s inspect this list of activities that help us Prepare the Way, but first let’s explore the nature of the way. Just what is the way of the Lord? Some theologians say the way of the Lord is justice and compassion. Others say it is truth. Some say the way is love. So it seems we might be about truth, justice, compassion and love as we prepare the way of the Lord.
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” Most of us are involved in extending comfort to those in need. We offer a listening ear to a friend in pain, a bag of groceries to those who hunger, or a warm coat to those who are homeless. Maybe you re-stock books in a neighborhood Little Free Library that comfort children and adults who are isolated in this time of disease. Perhaps you make phone calls to friends who are homebound and away from family and loved ones. Comforting those who are less comfortable than we are is not that hard to do – it just requires noticing and acting. How are you comforting God’s people these days?
Lift up your voice – it actually says, “lift up your voice with strength… lift it up, do not fear; say… “Here is your God!” This verse reminds me of the words of Maggie Kuhn. You have likely heard her quoted, even if you don’t recognize her name. Maggie Kuhn, a lay Presbyterian minister and social activist, is known for saying, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” In 1970, at the age of 65, Maggie Kuhn founded The Gray Panthers – a group of activists that fought for the rights of senior citizens. She wrote two books: You Can’t Be Human Alone and Get Out there and Do Something About Injustice. Through her activism and Christian service, Maggie proclaimed, “Here is your God!” even if her voice was shaking. How do you let others know God is with them, both in the good times and in the bad and very bad times?
“Lead lives of holiness and godliness.” This does not at all mean kneeling in your closet praying all day, but prayer is likely part of living a holy life. No, leading lives of holiness and godliness means getting our hands dirty doing what Jesus did. Jesus confronted injustices, condemned political powers that treated people poorly, loved outcasts and refugees, and frequently dined with a bunch of sinners. That’s what holiness looks like in preparing the way of the Lord.
2020 has certainly provided ample opportunity to “wait” and “strive”. We have been “waiting” in our homes much of the time, hoping to stay healthy and keep others healthy. We are “waiting” to get back to something that seems like normal in our world. We have waited for test results, waited for election results, and waited for a vaccine to be developed. We know something about waiting whether we like it or not.
We are encouraged to have our “waiting” marked with “striving” – an action – a verb defined as “to make great efforts to achieve or obtain something; to struggle or fight vigorously.” As we prepare the way of the Lord, we are to fight vigorously to be found at peace. Therefore, whatever interferes with the peace of your soul, with peace in your life – that is what you are to be fighting, struggling with, making an effort to change. So, we don’t just sit and wait – we are active in the waiting, doing work in our hearts and minds to be at peace.
I had a transformative experience in March with this “waiting and striving”. I had a few regrets in my life that I just could not let go and they deeply impacted my peace. Some of them I had carried for years, others for a shorter while, but the weight of these regrets was burdensome. I wrote this list of regrets in my journal and made an appointment with a priest for prayer and confession (you know this is a good idea for everyone – and I have plenty of open offices hours!). For my yearly confession, I detailed each of the 5 regrets I had written down. The priest listened. She encouraged me to do something to tangible as a sign that I had laid the regrets at the feet of God and need not pick them up again. She prayed for me, blessed me and sent me on my way.
I set out for a hike immediately following, not sure how I would mark the occasion until I came upon a rocky, desolate area. I found 5 rocks and stacked one on top of the other, naming those regrets as I made a visual reminder that those are left at the feet of God. It felt good to release those burdens.
I continued further down the trail and came to a green, lush, life-filled area. Again, there were rocks. I made another pile of 5 rocks, naming the things I wanted to replace the regrets; naming the pieces that I wanted to strive to keep as the foundation of my life.
You likely recognize this as repentance and confession of sins. It wasn’t that my regrets were any particular sin, but the burden of the regrets had become sin because they were interfering with my spiritual peace and wholeness. Whatever interferes with our relationship with God and peace in God is sin.
Preparing the Way of the Lord means striving to lay those sins at the feet of God. We repent of the things we let make us less than God dreams for us. We confess the ways we form habits, create resentments, and live out prejudices that disrupt our walk with God.
From now through Christmas, heed the prophetic call: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Prepare the way of the Lord by acts of justice, compassion, truth and love. Prepare the way of the Lord for others and for yourself.