his week as I have visited many of you, I have seen many preparations for the Christmas holidays…trees raised, manger scenes sitting out and prominent, Wednesday night Advent dinners more attended than ever before…and I give thanks…and my home…well, laundry piling high, dust thicker than I ever imagined that I would allow, no decorations up at all…didn't feel like it. After last week's sermon, I decided that I would come home and prepare the house for the Christmas season…which I have always done on the day after Thanksgiving…and I do this with my entire family from Washington DC to Florida…we talk on the phone, we drink hot drinks and we listen to carols on the radio. Tradition…but this year, a tradition that I missed…and then on Sunday, after the youth group left the parsonage, I really had every intention of getting the house ready…now I don't know if this comes with age or not, but I have come to realize that I cannot do what I once used to be able to do. I used to be able to accomplish much more in a day than I can today…But now, I think that I am slowing down and focusing more on the task at hand…not just doing it to get done, but doing it and sitting in it and working with it and experiencing whatever is at hand…it may be slowing down, or it may be just jumping in a little bit further…which often times causes other things to lag behind a bit, but I still had to get things done around the house…I wanted to prepare for the anticipation of the newborn baby in a manger. I had every intention of preparing my home for Christmas, but the phone rang, and I can only reach so far on the cord and for hours, talked and talked and talked to people who called all night long…until midnight. So needless to say, I didn't decorate last Sunday..Yet, in visiting your homes and feeling the excitement, the urgency, the thrill of the season, I did at last join in. I began to give thanks for all of you, yet again, because in your own traditions and ways of doing things, you shared the preparations of something huge…something that is excited and anticipated. I heard your stories of tradition …from egg nog to reading the Christmas story together while eating waffles and syrup on Christmas morning…to decorating the Christmas tree on the last day of Advent. And as we have looked briefly at Advent and Christmas in different parts of the world, it came to me also that the world is sharing in the excitement and anticipation and preparation of the birth of our Savior…Children's Christmas pageants are happening all over the world.
And so…on Friday, I pulled out my Advent wreath and candles and I set up my manger scenes…and this year, I took out Baby Jesus from the manger scenes that I can and I have hidden him in my home. Something that I learned from you…And on Christmas day, I will place him in the manger stall and I will again read the Christmas story..just Charlie and I…and my family will call and friends will call and all of our anticipation will be filled with joy. And I give thanks to God for this community that continues to share the Gospel story from beginning to end so that the energy of the Holy Spirit moves us into love actions and preparations for this new day at hand. You prepare the Royal Highway as you chose to live your lives by serving, loving and empowering others to live healthy and safe lives….seeking justice and peace and walking humbly with our God.
That is what John the Baptist is crying in the wilderness…prepare…and no, he doesn't mean with Advent wreathes and the sort, but prepare by turning towards God…see what God is calling us to do, to be and to live. John preaches that we are to repent which literally means, to change our direction and turn towards God….and that in doing so, the valley's and hills would be made equal! Imagine that! In the first few verses of the Gospel reading today, John lists all of the rulers and the leaders who are at the top…John's prophecy that everyone will be on the same level path probably was very offensive to them. Yet, John knew and proclaimed truth: The work of God, of God's son, will turn the world upside down…and those of us who believe that we are better than anyone else in the world, will soon be in the valleys…and those who have been judged by humankind as not worthy or good enough or too much of a sinner, will be turned and brought up to the mountain tops…the ordinary will become extraordinary…and those who believe that they are extraordinary…well….they will fall…and not out of revenge or hatefulness or neglect, but out of shear humility.
When I first moved to Michigan, I received an email with jokes from one of my seminary professors…jokes about Michigan…one of them being the state mascot is the orange barrels on the highway…a sign that they are always being repaired, renewed…fixed. When my cousin Rachel and I were in Chicago, I made a wrong decision at a subway stop and we got pretty lost in an area that we probably had no business being in. When we told our shuttle driver about the incident the next morning on our way back to the subway he said, "Just remember, whatever you did wrong yesterday is still wrong today." This is true, but for you and I and for an entire world invited into the everlasting embrace of our Lord and Savior, we also get to experience the gifts of the Christchild. We have the privilege of confession and repentance. We get to turn towards Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit. We are invited to share the good news that on this pathway of preparation we meet a man who lived and walked the path and continues to be present with us today…and as the state of Michigan is witness, those orange barrels don't go away for long…the roads get broken again by plowing and digging and wrecks…and so do we…we are cleansed by Jesus Christ, and we are renewed by him, and we are human…and so we are broken and are called to return to God over and over again and God's grace prevails! We are covered in a love that is so very faithful and safe and we are able to stand again with open arms to serve and to love.
God's grace and peace to you as you navigate the path. Remember to seek the Lord who is always there with you…turn towards God in decision making and love one another as you have never loved before! That is living life abundant! That is preparing the Royal Highway. Amen