Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
Getting ready is one of the great themes of advent. All of us getting ready in our own way. A working mother wrote a painful article asking “Are you ready for Christmas yet? I know it’s still November and we still have Thanksgiving to celebrate. I also know that I love Christmas and am one of those people who plans for Christmas all year long. This Christmas, I realized that I needed to be more intentional with my planning than ever before because getting ready for Christmas as pregnant mom with a busy 20-month-old is a new challenge for me!
I started thinking through all the things I normally do to get ready for Christmas and realized there were quite a few things I could now to get ready for Christmas early. The sooner you start organizing yourself for Christmas, the smoother the month of December passes. Isn’t that what we all want? We all want to be able to enjoy Christmas with our families. Let’s make that our goal by crossing a couple things off our to-do lists now.
But is that what preparing for Christmas is really all about. Is preparing for Christmas about getting the perfect Christmas tree or sending all your cards out on time. Perfectionists are people who are taught to believe early in life that others value them because of what they accomplish - parental conditional love. This kind of false belief system sets up an unpredictable and open-ended standard for the believer. Because their self-value is entirely depended other people's approval, repeated experiences of disapproval creates a vicious cycle of lowering their self-esteem.
Preparing for Christmas is not trying to make the perfect Christmas. Instead the perfect Christmas and the best preparation for Christmas is to concentrate upon the hugs of family and wonderful love of God. When it comes to that kind of Christmas last minute visits to the late opening Drug Store do not ruin a perfect Christmas.
Mark begins his gospel with a declaration that embodies its title: "The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." "The rest of the story" of his gospel will gradually reveal the meaning of these two aspects of Jesus' identity. Perhaps out of deep respect for the Old Testament, Mark then skillfully combines passages from Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3:1 to introduce the next character of his gospel—John the Baptist. John appears in a desert scene as the messenger and herald to prepare and make ready the way of the Lord. William Barclay explains how bad roads were in ancient times, except for a few restricted to the king's use only. Barclay points out that a message was always sent out to tell people to get the roads ready for the king coming.
John's emergence from the desert indicates that he had undergone years of preparation through having long conversations with God in solitude, before he spoke to men. Mark does not name the desert, but this may be because Mark's interest was not geographical but theological. The desert was not only the place where God originally made a covenant with his people and brought them back from exile, but was also regarded as the place where the Lord renewed and purified his people from time to time.
Mark describes John the Baptist's appearance in detail—he was clothed in camel's hair, wore a leather belt around his waist, and ate grasshoppers and wild honey. In this way, Mark links John with the prophet Elijah who wore the same raiment, because the Jews believed that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah. Furthermore, John's asceticism gave him more credibility as an authentic prophet.
John preached a baptism of repentance. He not only denounced the people for their misdeeds but summoned them to higher standards; he proclaimed not only the need for a moral conversion but also an opportunity for a spiritual rebirth through baptism in the Holy Spirit. Much of John's greatness is attributed to knowing who he was in relation to the Messiah—he was a forerunner, not the front-runner; he was the master of ceremonies, not the guest of honor; he was the best man, not the groom. Indeed, John fulfilled his role as the herald who prepared the way for the Messiah so well that later Jesus would acclaim him by saying, "There is no man born of woman greater than John the Baptizer" (Luke 7:28).
In Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, author Lamar Williamson, Jr. outlines three parts in the opening section on John the Baptist. The first part shows that John fulfills the passages from Isaiah and Malachi. The second part consists of John's preaching to call his listeners to repentance and baptism (vv.4-5). The third part points ahead to the one who is to come and is mightier than John (vv. 6-8).
Getting the highway ready, smoothing the road, takes more than just being ready; it means getting ready. John the Baptist came to get everyone ready. John the Baptist could have been easily called John the Get Ready.
Making ready for Christmas should always be more than just getting everything perfect. Preparing for way, paving the road and getting things ready for Christmas has little to do with perfection and everything to do with love and joy. Preparing for Christmas means conquering our worry about the decorations and food, and instead enjoy one another and laugh with one another and be grateful for the gifts God gave us with the birth of His Son Jesus.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
The Venerable Louis of Granada (d. 1588) was a Spanish Dominican priest who composed a catechism for the use of missionaries in the New World. To grow in the spiritual life, Louis of Granada believed that devout Christians had to first "rid themselves of impediments to love." In other words, they had to prepare themselves for higher gifts from God by removing obstacles such as excessive involvements in worldly affairs, placing themselves in situations of temptation, a lack of control over their emotions, neglecting prayer, and insisting on their own will instead of obeying when they should. As a general principle to advance in the spiritual life, Christians must strive to subject their lower human powers and faculties to reason and allow reason to be guided by faith.
On the one hand, according to Louis of Granada, if we refuse to rid ourselves of impediments to love, then our souls are left cold and damp, so that they resist the fire of God's love. On the other hand, if we make sincere efforts to remove these impediments, then we create a climate of warmth and receptivity, and the fire of charity can burst into flame and burn brightly in us. In journeying along the pathway to holiness, we must not measure our progress by our feelings. "Although feelings are good in themselves," Louis of Granada writes, "it is always safer and more accurate to measure our progress in terms of victory over the obstacles to holiness, our practice of self-denial, and strict control over self-centered love and the passions that flow from it."
The 1983 film Flashdance was made memorable for its Oscar-winning theme song "What a Feeling," but if we take a closer look at the movie we find a number of solid human and religious lessons. One is the importance of having a dream and being willing to pay the price in self-discipline in order to pursue and realize that dream. Another lesson taught is how far a little encouragement can go in helping others in their quest of some goal. In Flashdance, an 18-year-old girl named Alexandra (played by Jennifer Beals) wants very much to become a classical dancer, but this seems nearly impossible. On the one hand, economic circumstances require her to work as a factory welder by day and an exotic dancer by night. On the other hand, Alex is fortunate to have an elderly former ballerina named Hannah befriend and mentor her, offer advice and encouragement, and even take her occasionally to see a ballet. Alex is a gifted dancer but lacks self-confidence. Hannah urges her to apply for a place in the prestigious School of Ballet, and after much hesitation and a failed attempt Alex finally does fill out an application.
To her delight and surprise, she is accepted into the school and is invited to come for an audition. When she learns that her boyfriend and boss at the welding factory pulled some strings to help her, she becomes furious over his unwanted interference and breaks their romantic relationship. Still brooding, Alex goes to visit her mentor only to find out that she died during the night. So, she decides to quit everything and move elsewhere for a new start.
While picking up her dancing outfits at the nightclub, she has a short talk with one of the strip dancers she knows, who is getting ready to perform. Alex sees in this aging strip dancer's disillusionment and emptiness a picture of herself should she continue being just an exotic dancer herself. Alex has a moment of awakening and decides to try one more time to change the course of her life by going ahead with the scheduled audition. With a Hollywood ending, she wows the committee of judges, wins a place at their ballet academy, and reunites with her boyfriend.
We note that Alex's dream to be more than an ordinary dancer in a nightclub was kept alive by her mentor friend, Hannah. The aging ballerina's encouragement and gentle persuasion played a huge part in Alex's decision to risk attempting the audition. In a sense, all the time the mentor spent with her prepared Alex for this all-important turning point in her dream and quest to become a ballerina. In a sense, Hannah was a "John the Baptist" preparing the way for Alex to achieve her goal. The story prompts us to be grateful for mentors such as our parents, teachers and friends who have encouraged and supported us in the past to pursue our own goals in life. At the same time, it is also a challenging call to us to play a "John the Baptist" supportive role for others; in our own encouraging way, we can prepare them to strive and make their special dreams a reality. And in regard to those dreams and goals, we can also be supportive and encouraging for others in pursuing a deeper relationship with the Lord as they journey through life.
Ron Mix played offensive tackle for the Chargers in the AFL from 1960 to 1969. He joined the team when it started in Los Angeles before moving to San Diego. Mix was an all-AFL selection eight times and played in five of the first six AFL championship games. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. Twenty years later, Pro Football Digest named Mix the 28th greatest football player of all time. At 6 feet 4 inches and 255 pounds, Ron Mix started out as one of the biggest men in the league for an offensive tackle. However, as linemen got bigger and faster, Mix had to revise his play preparations. He pioneered in off-season training to improve his strength and agility so he could compete at a higher level once the regular season started. While he was playing football as a Charger, Ron Mix went to law school at the U. of San Diego. After retiring from pro football, he became an attorney. Now in his 60s, he still practices business and real estate law in the San Diego area.
Ron Mix could probably write a book on the importance of preparation. He was one of the first professional athletes to see the value of physical conditioning in the off-season so he could ready himself to play when the real season started. He also had the foresight to prepare himself for a post-pro football career by going to law school while he was still playing for the Chargers. Mix did not wait until he might suffer a career-ending football injury or until he was past his prime as an athlete. Instead he planned and prepared ahead of time. Undoubtedly, he now puts in the same kind of thorough and backbreaking work in preparing law briefs and cases for his clients.
If we take the practice of our faith seriously, then we will put in the same kind of thorough preparation to make ourselves knowledgeable about our religion, to be active participants in our church's worship, and to be generous with the time and effort we give to community service.
The cover story of the inaugural issue of Eve: The Voice of Western New York Women (Fall/Winter 2001) was about Dr. Katherine Keough, President of St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y. Author Christina M. Abt tells how Keough began her presidential term in 1996 with a 5-year strategic plan to increase enrollment, improve academics, undertake new building construction, and balance the budget. Under her dynamic and charismatic leadership, all of the goals were accomplished, and more besides. What prepared for this challenge?
Katherine Keough attributes much of her success to her poor immigrant German family (the Eisenbergers). They lived in Manhattan's Upper West Side, an immigrant ghetto at that time. Her experiences of growing up as a tough street kid "ultimately forged the foundation of her basic philosophy." Keough is convinced that it is "important as a little kid to grow up challenged by your environment…having to do things by yourself and not being spoon fed by your parents…. Is there a better way to learn that life is not always nice or easy?"
A second major influence in shaping her life was the traumatic event that happened when Katherine and her husband Bill worked for the Foreign Service in Iran. In 1979, Bill and 51 other Americans were taken hostage. It was 440 days before the terrorists finally released them all. This long terrifying period gave Katherine time for "focusing—putting all life in perspective and realizing what was real and true, and what was secondary."
A third thing that deeply affected Katherine was her husband Bill's contracting Lou Gehrig's Disease in 1982. The unsinkable Katherine quit the work she was doing for the State Department in Washington, D.C., to stay at home and take care of Bill until he died. This happened only a little more than three years after the terrorists released Bill. Left a young widow with three children to raise and educate, Katherine went back to graduate school to pursue a career in college administration.
Who can doubt that Katherine Keough's rough road through life played an important part in preparing her to be a strong academic leader? Looking back over these difficult and painful times, she now sees them as a blessing in disguise and as avenues for growth. "It has been the sum total of all my experiences," Katherine says, "that has taught me my life's wisdoms."
John the Baptist had a rough road through life, too. His ascetical life in the desert prepared him not only to point out the Messiah's arrival in the person of Jesus but also to die a hero when King Herod beheaded him. As disciples of Jesus, we too can use our hardships and sufferings to prepare, not only during Advent for Christ's coming at Christmas, but also for his coming at the end of our lives.
In his book We Know What to Do: A Political Maverick Talks with America (Wm Morrow & Co., 1995), Lamar Alexander writes a piece about Korczak Ziolkowski. Since Korczak worked on the Mount Rushmore presidential project, an Oglala Sioux chief wrote to Korczak in 1939 to ask that he build a monument to Crazy Horse, the legendary Sioux war chief. "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know," he wrote, "that the red man has great heroes too." Chief Crazy Horse is especially remembered for conquering General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Hord in 1876. Crazy Horse was an exceptional military strategist who never lost a battle. He became a folk hero and "a symbol to his people of a courageous warrior who never compromised his values."
Korczak Ziolkowski accepted the invitation and used his own money to stake a mining claim on a mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The artist launched his project with the first charge of dynamite in 1948. With no funds but only faith, with minimal equipment but maximum effort, Korczak worked alone for 34 years on that mountain before he died in 1982 at age 74. He left his wife, Ruth, and their 10 children with 3 notebooks of instructions. His last words were: "Crazy Horse must be finished."
Korczak's dream and passion were passed on to his family. They shifted their focus from Crazy Horse's stallion to the warrior's face. By finishing this significant section of the monument in 1998, they were able to show the world that the dream was still alive. Certainly, much remains to be done on this colossal undertaking. Crazy Horse's head already stands 9 stories tall, and the head of his horse will eventually stand 22 stories high! The project has now attracted numerous volunteer workers. Its estimated cost will exceed $10 million, but every penny is coming from donations.
Without Korczak Ziolkowski's vision and passion in achieving the first phase of the carving of this monument to honor Crazy Horse, the work would never have progressed this far. Korczak gave the mammoth undertaking its inspiration and determination. In the gospels, we see how John the Baptist began an important work for Jesus but never saw its results. So, too, Korczak began the Crazy Horse project, but he will never see its completion. This is often the role of parents, teachers, and coaches who start and prepare others for their vocation or career in life but would never see the fruits of their efforts.
In one of his paintings, artist Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) portrays the youthful Virgin Mary and her child Jesus visiting her much elderly cousin Elizabeth and her aging husband Zachary with their only child, John the Baptist. It is a scene not often seen in works of art. One observer commented how our grandparents and senior friends have given us some of our greatest gifts by sharing with us their life, wisdom and knowledge. Certainly, we should show great respect for our elderly by visiting where they live, or inviting them out, or by calling them on the phone. Simple, caring actions can do much to renew their spirits. Furthermore, we in turn can build upon their insights and later pass them on to the next generation. Such is the dual nature of a prophetic role. On the one hand, a prophet receives and benefits from others who have preceded and prepared the way for him. On the other hand, a prophet prepares and passes on to those who come after him the fruits and effects of their labors.
Malcolm McConnell's book The Toughest School on Earth describes the grueling ordeal called "Hell Week." It's the final and most difficult week of a 6-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training school on Coronado Island, opposite San Diego. Each year over 600 already highly conditioned navy men volunteer to become SEALs, the navy's elite Sea, Air, Land commandos. However, usually only about a quarter of them survive the excruciating course. Its culmination is "Hell Week," the ultimate test of the students' endurance and motivation."
SEAL candidates are broken into 7- and 8-man teams, and though the group may change during training they must learn to bond quickly as a team. Safety rules are inflexible: if a man is swept overboard, his swim buddy follows. If one member of a team falters, the entire team may be sent to the "Grinder"—an exercise yard with all the charm of a maximum-security prison. At the Grinder, the shivering men have to do punishing sets of push-ups on the asphalts.
"Log PT" is a predawn, dark, 2-hour session of physical training in which each crew shares a 200-pound telephone pole section. The team has to lift the log in unison head-high, and then shift it to one shoulder. This is followed by sit-ups with the log cradled in the men's arms. Each man has to hold his full share of the weight, lest a crewmate is injured or the whole team be given a poor performance rating. The latter may send the whole crew to the a dreaded punishing session with "Old Misery"—a 300-pound monster log emblazoned with the taunting words, "Misery Loves Company."
Other exercises include paddling rubber boats for 2000 yards against the tide through crashing surf and then hauling their clumsy boats over slick, perilous boulders. For added fun, a crew does repeated sessions of running in the sand with the 170-pound boat above their heads.
Why would navy men go through such a torturous experience? Why subject themselves to such extremes of stress, punitive calisthenics, utter exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and dangerous risk taking? They push themselves to the limits of human endurance because they are highly motivated to become "the best of the best" for their country. And they are! Because no SEAL has ever surrendered or left behind a wounded or dead comrade! If navy SEALS can prepare themselves for their dangerous missions with such heroism, how much more should disciples of Jesus prepare themselves for the different missions to which he sends us?
Eppie Lederer died on June 24 this past year at age 83. She was more commonly known as the syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers. One of the reasons for her wide readership and respect was that she was an ardent liberal on most social issues, yet deeply traditional in matters of personal morality. Another reason was that she worked very hard to prepare her columns. She would herself read the hundreds of letters winnowed by her staff before deciding on which ones to answer. Also, she would sometimes consult experts in their respective fields for an opinion or information to incorporate in her column. Lederer was a professional who firmly believed that painstaking preparation was an essential ingredient for success. This conviction, together with her common-sense approach and keen human insight, enabled her to help and influence millions of readers. This was her way of preparing them to make their own best decisions.
All four gospel writers agree that God prepared the world for the advent of his Son by sending John the Baptist. He paved the way for the coming of Christ by preaching repentance and baptizing those who respond. In Denys Arcand's film Jesus of Montreal there is also a figure that precedes the main character onto the stage. A young actor named Daniel agrees to write, direct and play the role of Jesus in a passion play at a Catholic shrine that is trying to win back the crowds. To prepare himself Daniel attends the opening night of a friend starring in a play, one of those philosophical French affairs full of existential-style angst. The play concludes with the actor giving a dramatic speech about the utter absurdity of life and then hanging himself. The audience enthusiastically applauds and flocks backstage to congratulate the actor (the same audience that later will do the same with Daniel following the success of his passion play). When someone tells the play's star that he is a great actor, the man demurs and points to Daniel, declaring "There is a great actor."
This is the time of year when people all across the land prepare for Christmas by hanging wreaths, putting up trees, and stringing colored lights. At the same time, however, it is the time of year when others launch their annual protests against the display of such things. Last year the Ramsey County Courthouse in St. Paul, Minnesota, banned red poinsettias, saying that the flower has too much of a Christian association to it. The city of Pittsburgh invented the term "Sparkle Season" so that no one would have to utter the controversial word "Christmas." In 1999, two 13-year-old girls at a middle school in Rochester, Minnesota, were suspended for wearing red and green scarves and saying, "Merry Christmas" in a school video production. In Seattle, a county executive recommended that workers avoid saying "Merry Christmas" or Happy Hanukkah" while on the job.
Everywhere we drive these days, somebody's working on the highways. In Denver, we are reassured that the newest enormous project will be completed by 2006! Yet, travel almost anywhere around the Mediterranean, and you can find pavement to walk on that was put there by Roman road crews nearly 2000 years ago. Making way for the passage of trade, communication and military prowess, the Roman road system still is a marvel of planning and engineering. Judging by how often we have to repair our roads, maybe we could take some lessons from our Roman predecessors.
Work experience tells us that often preparation for a task takes many times as long as the task itself. Painting a wall may take only an hour or so, but choosing the color, estimating quantity, buying the paint, preparing the surface, and protecting from spills can take days of careful work. Poor preparation guarantees poor results!
We sometimes hear the expression, "The clothes make the man." We tell ourselves that what people wear isn't important, but the truth is that people's clothing does communicate something about them. Even though the Gospel writers never offer any physical descriptions of Jesus or the disciples, Matthew makes the point of telling us about John the Baptist's wardrobe. The hairy mantle was undoubtedly intended to convey the idea of repentance. In like manner today, people's clothing often makes a statement. The Amish wear plain clothes in order to bear witness to their commitment to simplicity. People who are in mourning often wear black to indicate grief. Brides and grooms wear particular kinds of clothes to prepare themselves for the exchange of solemn vows. Graduates don special robes to receive their diplomas. In high school corridors, some young people adorn themselves in nothing but black in order to be a part of the Goth culture. Still other students have the fashionable brand names emblazoned across their chests. In 1998, Americans bought 17.2 billion articles of clothing. During that same year, people gave several hundred million pieces of used clothing to the Salvation Army, an amount equal to more than 100,000 tons.
St. Augustine once said, "My heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee," referring, of course, to God. We would do well in Advent to pay attention to the restless places in our hearts, the yearning for one whose presence we have felt. Remembering the moments in our lives when we have been sure of God's presence with us prepares us to recognize that presence when it comes again.
Preparation begins with a long, lingering look at the risen Christ. A scientist with a magnifying glass was looking intently at a bit of Scottish Heather. A cloud seems to come over them, but it did not pass. He looked up and saw a shepherd, towering over him, looking to see what he was doing. He stood up and asked the shepherd to take a look for himself. When the shepherd, who had spent his life upon the native hills, saw the heather bell for the first time in all its delicate beauty, tears coursed down his cheeks. He handed the glass back to the scientist and said,"Man, I'm sorry you showed me this. Just think, these rude feet of mine have trod so much of it into the ground!" When he saw its beauty, it broke his heart (Moore, The Mighty Savior [Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1952], pp. 37-38).
For decades, when hikers wanted to prepare the way for their next adventure, they would often obtain detailed topographic maps from the U. S. Geological Survey, the nation's official mapmaker. The problem has arisen, however, with the rapid development and expansion in many regions across the land, that many of those topographic maps are out of date. In order to keep up with the times,the U. S. Geological Survey is now planning to make more use of satellite images and computer technology. Within the next five years, the agency hopes to make current topographic information available on-line. This would enable people to print out maps that would detail the specific areas they are interested in, and the information would be extremely current.
John the Baptist probably struck many people as being overly blunt. But it's like Albert Schweitzer said, "Truth, however disenchanting, is better than falsehood, however comforting."
The Gospel includes the intriguing details of John's diet. Burger King has traditionally been the place where you can "Have it your way." It makes you wonder if they would have been able to accommodate even John. Does Burger King offer a side order of locusts? Recently the hamburger chain started to offer veggie burgers on their menu. Although studies find that such vegetarian fare accounts for less than one percent of the food that people eat at home, Burger King believes it's worthwhile to focus on that minority. In the fast food industry, they speak of the "veto vote," which means that one person in a family or group may end up persuading the rest of the group not to eat at a particular place if there is nothing there that they like. As a result, Burger King wants to make sure it doesn't get vetoed by vegetarians. At the same time, though, a spokesperson commented that they don't believe there is massive interest in healthy fast food. If there were, the spokesperson said, "There'd be a healthy fast food chain by now."
It could be said that John the Baptist had a magnetic personality. Just as a magnet draws certain objects in and repels others, in the same way, people had a strong attraction or aversion to John.
There are an increasing number of hotels that expect their guests to be walking the straight and narrow. For instance, a man and a woman cannot check in at the Whatley House in Marietta, Georgia, unless both are wearing wedding rings and are married to each other. At the Hosanna Hotel on the island of Trinidad, guests are forbidden to use tobacco or alcohol, and couples can only check in if they have proof of marriage and a photo ID.
Changing our ways is never an easy thing to do. The British parliament has been debating what to do with the problem of crime in their nation. They estimate that criminals cost the country nearly $17 billion per year. Furthermore, even when criminals are caught and imprisoned, many of them continue to commit additional crimes upon their release. British authorities are now considering a plan that would require prisoners to sign an agreement when they leave jail in which they would pledge to go straight and not commit more crimes. In return for good, reformed behavior, they would receive a range of government support and benefits.
Stem cells are those cells which are at the beginning of the process of differentiation and have the capacity to form into any kind of cell. If a stem cell is directed in a certain way, it will eventually mature into muscle tissue. Or if the same stem cell were instead directed in another way, it could eventually grow into a particular organ. In other words, stem cells are at a crossroads. Once they begin to develop in a certain way, those other pathways are no longer options for them. Once they set out on a particular path, there is no turning back.
John proclaimed a word of warning for the people, but undoubtedly many didn't pay heed to what he said. Even though a certain carpet adhesive contained a warning label that said, "Do not use indoors because of flammability," some professional carpet installers went ahead, used it inside, and the result was that it caught on fire and burned them. The carpet installers then proceeded to sue the manufacturer. The company insisted that it should not be held liable for the mishap, because the label had warned about the very danger that happened. An Akron, Ohio, jury, however, ordered the manufacturer to pay $8 million to the two men. The jurors felt that the warning wasn't stern enough to communicate the seriousness of the risk.
In several famous works of art, John the Baptist is depicted as standing near Jesus, pointing at him with one of his fingers. The artwork symbolizes how John bore witness, or testified, about Jesus. In a popular book, The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel, who has a background in reporting on criminal and legal proceedings, comments, "Eyewitness testimony is powerful. One of the most dramatic moments in a trial is when a witness describes in detail the crime that he or she saw and then points confidently toward the defendant as being the perpetrator" (Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998], p. 19).
"All cultures stand under the judgment of God, including the `culture' called the church. Therefore, pastors ought always to expect some dissonance, a degree of abrasion with the culture— both social and congregational—in which they work" (William H. Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry [Nashville: Abingdon, 2002], p. 70).
"Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better" (English theologian Richard Hooker).
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference" (Robert Frost).
"Christmas isn't about perfection. It's celebrating the One who saved us from our impossible need to be perfect." -Tsh Oxenreider.
Last Christmas our power went out. It wasn’t idyllic at all. On Christmas Eve, instead of watching a good Christmas movie while sipping hot chocolate, we were outside in the cold until midnight trying to hook up a borrowed generator we were only able to run about half the time. For Christmas dinner, we didn’t have the elaborate spread we had planned, just a few things we could heat up on our gas stove-top. Because of that experience, I learned that Christmas wasn’t about the ideal.
But oh, how quickly we forget the lessons we learn.
This year, I don’t know if we’ll have the perfect Christmas Day, but we’ve already not had the perfect Christmas season. So I’m learning that lesson all over again.
Call me cynical, or call me Scrooge, but I think our ideal is way off base. Don’t get me wrong; I love the traditions and enjoy the season as much as anyone. But that’s not what Christmas is about.
It’s about Jesus and the beginning of the redemption of our sins.
We’ve created a day to celebrate His imperfect, but oh-so-perfect birth. Think about it. The fact that He was born to a virgin—an unmarried teenage girl—was definitely not ideal, but absolutely what God had in mind. Then He was born in a stable—not even a house. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but definitely divinely planned.
How did we turn the breathtaking beauty of that event into a materialistic holiday where we get upset if it doesn’t go the way we planned? (http://therebelution.com/blog/2016/12/christmas-is-not-about-perfection/)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: The Lord is coming! The Lord is coming to comfort His people!
People: Prepare the way for His arrival! Let the roads in every hill and valley be made ready for His appearance!
Leader: As the seasons change, the grass withers and the flowers fade.
People: But our God never changes. The word of our God lasts forever. Come, Lord Jesus!
Almighty God, we hear John the Baptist calling in the wilderness, demanding that we turn from our sins and repent. But we don't want to listen to his voice. This is the time of year when we want to listen to the music of carolers, the chiming of church bells, and the crunch of footsteps in the new fallen snow. Yet, despite our resistance, enable us to heed John's message. Open our eyes to the sin that dwells within us. Make us aware of the crooked ways in our lives that need to be made straight. During this Advent season, may we face up to our sins, and by Your grace, may we turn and repent. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Holy Lord, prepare us for the coming Your Son. Prepare our voices as we sing His praise. Prepare our hands as we do His work. Prepare our souls as we lift our prayers. Prepare our very lives as we offer our gifts. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
Heavenly Father, as we look at our lives this day, we see the potholes and the rough spots that are there. We realize there are times when we yield to sin and when we fail to stop and consider the consequences of our actions. We allow ourselves to be detoured in directions that we know we shouldn't go. But we rejoice that You are a God who allows U-turns and who seeks to merge us back onto the highway of Your kingdom. Whether we are close to the destination You intend for us or whether we have miles yet to go, encourage us along the way.
At the same time, use us to be agents for change in our communities, across our nation, and throughout our world. Cause us to make straight not only the road on which we live, but cause us to work for the straightening of the avenues, the boulevards, and the alleys of every city, town, and hamlet. Work through us in order that all the world might repent, so that at Jesus' return, every corner of creation may shout for joy at His appearing. In our Savior's name we pray. Amen.