A comprehended god is no god.

A comprehended god is no god.

A wise saying by saintly John Chrysostom

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

When I was young I dreamed of traveling. I dreamed that someday I would move to New York, D. C., or California. A few years ago I boarded a plane to California for a visit. It was 22 degrees when I left. When I sat down for lunch the next day the temperature had climbed to 90 degrees. It was only a matter of time before I packed my bags and made the move.

There were a few things to get used to though… they go under the heading “you know you’re in California when.” You know you’re in California when you think $4.00 for gasoline isn’t so bad, when 65 degrees is freezing and 80 degrees is getting a little warm, and when the fastest part of your commute is going down your own driveway. I’ve also learned that there are basically two seasons in California – summer and construction.

So we are now in the great season of Construction. Traffic slows. There are pot holes to fill in, cracks to repair, some bridges need attention, and roads need to be widened to accommodate traffic.

I think the season of Advent and Construction have something in common. Advent is also a good time think about road conditions, to slow down, and build up the infrastructure. Today’s lessons ask us to 1) prepare  for God, 2) repair for God, and 3) declare for God.

In the reading from Isaiah we are given the imagery of a great building project, a heavenly highway. If I can paraphrase a little, we can hear Isaiah call to us here in San Rafael, to us here at St. Paul’s, “prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the California deserts and coastlands a highway for our God.”

But what on earth does it mean to lift up valleys and make mountains low. Just what does Isaiah mean by leveling the ground and making the rough places plain? Are we to remove the mountain tops and use the rubble to fill in the valleys and level the roads? The mountain ranges off the 5 and 580 are majestic and awe inspiring. Certainly God doesn’t want to demolish them? And then it hit me… Perhaps Isaiah isn’t speaking about real mountains and valleys.

I believe he’s speaking instead about the heart. Perhaps the human heart, in a sense, is our highway to God. Where the heart is high and lifted up it needs to be made low. When we walk in true humility with God, God lifts us up. Doesn’t it say in Micah that what God really wants from us is to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly before him?

Humility is seeing us as God sees us. We are like roughhewn stones. God wants to build with us but some of our edges need to be smoothed and polished. Our heart needs “preparation.”

Now the reading from Mark echoes that of Isaiah but adds the character of John the Baptist. The Baptizer is sent to us now, in Advent, ahead of Christ’s coming among us, to help us prepare the “way” - ὁδός,n \{hod-os'} in Greek. It means “a well travelled way, a road” and metaphorically our course of conduct – our manner of thinking. We are called to examine our conduct and our thinking in light of God’s return.

I’ll be honest. I think it is important to keep a good Advent as preparation for a holy Christmas, not just by stringing garland and hanging lights, but by looking at our thoughts and actions… to admit where I have missed the mark, and, with God’s help and grace, to change direction… to smooth my rough places out a bit.

Advent gives me a chance to do that – to clean up the house so Christ isn’t turned away because I’ve become too busy or I’m moving too fast to notice the knock at the door. Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of Christ in prayer. Prayer helps us develop longing for our beloved. In prayer we establish our center of gravity – Jesus. All things, according to Dante in Paradisio, seek their true place. Man’s place is God and to rise to Him is therefore natural to man. We rise to God at the same time that God comes down to us. God comes to us if we draw close to God.

Advent is also a time of repair. The second letter of Peter talks to us about the coming of the Lord and what sort of persons we ought to be - leading lives of holiness and godliness. Peter reminds us that “we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Righteousness comes from relationship with God. It has something to do with “right actions”. In Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, there is an understanding that the light of God can be found in the brokenness of the world. God’s people are called to help to “tikkun” - to repair the brokenness and reveal the light and love of God. When we perform mitz-vah (acts of charity) we help repair God’s creation. With each repair, a little spark is released, and creation glows.

In the past few months I’ve tried to catch a glimpse of some of the work done by the parishioners of St. Pauls. I’ve seen sparks of light and hope ignited on Sunday mornings through hospitality of ushers and parishioners, by handing out groceries to those in need at the Ritter Center, by the many discipleship groups that meet to learn how to follow Christ more closely and hold each other up in prayer, by the hard work of the St. Anne’s Guild – they’re a major part of the infrastructure – raising over $4000.00 for the work and mission of St. Pauls, and by joining with seniors at the Fifth Avenue Healthcare Center and helping to lead an ecumenical service. Simply turning pagers, singing the old well-loved hymns, exchanging the peace and a healing touch during the service brings a little bit of “tikkun”, of repair, and kindles the warmth of God’s love where there is often loneliness and despair.

Advent is a good time to ask if God may be calling you to participate in this work of repair.

Peter’s letter goes on to say, “Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.” Repair involves peace and wholeness, or as our elder brothers and sisters in the faith call it, “Shalom.” God’s peace is one of completeness, of health and contentment. It is found in right relationship with God and God’s creation.

Finally, we are called to declare to others that God is near. Returning to Isaiah, we are given words of comfort. “Comfort my people”, says God. Cry out, in the midst of these troubling times the good news that God is near us. We are envoys of Christ’s kingdom. "See, I am sending my messenger who will prepare your way.”

Mark uses an interesting word in Greek - ἄγγελος,n \{ang'-el-os} “angel”. We are called to be God’s angels on earth. Our message is God’s love.

So this Advent prepare yourselves for God is nearer than we first thought. Help God repair God’s good creation and be God’s healing and health giving hands. And finally, declare to God and everyone you come in contact with the great things God is doing in your life. Amen.

- This sermon was preached on 4 December 2011 at St. Paul's in San Rafael

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic sermon Steve. Thanks for posting & sharing.