Friday, December 5, 2014

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord (Advent 2, Dec 7 2014)

Homily:  Yr B Advent 2, Dec 7 2014, St. Albans
Readings:  Is 40.1-11; Ps 85.1-2,8-13; 1 Pet 3.8-15a; Mk 1.1-8

A few years ago I went to a production of the musical Godspell put on by the theatre program at Canterbury High School.  Godspell is the story of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God, set as a musical theatre production.

We were in our seats, waiting for the show to begin, eagerly anticipating.  As we approached show time, the lights went off, the theatre darkened and a silence fell over the audience.  We all looked forward, straining our eyes towards the stage, trying to catch a glimpse of the actors, waiting for the story to begin.

And then, from behind us, unexpectedly, out of the darkness, out of the wilderness, a single voice rang out:

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.   Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

Over and over the voice cried out, slowly at first, but then with increasing urgency.  I have to tell you, it sent shivers down my spine.  And still, no one appeared on the stage.  And it soon dawned on me that the voice was crying out to us.  We were being called to be part of the story before the Jesus story even begins.  To prepare the way of the Lord.  To make his paths straight.

Mark’s gospel begins the same way.  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God does not begin with Jesus.  The greatest story ever told begins with a voice crying out to you and me, “prepare the way of the Lord.”  Before the Jesus story even begins, we are called to be part of the story. 

What does it mean to prepare the way of the Lord?

We begin where Mark’s gospel begins, with the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah’s people are living in exile, captives in Babylon, far from home, separated from their homeland by a vast desert wilderness.  They yearn to go home, but after 50 long years in exile, they have lost hope of ever seeing their homes again. And God says to the prophet Isaiah, “Comfort, O comfort my people.”  Tell them that they are going home.  Give them hope.  And he gives Isaiah a vision of a great highway through the wilderness, the way back home, straight through the desert, where every obstacle has been removed, the valleys shall be lifted up, the mountains made low and the rough places made smooth.  God is coming to lead his people back home, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all will see it.  Prepare the way of the Lord!

And so to prepare the way of the Lord is to get ready to go on a journey, the journey of a lifetime, the way back home from exile.  How would you prepare to go on that journey?  What would you take with you, what would you leave behind?  What obstacles would you have to remove in order to get there?  What are the mountains in your life that would have to be made low, what are the valleys that need raising up, which are the rough places that are going to have to be smoothed out?

The greatest event in history is about to happen, the glory of the Lord is about to be revealed.  How are you going to get ready for that?  How do you prepare for the coming of God into your life?  Are you waiting?  Are you ready?  Are you watching?  Are you looking in the right direction?

We are on the verge of going home from exile, whatever and wherever our exile is.  For many in our world today, exile is still a geographic and political exile as it was for Isaiah’s people. But exile can take many forms.  For many there is spiritual exile.  Alienation.  Broken relationships.  Despair.  Estrangement from God.  Loss of faith, loss of purpose in life.  Our spiritual home is to be with God and to be with each other as God’s children, that’s what we were made for.  But too often, we are alone, in exile.  God is calling us home, God is coming to bring us home.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Which way do we turn, what burdens must be removed so that we can begin the journey back home?

John, the baptizer, appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and the people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him.  Something new was about to happen, the story of how God is coming to bring his people home is about to begin, and John has been sent ahead of us to prepare the way.  And he does so through symbolic action.  John takes the people who have come out to the wilderness and plunges them into the river Jordan as they confess their sins, washing them clean, giving them a fresh start, immersing them in the story of God’s people, and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Repentance is a turning around, a change in the direction of one’s life, a movement towards God.  God is about to do something new, about to enter human history in a totally unprecedented way, and you need to get ready, you need to be turned the right way ‘cause you don’t want to miss this.

Forgiveness is the lifting of a burden, the removal of whatever it is that is weighing you down, whatever it is that prevents you from seeing, whatever it is that creates estrangement in your relationships, whatever it is that keeps you from going on the journey that God is calling you on.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  All obstacles are to be removed, the mountains made low and the rough places smoothed.  Forgiveness starts to do that, it takes that weight off your shoulders so that once more we can raise our eyes and see God when he comes.

The greatest story ever told begins with a call to you and me to get ready, to prepare the way of the Lord.  Because this is our story.  We don't get to just sit back and watch how it all plays out.  It is our story, it is a sacred story and it is a story yet to be completed.  Today we hear the beginning of the gospel of Mark.  Over the course of the coming year, we will read all the way through Mark’s gospel, and when we get to the last word we will discover that there is no ending.  Because the story begins with us, and it continues with us and it isn’t finished yet.  This coming week, every single one of us will be given a hundred and one opportunities to contribute to the story, to write the next chapter, to keep it going, to keep it alive.  We will have opportunities to repent and we will have opportunities to forgive and be forgiven.  We will have opportunities to walk together on our journey.  This is the story of a God who is coming into our lives to bring us back home, and we are invited to be active participants.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.


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