Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent 2 - Prepare the Way

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'". . .  "I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; . . .His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."  Matthew 3:1-2,11-12

This week, the world lost a great leader, Nelson Mandela – something of a modern day prophet.  He was a man not afraid to stand up and speak out for what he believe.  And even though he served nearly 30 years in prison, he was able to effect great changes in South Africa, was primary in ridding the country of the travesty of Apartheid, and served as their first black president.  He was not afraid to pay the price to prepare the way for a better life for the people of South Africa.  This is not unlike what John the Baptizer was doing in his day.

John the Baptizer proclaimed, “Prepare the way of the Lord – make straight his paths.”  This means to go out and make the road smooth; get rid of the potholes and the rocks.  Straighten out the curves.  This is what you did when you knew the king was coming – you prepared the road for his arrival.
John is using this metaphorically – the path that the Lord wants cleared, is the road to your heart.
The ministry of John was a bridge between the Old Testament prophetic word and Jesus, the incarnate Word.  The Word of God, once uttered by prophets, now lived in human form.  John’s call to repentance precedes Jesus’ call to new life.  It’s about getting rid of those things in our life that separate us – that draw us away from God.
You might be able to think back to various storms, hurricanes that leave piles of debris all over your yard and in your driveways – tree branches, parts of houses, lawn furniture, other belongings; that is quite often what the road to our heart looks like – littered with the debris of our life. 
 That debris might be the stings and arrows that have assaulted us – abandonment and betrayal are two of the big ones – being so hurt that it affects our whole life.  And then there are the rocks and potholes that have caused us to stumble and fall – the addictions and temptations we have given in to.  The human condition – self-centeredness – is being so involved in ourselves and our own problems that we fail to reach out to others. 
In the last verse of our Gospel lesson today we hear John speak of Jesus saying, “His winnowing fork is in his hand and he will clear the threshing floor and will gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  Too many people have a simplistic view of this and see judgment, either you are wheat (good) and get into heaven, or you are chaff (bad) and you burn in hell.  But I don’t think this is at all what John is alluding to.  If you look at the elements of this story you will find evidence that John means something different. 
It starts by understanding that wheat and chaff are both part of the same plant.  Wheat is a small grain, the fruit of the plant, and the chaff is the light covering that covers the grain.  The chaff is stripped off the grain by beating it or tramping on it, leaving both lying together on the threshing floor – most often the open ground.  This winnowing fork has been translated by various versions of the Bible as a fork, or a shovel, or a fan.  It is an instrument used to toss the mixture of grain and chaff into the air allowing the wind (or a fan) to blow away the light chaff leaving the heavier grain to be gathered for storing until it is used for making bread.

The chaff and the wheat are part of the same plant and I am now given to understand that they represent two parts that make up every person.  The wheat represents that which is good, that part of us that is holy and godly, that connects us to God.  And the chaff represents that which is less than holy, that which separates us from God.  It is that debris in our life that needs to be purged from the pathway to our hearts. 
That which is not of God cannot exist in the presence of God – There is something good in every person – but in all people, that good exists alongside that which is not of God.  Jesus has come to ignite a fire within us that will help us cast off that part of us that cannot exist in the presence of God.  It will be blown away like chaff from the wheat.  Removing the chaff from our life is necessary for us to be able to stand before God.
We are in the season of Advent – it is a season when we are preparing our hearts to receive Jesus.  Pray with me, “Lord, what are the things that you are purging from my life?”  What are the things that I need to let go of, in order for my heart to be ready to receive Jesus when he comes?  Lord, help me to prepare the way in my life, in my family, in my heart that I may with gladness welcome you and rejoice at your return.  Amen.



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent 1 Meditation - Tuesday

From today’s reading:  Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer.'  Matthew 21:12-13

So, how do the daily office readings during Advent actually relate to Advent?  When I read the lines above I think of preparing for Christmas – most of us are cleaning house and getting special decorations out to ‘deck the halls.’  We often complain about the commercialism of Christmas, lamenting that Christ is often nowhere to be seen.  But for us Christians, even if we don’t see Christ, we know that’s what it’s all about.  And we can liken the cleansing of the temple to sweeping the house clean and know it’s also cleansing our hearts to prepare a place for Jesus.   And as we are decorating the tree and hang the wreaths and lights and bows, set out nativities (or Christmas villages), we know we are making our homes welcoming for visitors.  We can make our hearts and our homes a visual prayer to welcome our Lord Jesus when he appears.  Amen.

Advent 1 meditation - Monday

From Monday’s reading:  Make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.  2 Peter 1:5-7
What a list: Faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection and love.  Peter tells us that without these qualities we are short-sighted and fall short of the grace of God.  God, our cheerleader, is anxious that we all come into grace through Jesus Christ.  God gives us what we need, but we often ignore the messages God sends us.  It all begins with divine love and after that, anything is possible.  Live into God’s grace today by remembering to call on the Name of Jesus when you are sad, when you are happy, or when you need help.  His presence will be the guiding grace for the life you live.  Amen.

Advent 1 - Sunday

From Sunday's lessons:  “About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."   Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  Matthew 24:36, 42

In the end, Christ will bring peace - peace in Jerusalem, peace in the world.  This is the message for us: to keep watch - each with our own work.  Prepare yourself to meet our Lord when he comes.  Spread the gospel message that Jesus is alive and that he is coming and that he offers us hope of a better world.  He offers us those things that the world cannot give us; fullness in our hearts, peace in our minds, joy in our souls.  He offers us forgiveness of our sins and eternal life.  He offers us stability when our world falls apart around us.

And this is the good news of the Gospel for Advent:  
Jesus came to us as a little baby.
Jesus came to us humble of heart to heal and to save.
Jesus still comes to us in Spirit and guides us and stays with us when we most need him.
And Jesus will come again in power and glory to claim us and take us home.