The Good News!

Welcome! I am the Rev. Ken Saunders the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson, MD (since May 2011). These sermons here were delivered in the context of worship.

[NOTE: Sermons (or Homilies) are commentaries that follow the scripture lessons, and are specifically designed to be heard. They are "written for the ear" and may contain sentence fragments and be difficult to read. They are NOT intended to be academic papers.]

Sunday, December 6, 2009

RCL Year C (Advent 2) - December 6, 2009

The Rev'd Kenneth H. Saunders III
Christ Church, Cleveland, NC

RCL Year C - Advent 2 - December 6, 2009

Baruch 5:1-9
Canticle 16
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

(transcribed from audio - sermon preached without notes or manuscript)
This time of year reminds me of my mother. I know that she reads my sermons regularly, so God help me when she gets hold of this one. I am going to talk about her a little bit, but in a kind way… During the season of Advent, my mother is always… oh, let’s say fussy. To the point of the halls decked just perfectly. When I was growing up, there was almost a tree in every room, a rope of holly on the mantle of the fireplace, candles on the tables and a single white candle in each window, and of course fake snow… and I am not talking about the spray stuff, I am saying the bag o plastic shreds – where you put one handful on each branch of the tree… I even think she is looking for some this year, but hasn’t been able to find it. On top of the decorating, she always found time to bake. Fruit cakes, cookies, cakes, and even one year made candy. Her preparations were meticulous, and everything had to be just so.

We are called, like I said last week, to a “preparation” in Advent... careful, meticulous preparation. But John calls us today (John the Baptizer) to a different kind of preparation. A preparation for the coming of the messiah.

The words from the 40th Chapter of Isaiah, the prophet, are echoed by Luke the evangelist… Make straight paths… straighten out the crooked spaces, make the high places low and the low places high… but, do this in the wilderness.

Something very interesting that I think we need to pay attention to. The place between Egypt and the Promised Land always involves “wilderness.” The way to salvation, the salvation of our God in Jesus Christ always involves wilderness. The wilderness places that you have heard me speak of before. Those are the places of chaos. Places of the wild and crazy. The places where demons dwell. Places where food is not bought and can’t be found. The wilderness is the lowest point, where people had to go to fully rely and depend on God in order for God to bring them into the promised land. To bring them to salvation.

So, if you think of it like that, in order to find our way to Christ, who is our salvation… to find our way to the promised land, we have to go through the wilderness. It is a way that we go by preparing ourselves. Preparation through personal discovery. It means wrestling with things in our lives that we otherwise don’t want to mess with.

It makes me think, “where is the wilderness?” Our mere lives are the wilderness, and we are on a journey through the wilderness, where we are looking for direction, where we are looking for guidance, where we are looking to be fed and nurtured as we grow and go along the way.

We are looking for God to make those paths straight, and our narrow ways to be made smooth, because sometimes we come along boulders in the path, and regardless how much we try, we cannot remove those boulders by ourselves. We have to trust God and let God provide us with that smooth path. We have to come together as a community to bring forth the Kingdom of God, and move those rocks together. To make that path straight, and the wilderness that much more tolerable.

Regardless of how fussy we may get this time of year, John is there to tell us the way to the Kingdom of God. The way to Christ. In fact, that is one of the reasons that I picked the illustration that was used on the front of the bulletin, it is Leonardo Da vinci’s portrait of John the Baptist. If you notice the in the painting he is pointing up. In most of the artist renditions of John, John is pictured pointing up, pointing the way to salvation.

That is what John does for us. John through his, as you have heard me call it before, his unexpected, unlikely messages. He was one of those messengers that you wouldn’t expect anyone to listen to him. But he is so strange, he gets our attention. He points the way to salvation.

He is the son of the high priest, Zachariah, but he doesn’t conform to the norms of society for that sort of family. He dresses in camel hair and puts a leather belt around his waist and eats locust and wild honey, and tells the people to come and follow me, we are going out to the wilderness, we are going out to discover those places in our lives where we need that true change. In Greek it is called metanoia, a real change of heart, changing the way from a sinful life to a life of righteousness.

We are called out to the wilderness to discover those places in our lives where we need metanoia. Where we need to make a change and repent of that sin, and then we can prepare the way for Christ to come. Not only as a child in a manger… cause we love the baby stories – we love the heavenly host of angels and the manger and the animals – it’s very very nice, but that is not exactly what Advent is all about. Advent is sometimes about scary things, of an apocalyptic or eschatological nature, in preparation for Christ’s coming again in might and great glory.

So we take this time of preparation, and if we loose some of the fussy-ness in our lives and go over to the other side and think more about what we can do to prepare ourselves, to prepare our souls and bodies to see the Christ who is coming, who is coming again. But we can’t do it by ourselves, we do that as a community of faith, because we are here in the wilderness of our lives on a journey. It is a journey through this life.

When we go forward from this place, we should think about how we can be that prophetic voice that cries out to others in this wilderness of our lives and lead other to that repentance (that metanoia) that change and conversion in their life.

That change and conversion that needs to take place. It needs to take place in their lives like it took place in our lives so that we can receive the Christ.

So as we go forward from this place, and think about how the preamble to today's lesson would be written in a more modern language… we could say, in the first year of the presidency of Barack Obama, when Beverly was Governor of North Carolina, and John was elected Mayor of Cleveland… a voice cried out in the wilderness of North Carolina, make straight the paths, make low the high places, remove all the obstacles that lay in between, and prepare the way of the Christ to come among us.

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