Since we've been getting some requests to share Rev. Jane's sermons, we will be posting some of your favorite sermons on our blog. We hope enjoy a chance to pause, re-center and spend a little more time with these ideas. To kick things off, here is a sermon Rev. Jane preached during Advent in December 2021.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, and this is known in all the world. Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.
– Isaiah 12:6 (Canticle 9: Song of Isaiah)
I have been thinking about the ways we prepare for Christmas. We are making plans to see our friends and family over the holidays, figuring out what meals we will share and who will bring what food.
I am also getting to experience all of your St. Barnabas special events – the women’s Christmas party and gift exchange was full of laughter and friendships new and old.
As we prepare for these special events, there is often a long list of “chores” that need to be done. The advent of guests prompts the host not only to straighten up but also to fix things around the house, a broken doorknob, a loose towel rack, the leaky guest toilet.
Preparing for company, often causes us to examine our surroundings with a whole new perspective. Suddenly that pile of clutter that has been on the counter for months is unacceptable and the stain on the bathroom sink necessitates extra scrubbing.
Preparing for guests involves self-examination as much as it does a “to-do” list. We have to look at our lives anew and see what we value and what we put first, to see what issues we have been putting off and what we need to face head on.
Decluttering our homes and our hearts
We did a bunch of cleaning at our house this weekend, cleaning out old toys and papers, sorting through Christmas decorations, getting rid of the non-functioning sets of lights, and broken Christmas ornaments.
It felt good to clean things up. To take time to examine the all the nooks and crannies of the house, finding out what is no longer needed, what needs to be gotten rid of, and what needs to be taken better care of.
As we were in the midst of our preparations and tidying, my daughter, Emma told me it wasn’t the right time of year for all this cleaning. It’s not spring cleaning time, mom! (A worthy attempt to get out of doing her chores!)
She may be right, but perhaps this Advent season, requires its own kind of preparation.
Today, we hear from John the Baptist, who although he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who is used to welcoming company for a dinner party, he did have some pretty clear ideas about how people should prepare to welcome their God.
His bold preaching in the wilderness called people to preparation. His challenging words provoked people to self-examination. John’s prophetic message invited people to get ready to receive Jesus.
John challenges the people of Israel to purify themselves, to purge themselves of all that has distorted them and cheapened their capacity to live faithfully and to witness well in the world.
They cannot welcome Jesus and his new kingdom if they do not clean up their hearts and reorient their lives so there is room for Jesus’ new thing.
Repentance is a change of mind, heart, and life. It matters not where you come from, what matters is what you do.
"So what should we do?" the crowd of people ask John.
John’s answer is simple and challenging all at once: Share your abundance with the vulnerable and do whatever job you have with honesty, integrity, and respect. This is how we prepare for the one who is coming.
Preparation in joy, with community
And St. Paul reminds us, as we wait and prepare, we are to do so with joy and in community. Or as it says in the Greek, in koinonia.
Koinonia means fellowship, sharing, participation, communion. It captures the active participation in Christian community – sharing in spiritual blessings and giving material blessings.
It seems to me this is something we did at our Advent preparation party. Sharing food and preparing Advent wreaths and decorating the church. These are ways we prepare our church home to welcome guests and those who are seeking the coming of Jesus in our time. But this work is happening all the time around here, as the Termites crew help fix things that need repairing, and our staff are preparing bulletins and fliers, and choirs are practicing music.
We do this not so we are perfect though. We engage in these spiritual practices because these preparations are the tangible reminders to reorient ourselves and to prepare our hearts. it helps us to see that each of us has work to do, not busy work, but soul work.
This work can be done while we are baking cookies with children fighting over the gold sprinkles, in the frustrations of getting the Christmas tree to stand up straight, or in the quiet of the early morning sunrise while making coffee, or the chilly evening while taking the dog for a walk.
For our work is to rejoice at all times, to let go of our anxieties, and selfishness, our anger and self-righteousness. We are called to soften our hearts and be at peace with what is and grateful for the gifts we have been given.
It is this change of perspective that changes everything. Suddenly, we see the presence of God in all things and in all people. Love enters in, and we are overcome. We realize we are different in the presence of others, we need each other to fully see what is holy and good in this world.
Living a life of love
At the core of the Christian life, again and again is to simply to love God and
To love your neighbor as yourself. It is this shared commitment that binds us together.
When we love others, we practice generosity. We share what we have – money, food, time, gifts. These are the symbols of our connection to each other. The love language that Jesus came to teach us.
Rachel Held Evans once wrote, “Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people.”
She wrote, “Try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.”
We need each other to cultivate koinonia. Together, as we make our preparations for Christmas once again, laying out the crèche with its waiting manger, how can we prepare our hearts for God’s arrival?
If you imagine a room in your heart, is it ready? What does it look like? Are there things blocking the door? What are you holding on to? Is the room cluttered and dusty, full of unnecessary thoughts, things that are pre-occupying you from God’s impending arrival? Is it dark, full of anger, resentment, worry or sadness? What things do you need to get rid of to make way for the Lord? To open your heart to God’s coming…
Advent invites us to a different kind of preparation, so that we might prepare a place to welcome Jesus as the guest of honor in our hearts and in our lives and in our community.
May this Advent season be a time of joyfully preparing for Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. May we turn to him with hearts open wide. Amen.