Sermon for Advent 2, Year B December 10, 2017

Isaiah 40:1-11                     Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13                           2 Peter 3:8-15a                                  Mark 1:1018

Today’s readings are very appropriate for Advent.  Isaiah speaks of preparing the way of the Lord, and the gospel quotes from Isaiah to let us know that John the Baptist is the voice that cries out: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  Having been to Israel, I must say that making a path straight in that terrain would be like trying to straighten the roads in Eureka Springs.

Clearly, the path we need to straighten is not a road.  The poetry in Isaiah speaks of lifting up the valleys and making the mountains and hills low so that the uneven ground is level.  I read this to mean that we are to clear out the clutter in our lives so that the path to our hearts will be ready to receive the love of God.  Isaiah says, “then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. . ..”   The path to peace begins within.  And when we experience God’s presence in our lives it changes how we interact with others.  We cannot help but to share the love of Christ, and others are able to see God’s glory by our actions.

In a mediation titled, “Give it Away,” one of the brothers from the Society of St. John the Evangelist wrote:

What is your treasure? What is it you value most and feel you have to have to live?  Maybe it is money, maybe it is time, maybe it is knowledge, maybe it is love that needs to be squandered on those who have none, who lack hope and need help. Are you being challenged at this time to give all that you have?

As we prepare for Christmas, we buy gifts to give to others, but Br. Pendleton in challenging us to give gifts that truly matter.

In 2 Peter, we heard about being patient as we wait for the arrival of Christ.  Patience is needed to prepare for his return, it suggests.  “While you are waiting,” he writes, “strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.”

“Strive to be found by him at peace . . .” – easier said than done.  The word peace is found on many Christmas Cards, but is often absent from our lives in the midst of our “preparing” for Christmas as we decorate and shop for the all-important gift exchange.  Shopping, baking, and Christmas parties make it difficult to get done everything we need to do to be ready for Christmas morning.

So, today’s lessons are important because they remind us that the coming Christmas Season, the season that begins on Christmas Eve, should be less about giving presents, and more about preparing ourselves to receive the one who comes to teach us about giving of ourselves.  This season of Advent is about waiting patiently for the transformation that happens to us when our lives are focused on God’s will for us, and not the things that we want for ourselves.

What are we being called to give?  I believe we are called to give a portion of what we value most.  Giving to the Goodwill  or other thrift shops the things in our closets and on our shelves that we no longer want is something we do to make our lives simpler, giving presents we purchase at the store is expected, but to give away what we value most, as Br. Pendleton suggests we need to do, is about giving of ourselves.

I was privileged to attend a memorial service for Willard Walker, the manager of the first Walmart.  When he went to work for Sam Walton, he had to work two jobs because Sam often paid him with stock when he didn’t have enough money for payroll.  So, Willard got a check to live off of from the one job and stock from his job at Walmart.  Needless to say, he died a millionaire.

At the time of his death, he still lived in a modest home in a neighborhood in Springdale, next door to the Presbyterian minister.  In the lobby, there were displays of all the places he and his wife supported with their gifts.  There were churches of various denominations, school buildings, and health care and sports facilities in multiple states.   He was truly a philanthropist.

In his eulogy, the speaker said, “I was once asked, how a man who was so tight with a dollar could give away millions?”   His answer was, “Willard was tight with his money, he knew the value of a dollar, but he valued people more.”  Willard was an example of someone who gave away what he valued, he was an example of what God asks of us as well.

The countdown to Christmas started a long time ago, but the time to reflect on what we treasure is now.  In these days leading up to Christmas morning, I believe we need to seek the peace that comes from remembering what is most important in our lives.  Is what we are doing right now helping us to see what we value most?  Or do we need to let go of some of our “preparations for Christmas” and spend time with those we love and those in need of our love?

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, we ask for your help in letting go of those things that prevent us from being involved in fulfilling your mission.  Help us, we pray, to give of ourselves that others might experience your love through us.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.