Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1018
Isaiah speaks of preparing the way of the Lord, and the gospel quotes from Isaiah to let us know that John the Baptist is that voice Isaiah says cries out: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Isaiah and John the Baptist were speaking to their community of faith – as a group. Yet, preparing the way of the Lord is something that we need to do individually as well.
“Making the path straight,” means clearing the way for Christ to enter into our hearts and minds and help us to follow the way of truth and love. The poetry in Isaiah speaks of lifting up the valleys and making the mountains and hills low so that the uneven ground is level. This means we need to eliminate that which makes it hard to see clearly what God wants of us. Our lives need to offer a clear path for God’s love to guide us. Isaiah tells us what happens once the path is clear, he says, “then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. . ..”
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 through our us.
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 from our treasure.
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. Especially during these unsettling times. The pandemic has many of us living on edge – worried for ourselves and others whom we love. The word peace is found on many Christmas Cards, but peace is often absent from our lives today as we are “preparing” for Christmas. Christmas will be different this year, but we are still decorating and shopping for the all-important gift exchange. Shopping, baking, and all the uncertainty make it difficult for us to get ready for Christmas morning.
Today’s lessons may remind us that Avent should be less about giving presents, and more about preparing ourselves to receive the one, not guests, but Christ, who comes to teach us to give of ourselves. Advent is about waiting patiently for the transformation that happens when our lives are focused on God’s will for us, rather than waiting for the gift exchange.
What is it we are 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 or on our shelves that we no longer want is something we may do to make our lives simpler. Giving presents we purchase at the store is expected. But to give, as Br. Pendleton suggests, a portion of what we value most is about giving of ourselves.
I want to remind you of a story I shared before. Willard Walker was 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 there wasn’t enough cash to meet payroll. So, Willard earned his living from one job and stock from his job at Walmart. Needless to say, Willard 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. At his funeral, there were displays in the lobby of all the places he and his wife supported with their gifts. They gave millions to churches of various denominations, health care, schools – including the Springdale Public Schools for the construction of the performance art center where his service was held. They were truly a philanthropist who gave to project in multiple states.
During the service, a friend of his said: “I was once asked, how a man who was so tight with a dollar could give away millions? 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. Let us seek the peace that comes from remembering what is most important in our lives – and sharing it. Perhaps we need to let go of some of our “preparations for Christmas” in order to see clearly what gives our lives meaning – our relationship with God and others.
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.