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the sermon for

the Second Sunday of Advent

10 December 2017

Isaiah 40:1-11
We don't go to god; god comes to us!

12102017The film was first released on the twenty-fifth of August, 1939 and was nominated, that year, for six Oscars, including one for best picture. Unfortunately, another film won that category. Gone with the Wind! Released in 1939, it was rereleased nationally ten years later and released, again, six years after that. Then on Saturday, November 3rd, 1956, it was shown on television. The first, ever, Hollywood film to be shown uncut and in prime time! And it's, pretty much, become an annual television classic! Of course, I'm talking about The Wizard of Oz! And we've come to know it all by heart! Dorothy and Toto! The Scarecrow! The Tin Man! The Lion! Even the Wicked Witch of the West and all those monkeys! All those eerie, creepy, flying monkeys!

But even more than family entertainment, The Wizard of Oz has been a way of teaching us about God! Or at the very least, a way of reïnforcing what we, already, know! The great and powerful, at the end of the road, waiting to answer our prayers, to grant our requests, to make our every wish come true! A heart for the unfeeling! A brain for the thoughtless! Courage for the faith-of-heart! A way home for the lost and alone! But first... first... we have to get there! And that's the whole point of the story! The journey to the Emerald City!

The Wizard of Oz sounds a whole lot like The Pilgrim's Progress! The believer facing, enduring, trials and tribulations on his way to heaven! Trials and tribulations just like the Poppy Field and the Haunted Forest and the Witch's Castle and all those flying monkeys! And not once, not one time, in either does the great and powerful ever set foot on the pilgrim's path. Only Dorothy and Toto and the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the Lion! Only to the Emerald City, never from it! Take those two stories, change a few things, and, pretty much, you have the story of faith that most of us have grown up with. The ladder. The staircase. Pearly gates. Streets of gold. And always one way! One way and only one way! From us to god! From earth to heaven! Just like the spiritual! "We are climbing Jacob's ladder!" and "Ev'ry round goes higher, higher!" So I guess it's kind of natural for us to read the words of the prophet and imagine he's talking about the same thing!

A voice cries out:
'In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

We want, so much, to follow that yellow-brick road! To climb Jacob's ladder! To get through those pearly gates! We want, with all our being, to be with the great and powerful! But there's only one problem. That highway, that ladder, that road, wasn't made for us to use. It's meant only for god! We don't go to the king. The king comes to us! That's why it's called the King's Highway! The great and the powerful sets aside the special effects, leaves behind the Emerald City, and journeys to be with us here in our Munchkinville! It's all Oz! It's all god! From start to finish! From beginning to end! God overcomes the witch! God claims the broomstick! God journeys through the Poppy Field, through the Haunted Forest! God is the one – the only one – who follows the yellow-brick road! Not to, but from Oz! And when god gets her, god gives us a new heart and a new mind! God gives us confidence and courage! God, even, brings us home!

That's where Luke gets is wrong! It's not the prodigal who must find his way back to the father. It's the father, it's the mother, who makes his way, who makes her way, from the home to the pig sty! There's only one direction! Father to Son! Heaven to earth! Every valley lifted up! Every mountain, hill, made low! Uneven becoming level. Rough smooth! And it's all done not to make our journey easier! It's done to make god's journey, god's travel simple and straightforward! God comes to us! We don't go to god! Always, forever, god is the one in motion!

But, then, no matter how often we're told that – here, in this place – we still think it's us. It seems that The Wizard of Oz has a greater hold on our imagination than the gospel ever did. In the past, when I've said 2/3 to 3/4 of us disagree with or don't understand the most basic teachings, this... this is what I meant! It's that downward-pointing arrow! God coming to earth! God becoming flesh-and-blood! Christmas isn't the shepherds going to Bethlehem! Christmas isn't the magi, the wise men, following a star. That's all part of the Oz-like faith! Following the yellow-brick road! Off to see the wizard! But we have it all wrong! All inside-out! All upside-down! All backwards!

Christmas is Jesus coming to us! It's gravity pulling god out of heaven into creation itself! At Christmas, we don't go to god, but god comes to us! And during Advent... During Advent, we simply sit... and wait... and watch... for that moment when god appears! Appears in the story and in the songs! Appears in the water and in the bread and in the wine! Appears, even, in the faces of the people all around us! Strangers! Friends! We don't go to god. God comes to us! And all the preparations? The lists we make? The lists we check twice? Well, the preparations – like the journey – belong to god, as well!

The king's highway doesn't begin here and end there. It begins there! Up high! Far away! And it makes its way to us! Just like that burlap arrow that hangs on the wall behind me! You see, that way of the Lord, that highway for our god, is nothing less than love! Nothing less than charity! Than grace! That highway, that road, is god's grace, god's charity, god's love! For each and for every! For one and for all! It's not a yellow-brick road that leads us somewhere over the rainbow, but a path that journeys from a stable to a cross, from a cross to a grave, and from a grave not to the sky, but back to life! Right here! Right now!

So, we've seen the movie so many times, before! As a family! Sitting together on a couch! Lying on the living room floor! Over the decades, across the generations, it's become a big part of our life. We've been entertained! Amused! But we've, also, been distracted and confused. By the special effects. By the music. By the story itself. It's all what we expect. All what we already believe. "Follow the yellow-brick road," we're told! "Follow the rainbow over the stream! Follow the fellow who follows a dream!" But here, this morning, the prophet says, "Sit! Sit and wait!" "Your god is coming!" "Your god is near!" My friends, it isn't for you – for us – to go to god! But it's god's job to come to us! After all, why else is god god!

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