the third sunday of advent

John 1. 6-8, 19-28
For our sake, god prepares god’s own way!

I’ve been doing Advent – as a called and ordained minister – for over three decades, now. And it’s funny. Until this past week, I never noticed a couple things about it. First, it never dawned on me that these two middle Sundays of the season were all about the baptizer. Week one is a warning. Keep awake! Be ready! Week four is the offRamp to Christmas Day. But last week and this morning, we’ve been on Jordan’s bank listening to the baptist’s cry. Last year, it was from Matthew’s story. Next year, it’ll be from Luke’s. For now, it’s according to Mark and John. That’s thing one. Thing two is that all four gospels use the same oldTestament verse to describe John’s mission! And that’s not something that happens, all that often. Isaiah, chapter forty, verse three ….

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

Matthew, Mark, Luke, each quote it. And now, this morning, John does, as well! “A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord!” Apparently, it’s an important verse for the gospel writers. But it’s, also, an important verse for this season, too. If there’s one thing this time of year is about, it’s preparing the way! In the church and out! And the baptizer is the patron saint! Even here! Even now! In the midst of a pandemic! In fact, we’ve been getting ready for months, now. Ever since the end of October! Making lists! Checking them, twice! Buying gifts! Sending cards! Baking cookies and fruitcakes and peanut brittle! Decking the halls! Hanging the stockings! All the while, humming carols! A voice cries out: Prepare! And we do! With all our heart! With all our mind! With all our being!

Most years, at this time, we’d be doing it here at “church!” Advent hymns playing in the background! T-minus four weeks! Three weeks! Two weeks! Advent candles? Check! Chrismon tree? Check! Kids’ program? Check! Check! Check! And John would be proud! As we prepare our homes! As we prepare our hearts! For the coming of Christ! Only one problem … for John … for us … Jesus has already come! For John … for us … Jesus is already here! Even while John is crying out, there in the wilderness, telling the world to get ready … Jesus is ALREADY there! While the baptizer’s telling the crowd to make straight the way, Jesus is ALREADY there! With them! Among them! Even, for us, this isn’t the first Christmas. Jesus isn’t coming! He’s ALREADY here! And he’s been here! For two thousand years! For a hundred generations!

Christmas – the REAL Christmas – isn’t ahead of us. It’s behind us! Over! Done! Christ isn’t coming. He’s already here! And all the preparations in the world won’t change that! All the preparations in the world can’t change that! Truth is, god doesn’t wait for us to get ready. If it depended on us, god would never come! Like Luther writes in the explanation to article three of the Creed in his smallCatechism … “[We] believe that by [our] own understanding or strength [we] cannot believe in Jesus Christ [our] Lord or come to him …” We’d start out, well enough. But when something else shows up … something bigger … something brighter … we’re chasing after it!

So god comes when god’s ready! That’s the way it is for us! That’s the way it was even for John, way back when! All the preaching! All the proclaiming! All the crying out! And Jesus was ALREADY there! Jesus was there before John baptized his first “viper!”

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

Luke’s the only one who goes the extra mile and uses the rest of Isaiah’s vision. Filling up every valley! Making low every mountain, every hill! Straightening the crooked! Smoothing the rough places! We hear the words and we eat it up! All the time and trouble we get to invest! All the effort and energy! It gives us something to do! Something to count and measure and weigh! And none of it … not one bit of it matters! Because Jesus has already come! Because Jesus is already here! Before John’s first step! Before his first word!

But then, that’s grace! What grace is! What grace does! Grace prepares its own way! Grace straightens its own path! Grace comes of its own! Period! Whether we’re ready or not! That’s not the way Christmas works, out here, in the world. Out here, Christmas isn’t here for the grace. If it was, things would be different. Very different. Christmas in the world is a transaction. A buying and selling. The bigger the better. The more the merrier. But that doesn’t stop the grace. It doesn’t slow it down. Grace comes in spite of the preparations, not because of them. Grace comes when we least expect … where we least expect … Grace comes despite the ruts and the potholes. Grace comes despite the bends and turns. Despite the thumps and thuds.

That’s why this is Advent. It’s not about preparing or making straight or getting ready. It’s about waiting. And it’s about watching. Christmas, for us, here in the church, isn’t the twelve days before. It’s the twelve days after! There’s nothing we can do to make Christmas happen. There’s nothing we can do to NOT make Christmas happen. Christmas happens on its own. With us. Without us. We celebrate only after we see that Jesus is already here. We can’t countdown to Christmas. We can only count up from it. But for now … for advent … we sit … and we watch … and we wait … for the love to come … for the love to be born … for the love to appear … And then – and only then – can we celebrate! Then – and only then – can we rejoice! But the one thing we’ll never do … the one thing we can never do … is prepare the way … or make straight the path … My friends, only god … only god will do that!

12.13.2020-live @ centenniel park

Posted by Midland Lutheran Church on Sunday, December 13, 2020