Our St. Andrew's Deacon, Archdeacon Jean Chess, was preacher on Sunday morning, December 6, 2009. Her sermon here:
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be all ways acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
As a child and even as an adult I was mystified by my mother’s behavior when it snowed. She was outside every hour or so with a broom sweeping the sidewalk and driveway. I, personally, thought it was more efficient and made better sense to just wait until it was done snowing, go out with a shovel and clear it all just once.
Like many things in life, I’ve learned that my mother knew best.
I learned this, especially, in the last 13 years since I’ve had responsibility for the sidewalk in front of my house. Here’s what I’ve learned – it is no big deal to sweep away a little layer of fresh snow. It is a HUGE big deal to try and chip away the packed down snow and ice after it’s hung around for awhile and people have tromped all over it… And, in fact, sometimes it can take weeks for that really packed down snow and ice to clear…
The theme of clearing – or preparing – the way is woven throughout our readings and collect for this Sunday. In Baruch’s message to the exiled people of Israel, we hear that God has ordered the ground to be made level to enable Israel to walk safely in the glory of God. When Zechariah is finally able to speak after months of being struck mute, Zechariah proclaims that his newborn son John will grow up to “prepare the way” for the Lord. And the writer of Luke recalls the words of the prophet Isaiah “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”.
I’ve been intrigued by these images of “preparing the way”. What preparation do we need to do this Advent season to enable God to enter in and be ready to welcome the newborn Jesus? Is there just a little dusting of snow that we need to sweep away? Or, perhaps, are there mountains to level and valleys to fill? Do I need to get rid of obstacles created by others? Or barriers created by myself?
But the first question might be just how clear do I really want that path to be? How close do I want God to actually get? Could it be that I’m happy to have some of those obstacles in place to keep a bit of distance – kind of a safe zone? Sometimes it’s handy to be “too busy” or “too tired” or “too stressed” - a close relationship with God, just like a close relationship with anyone else, brings obligations and insights that we may – or may not – want.
When I want comfort, I know that I want God near. When things are going along well and I’m happy with them and don’t want them to be disrupted – I’m not always sure that I want God to get too close…
I’ve struggled with these questions of God’s closeness. It’s taken me a long time to learn – and to trust - that God will, in fact, respect my oftentimes deeply ambivalent wishes when it comes to closeness. That also means that I really do want to path to be clear because there are many times when I want God to come close – with no obstacles in the way. The other times, when I’m not so sure, I know that God will stop – clear path or not – and wait until I issue a further invitation.
So how do we “clear the path” this Advent?
Well, just like with a snowy sidewalk, it’s good to get into a habit of regular sweeping. Regular prayer, regular scripture reading, attendance at church, giving of our time, our treasure and our talent… all of these are ways to keep the path clear.
Advent is a great time to try out some new practices too and there’s still enough time left this Advent to try something new. One concrete action could be to purchase something for the food bank each we time shop or perhaps each time we go to a holiday party. Maybe you’d like to take home the bulletin and simply re-read the collect or one of the Scripture readings later this afternoon or throughout the week. I knew a family that put money into a piggy bank every time they went out for some kind of treat – like dinner or a movie – and later they decided, together, how to give away that collected money in thanksgiving for all that God had given them. All of these practices help us to sweep off the path and to be ready welcome God more fully.
The other option for clearing the path is to not “do” anything but rather to invite God to come a little nearer and just “be” together for awhile. The light and warmth of God’s presence will, over time, melt down those hard icy obstacles that are too much for us to wrestle away on our own.
The season of Advent gifts us with a chance to pay attention and to practice and to prepare. Each one of us will, in this life, have both great joys and profound tragedies. In the midst of such a high or a low it is good to be able to rely on the tried and true and practiced – and to have a clear path in case we do want to invite God closer…
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways shall made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Amen.