Advent II, 2017
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” So proclaimed Isaiah. John the Baptist was Isaiah’s predicted messenger of the Messiah calling us to prepare for the Lord.
As we continue the journey of significant words in scripture, that’s our word this morning, prepare. The dictionary definition is straightforward, “Make (something) ready for use or consideration…”
Could there possibly be a more apt time to consider prepare than December? Everywhere one looks, folks are preparing, making ready. Christmas is coming. Lights, tress, candles, wreaths, decorations, baking, cooking, driving, flying, buying, wrapping, sending, spending, it seems one great big preparation.
Of course there are different methods to “making ready.” My grandmother began to prepare for Christmas in August when she began stalking sales. By October the second bed in her room was a child’s dream, covered as it was with brightly wrapped gifts. Come Christmas morn, Gram was prepared to deliver wonderful items from each of our lists.
My friend Brad on the other hand was the opposite. Brad was the stereotypical Christmas Eve shopper. He would hit a mall that afternoon and have a blast shopping for his current girlfriend and his folks. I think his parents got a lot of calendars over the years.
Which way do you go with your preparations for Christmas? I wonder if we are a bit of both. For our celebrations of December 25 we can tilt toward my grandmother, if not in August, at least by Black Friday we have begun to pull together our lists, check them twice and proceed to put together Christmas as we know it and remember it.
On the other hand, we might have a bit of Brad in us, when we encounter wild and wooly John the Baptist telling us to prepare for the Messiah means to repent. When it comes to the gospel the difference is like thinking, “Yippee, there’s gonna be a party. Oh, but we have to clean house first!”
Mark begins his gospel with this breathless messenger who is eager to make an unexpected announcement. Yet there are no mangers, no shepherds or wise men, no hosts of angels or Mary’s magnificent prayer. Only a camel hair suited, locust eating wild man crying for people to repent and confess. Who would be surprised if folks procrastinated a bit?
Our family had a powerboat when I was young. The boat was a 32’ Chris Craft that we would take out on weekends for fishing off the California coast. After each trip, when we got back to the dock, my Dad had a long “to-do” list for cleaning up. I could understand cleaning up the fish scales, or taking out the trash from lunch, but it took a while to get used to washing and wiping down every surface. Most of it looked pretty clean. What was the big deal? More than a few times, my father explained to one of us the corrosive effects of saltwater. Even if you could not see it, the salt from the water could cause damage to the boat. So in order to be ready to go out the following weekend, each trip ended with hosing and wiping down the boat. My brother and I took to calling each other “Swabbie.”
Swabbing corrosive saltwater to make ready for the next fishing expedition is something like preparing for the coming of the Lord by repenting. We may not see the corrosive effects of our sin, but they are there nonetheless. Wrapped around us and dragging behind like Marley’s chains. It is not easy work. It is not exciting and it certainly does not enter our hearts with the lilting sway of Christmas carols that waft through the bulk of our Christmas preparations.
What decks in your life need to be swabbed down? Where in your life do you need to repent, in order to fully prepare for the coming of the Messiah?
This fall a national conversation has emerged as one of those areas many overlooked. As more and more women have stepped forward to relate stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, and society in general - particularly with the #MeToo - another place in need of repentance is opening up. Time Magazine called the movement “The Silence Breakers,” and named them the cover of the year. For too long we have dismissed the saltwater that was corroding others as “just the way it is,” or no big deal.
In my work with the Committee on Ministry in developing and implementing a sexual misconduct policy for the Presbytery, it was clear that the issue goes beyond the bounds of illicit affairs. It includes the wielding of power, bullying, dismissing and dehumanizing others.
The national conversation on this issue has begun with men in the public sphere. Powerful media moguls and stars, politicians and prominent people in business. The problem, however, is deeper and broader than simply men with money and incredible power.
It is too easy to blame the shows and movies we watch or the magazines and books we read. Advertised-driven content would not be out there if we were not watching, reading and buying it. Frankly repentance, which means “turn away, is not about “them,” or “others,” it is about you and me. To prepare, for the Messiah, by repenting, is about you and me turning away from that which is wrong.
The thing about the #MeToo and the Silence Breakers that should work their way into our own soul searching, is in reflecting on our own culpability in promoting behavior and attitudes that demean and belittle anyone. Or in the larger sense, abuse another.
Many of these behaviors are subtle, yet they are pervasive. In reflecting on my need for preparing by repenting in this manner I remembered an incident at lunch in high school. Lunch at Pt Loma High was in a courtyard where a large part of the student body sat on benches or stood around the planters with bagged our bought lunches.
At one lunch five of the coolest seniors, all jocks and stars of the school, marched out into the middle of the courtyard. Carrying beach chairs and poster board and wearing shorts, Hawaiian shirts, straw hats and sunglasses, the group set up their chairs and parked themselves in the middle of the courtyard. After a moment, as female students began to walk by, these guys raised their poster boards. The boards had numbers on them, link an Olympic sport, they were rating the women.
The thing of it is, the whole courtyard got into the act. There was clapping and cheering, laughter and more than a few girls who purposely sashayed in front of this misogynist reviewing stand. And I can’t remember any of the lunch monitors moving to stop the show. It wasn’t a fight, it didn’t seem threatening, just fun.
I share this with you in part to confess my own past laughter at such displays, but also to highlight how pervasive and seemingly innocuous such behavior is in our culture. When we objectify anyone, male, female, young old, white, black, straight, gay, transgender, neighbor or immigrant, we deny a person’s full humanity and personhood as God created them. Participating in, encouraging, dismissing or belittling such attitudes and behaviors perpetuates stereotypes that corrode both us and the other. It is sinful and merits repentance, our turning away, in order to fully prepare for the Messiah who is coming for all the world.
Reflecting on what the Messiah means for the world, Paul proclaimed there is neither Jew nor Greek, Slave or free, male or female, for we are all one in Jesus Christ. John the Baptist demands we prepare by clearing out the corrosion in our lives, turning away from the saltwater and toward the light that is to come and has come.
It really is a party, but we’ve got have some housecleaning to do first.