Sunday, December 6, 2020 – Sermon by Gail Russell
The word Advent comes from the Latin
Originally “ad venire” meaning “to come”
Later to “adventus” meaning “arrival”.
So the first season of the church year, Advent, is a time to prepare for what is coming, or arriving. In the secular world, people prepare for the Christmas holiday in earnest. Some begin by buying, writing and mailing Christmas cards, and the list of recipients may seem overwhelming. Many plan their own parties, and most have an abundance of invitations to other celebrations. Gift buying can be particularly stressful as you search for the just the right thing for each person. Decorating houses, yards, offices, churches and more makes the season festive but takes time and effort to do. Planning Christmas dinner is another big to-do list item. And all of this is in addition to the regular stuff that needs to get done. Whew! It is very easy to get caught up in all these types of preparation for the celebration to come. But all of this busy activity distracts us from the real preparation we should be doing. And trust me, I am as guilty as anybody at getting caught up in these secular festivities.
Many years ago, as I was in the midst of yet another frantic Advent, I stopped myself and asked, “Why? Why was I doing all these things when all it did was make me anxious?” I realized that I needed to re-examine everything I was doing and decide if it really made me happy or enhanced my Advent experience. I politely declined party invitations for affairs I really did not want to attend. I pared my Christmas card and gift lists to those people to whom I felt close or I truly wished to reach out. I did what lifted my spirits or touched my heart, bypassing what felt like mere obligations. And now my Advent is a time when I focus on preparing my life, myself, and my heart for Jesus’ next arrival, as we heard about in Isaiah and Mark this morning.
Mark: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Isaiah: Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low, the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain.
In Mark and Isaiah, we hear of what is to be done to prepare the way for the Lord. Clearly we are not going to engage in massive construction projects to level mountains, fill valleys and straighten roads. It is not a physical getting ready that we are to do – it is a time to work on our hearts, our minds and our souls. And there is always work to do to be ready.
This year has brought incredible challenges to all of us. There were deep valleys of despair at being alone and isolated because of a tiny virus. Low places of grief for many, as we lost those we loved and were unable to celebrate their lives as we wished. Dark places of anxiety and fear: racism that many thought was behind us but was only hidden, hate and the violence it spawned, political division between families and friends. The country was fighting not only the pandemic, but forest fires in the west, hurricanes in the Gulf States and crazy temperature and rain fluctuations that caused drought and floods in other places.
Advent gives us a chance to pause and reset. Search within yourself. Look down into the valleys – the low, deep or dark places that you struggle to navigate. Fill them with the Light of Christ and make them level and even.
Look up at the insurmountable mountain – the problem that you are trying to climb over or get around. Take a good look at that mountain: do you really need to get to the other side? What is over there that is so darned important anyway? Maybe the mountain can just be left behind. If you must get there, seek God’s power to move that mountain out of the way (the bible does say, after all, that God can move mountains).
Maybe you discover crooked paths with twists and turns and stumbling blocks. Let go of what gets between you and God – those things that are obstacles to a straight path. You can’t reach out for Jesus if you are holding tight to something else. Open up and let go of whatever you think you need, so that you can take the hand of Jesus and walk his path instead.
My challenge to each of you, then, is to find a new way do Advent. The corona virus will prevent or change many of the usual things we do, so I think this is a perfect year to re-evaluate our Advent traditions and how we prepare – both for Jesus’ birth and His coming again. What brings you joy, comfort, peace, and closeness to Christ? Who really matters in your life that you want to share with? Which things feel like obligations or duties that only make you annoyed or anxious?
Enjoy the season and whatever makes you happy, but remember that the first Christmas had none of those things I listed – cards, parties, decorations, Christmas dinner, and such – not one. It was about humbly welcoming baby Jesus into our world, and our Advent should be focused on welcoming Jesus back into our hearts and lives once more. So reboot your Advent and prepare for Jesus second arrival, even as we celebrate his first one.