I’ve shared here, a journey that I began a while ago, and some of my thinking about this. Sunday, I took another step along this path. I’m still not sure if this is where I’m heading, but I wanted to share with you the first sermon I ever gave.
Slight edits, for reading vs. hearing, but otherwise, here it is; I make no apologies nor promises, it’s a first-timers outing.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, for as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness
“Prepare the way of the Lord”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you Oh Lord.
As my son said, when he stood here to preach the first time, “I’m not Father ***”. I will add, and you may have noticed, I’m not Deacon ***, either! (For readers, our Deacon is a female, which I am decidedly not)
As some of you know, but many may not, I have been exploring different ministries here at Church for the past several years.
A few of you are also aware that I have been actively trying to determine if I am being called to the ordained ministry, and Father *** was kind enough to give me the chance to explore the preaching aspects involved.
I want to start, by repeating again part of what we heard a moment ago:
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness- Prepare the way of the Lord”, and what that might mean to us, today.
Advent is: A beginning, such as the advent of spring.
Advent is: A time of preparation and prayer for Christmas, in the tradition of the Anglican Church.
Advent is: A time of what, to you and to me?
When I was a little boy, my dad had built a ski-chalet with one of his partners. Set in the middle of 16 acres of second-growth forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to a 7 year old this was prime adventure and exploration territory.
Now, we were not woods people; my family doesn’t hunt, we didn’t do any fishing, or long hikes, nor camping. My Dad’s idea of communing with nature, as far as I knew then, was to be out on the golf course or on the ski slopes, and other relatively tame things like this.
One summer day, I was off behind this little house, making a fort or something, and wandered off down a little path through the trees. I remember the sunlight and shadows, and the sound of the birds, and crackling twigs and dead leaves underfoot.
I also remember the sheer panicked terror, when I turned around, and couldn’t see the house anymore.
As I said, we weren’t woods people, so I’d never really had any experience with finding my way around, if there weren’t sidewalks and streetlights, and handy neighborhood landmarks to guide me- so I had absolutely no clue, what to do next. I was lost, in the wilderness.
Today, we heard from Luke, who is quoting from the prophet Isaiah. We know that John heard the word of God, and began to travel the region, spreading the news that the Messiah is near, that he heard the call of the Lord and answered it, baptizing and preaching repentance.
So I have a question for you: do we hear?
As I was thinking about this, getting ready to speak to you today, I was listening to the people around me. For the past few weeks, I’ve been focused on what people talk about, where they have their attention, in my colleagues, the parents I see, the woman that gets my coffee at the little coffee shop at work, and I found fascinating what struck me as our modern, 2009 wilderness:
“soccer baseball football swimming drama dance band parade fire department mom is sick dad is dying shopping groceries gas flat tire husband out of work chimney cleaners work work work driving cleaning out of dog food out of cat food tree fell down boat prep wash the windows make the bed cross-country basketball tryouts cheer leading work work work singing crying boyfriend trouble girlfriend trouble new car new house new job out of job out of money no insurance not communicating work work work too much communicating facebook myspace text messages cellphones voicemail email train derails fires health-care parties most valuable player prison visits swine flu vaccine work work work not vaccine make dinner do the dishes do your homework friends family.”
And, in this wilderness of things calling for our attention, perhaps, maybe, as an afterthought, God.
What is your wilderness? I just listed some of mine, and perhaps yours, but each of us has our own. There is a wilderness of things demanding our attention, our time, our energy, each of which is important in it’s own way, perhaps. But the collective trees that pop into our way, contribute to the difficulty of navigating through this complex life.
When we get busy, when we start running around too fast and too far, how easy it is to say that we don’t have time for reflection and prayer. We don’t have time to think about what it is God is saying to us, because we don’t allow time for this.
You’ve all heard the complaints, and perhaps like me, have been among the complainers, talking about the materiality of the season, and nobody making time for God, and what is the meaning of Advent, and Christmas, in our hectic, frantic world.
Perhaps, like me, you too have been guilty of getting caught up in the worldly preparations for Christmas, to the exclusion of the truly Holy part of this season, that leads to the miraculous birth of our Lord.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy our celebrations, and our family and friends, and even the office christmas party. But I would say that there is a time for those things, and a time for reflection on the wonderful, amazing miracle of the birth of Jesus, and that we can and should make sure that we allow time for that reflection too.
Now, when I was lost in my childhood wilderness, I did what any good seven year old would do. I called out “MOOOMMM”- and when I heard her calm voice answering “What?”- well, that relief and clear sense of belonging- that too, is one way to see that even in our wilderness all we have to do is listen. Of course, it didn’t hurt much that although I couldn’t see the house, She could see me- so I wasn’t all that lost, as it turned out!
Which brings me to the other half of my question: When do we stop listening, and start speaking?
Perhaps, like me, you’ve been known to forget this part of the communication equation. We need to be open to hear the word being spoken, as some heard John preaching his news, so long ago, and so far away.
But, what of the speaker? When do we do the calling? When do we step in, and begin to be that voice that is spreading this word? And, how do we do it, in our cozy village?
Maybe, we’re doing it now. Maybe, one of the things we are called to do, is to be right here. By joining together in worship and in fellowship, by taking the time from our overly busy lives, are we showing the world that God is indeed here among us?
By listening to God’s voice in our lives, do we help to further that voice in some small way? I think the answer to this, is yes indeed.
Each time you stop to help your friend, each contribution to the basket that you make, each time we pray before a meal or going to bed, you are helping to show that in some measure, the word that was spread, the news that John brought to us so long ago, is valid and alive and real, right here, right now.
Look around this place.
Look at your friends and neighbors, gathered here together, affirming that the reality of Jesus Christ is important to them. Look around and reflect on the long, long way that the word of God traveled, through so many languages and countries, to get to us here, in New York, in 2009.
Look around, and listen, and I believe that you can indeed hear the word of God here, today, now. Perhaps not as tidily laid out as we would like, perhaps it’s a tiny voice in the overly loud requests for our time and money, but it’s there, if we listen.
Advent, traditionally, is a time of preparation for Christmas, a time to make ready for the birth of Jesus.
This birth took place far from here, far from our comfortable 21st century United States style of living; far in time, as well as distance. It took place long ago, before our instant communications, our cellphones, text messages, facebook pages-
Yet, we can still hear, if we listen, the message that was told to us; you and I can hear, if we pay attention.
So, I’m inviting you to put together two meanings of the word Advent:
1. A time of beginning
2. A time of preparation.
And let’s begin, to:
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
As I said, a first-timers attempt, but it was well received. I felt it went pretty well, and the feedback I was given afterward (by the same people that have been meeting with me regularly during this process, as well as more casual congregants), was upbeat and positive.
Hope your Advent is beginning with joy, too!