Understanding Advent in the 21st Century


You are invited to join us during the four Sundays in October (October 5, 12, 19, and 26), from 5 to 7 pm, in the tradition of the early United Methodist Church, at the home of Tony Mitchell and Ann Walker for a four week Bible study to prepare for Advent.

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us read the Scriptures for each week of Advent and consider the following questions:

  1. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  2. What is the meaning of Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

You are welcome to come for one, two, three, or all four sessions. Please let Ann and me know that you are coming.

“A Pre-Advent Bible Study”


All the details haven’t been worked out yet but we are thinking of hosting a pre-Advent Bible study at our place in October.

#1 Yes, I know Advent doesn’t start until November 30th but weather issues suggest having the study in October.

#2 I have come up with the following questions/thoughts:

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us consider the following questions:

  1. What is the meaning of Advent?
  2. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

#3 What questions would you cover during such a study? (For those reading this on Facebook, I would appreciate it if you would also add your comments on the blog page as well. Thanks!)

Thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Advent


I really hadn’t planned on doing more than post links to my previous posts for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (B). But some things have happened that make me wonder about this season of Advent.

First, in a sermon I posted back in October (“Who Shall Feed My Sheep?”) I posted the following thought,

There is a balance between what we do for the church and what we do for God. It has become more of a social thing where we worry about paying the bills or the color of the carpet or when to have the next fund-raiser. If we were more in terms of what the Thessalonian church was doing, then the societal issues would be easily resolved. If the church today were more focused on providing that which the people truly need, then many of the issues that so dominate this world would probably disappear.

The cynic and the skeptic will tell me that this is all well and good but the church has to pay the bills or it cannot do the work. But people don’t talk about the church that pays its bills; they talk and they visit the church that welcomes them as Christ welcomed us. They talk and visit churches where the spirit of the Lord is alive and present in the thoughts, words, deeds, and actions of the members of the church. And I, unfortunately, know from my own experience that visitors to the church don’t want to hear about the financial problems of the church or the need to get involved in the next big church project/fund raiser.

Some comments have been made recently that made me think about this, especially with the Gospel reading for yesterday telling us of John the Baptizer and his telling us that Christ was coming.

So my thought this Monday morning – how do you know if the spirit of the Lord is alive and present in the words, thoughts, deeds and actions of the members of the church?

What signs do you look for that tell you that you will find Christ in the church?

A second note – as we enter deep into the holiday season, I hope that you will not wait until Christmas Day to provide food and meals for the least among you. As I pointed out two weeks ago (“A Particular Point in Time”),

I find too many examples today where that is the case, where the church, despite its teachings and its history, ignores the poor and needy and favors the rich and powerful. Oh, I know that there probably isn’t a church in this country who is not conducting a food drive this week. But what are they doing next week? What are the people of the churches today doing to insure that the Kingdom of God has a chance in this world?

We don’t expect those we feed at “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen” to join our church. But we hope that those who come find Christ in their own way and we hope that others will see the power and presence of Christ in the work that we do. Perhaps someone will come to our church because they know that Christ does work there. (If you are interested, it costs us approximately $600 a month to offer breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays; we get some donations but not always enough. If you would like to help, contact me.)

Here are my previous thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (Year B):

“The Messiah Is More Just a Piece of Music”– – sermon given at Walker Valley UMC, 5 December 1999

“The Messiah Is More Than A Song”– sermon given at Tompkins Corners UMC, 8 December 2002

“Who Is Coming?”
– posted 4 December 2005

“Preparing the Way”– posted 7 December 2008

 


 

Preparing the Way


Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (December 7, 2008).  The Scriptures were Isaiah 40: 1 – 11, 2 Peter 3: 8 – 15, and Mark 1: 1 – 8.

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I have been intrigued by two thoughts this past week, the attitude of today’s students when it comes to cheating and a statement about the minds of fundamentalist that I thought I heard.

First, following the comment by John Meunier to my post on “Academic and Scientific Integrity”, the links that WordPress attached in the comment section (especially “And AWAAAY We Go!!”), and the information in his post, “Lying, cheating, stealing … America’s youth”, students today seem a little cavalier in their attitude towards cheating.  For some, it is a fight against the “system” that they think is tilted against them; for others, it is the only way that they see themselves succeeding or achieving the level of success that they feel they need to achieve.  That should not be surprising since we are a society in which the final result is all that counts and the easier it is for you to achieve that result, the better you are.  It is a mark of our society that we no longer reward hard work or thinking but rather applaud those who find the quick and easy way.

We may not encourage or suggest that cheating is the best way but we don’t mind it when it is done if no one is caught and it harms no one.  Whether or not there is actual physical harm to another person is not the point, because if a person uses faulty methods to obtain knowledge, they will be hurting themselves and society in the long run. It makes me wonder how we intend to be competitive in fields such as alternative energy and climate control if we do not insist that our students begin to think and come up with the innovations that will be required for their future and the future of this planet.

The other thing that I heard, or thought I heard this week, was regarding a study that suggested that there was something wrong with the minds of those individuals that call themselves or are identified as “fundamentalists.”  I did not catch the name of the study or the authors of the report and I am willing to ignore the report as another report that equates religion with psychological instability.

But, if we, individually, are unwilling to develop thinking skills and we, as a society, no longer encourage the art and process of thinking, then there is something wrong with our minds.  Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I thought like a child.  But when I grew up, I put away my childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13: 11).  The lack of thinking that seems, at least to me, so obvious in this world today, comes about because we stop thinking the moment our formal education comes to a close. Many of us take the attitude that there is no more to learn or think about.

Now, no matter whether we are a child of twelve or an adult of thirty-two when we first come to Christ, we are apt to see things in a child-like way.  Among other things, we see the world in black and white, even when it is a world of color.  We like things simple and easy, even when they are complex and often difficult.  The problem is that as we grow in Christ and Christ in us, our thinking must also grow as well.

One reason why children leave the church after high school is that they have “grown up” and begin to they see in their parents and the people of their church a world in contradiction with the world that they have been taught in Sunday School and church.  They have questions about the world around them that are in conflict with the world of Israel some two thousand years ago and they seek the answers to why there are such contradictions.  And the church and the elders of the church are often not willing to give them the answers, in part because they themselves may not know the answers, in part because they know that the answers will show the contradiction more clearly.

This is seen in the fight for creationism in science classrooms.  The teaching of evolution as a theory for the explanation of life on earth is seen as a conflict to the teaching of creation as outlined in Genesis.  If we understand how science operates (see “The Processes of Science”) and we understand the purpose of the first chapters of Genesis, then there should not be a conflict.  But if we do not understand how science operates or what the purposes of those first chapters of Genesis were about, then we have not grown in our thinking. 

And if we are not growing in our thinking, we are apt to find ourselves in a world where we try to find ourselves in a world where we try to write a rule for every situation conceivable.  But it is not possible to create such rules and we are apt to find ourselves creating rules that contradict other rules or we find ourselves in situations where our inability to think prevents us from coming up with viable solutions (see “The Challenge of Education”).

The focus of the Old Testament reading for today as well as the Gospel reading is on preparing the way for the coming of the Lord.  How are we going to prepare the way for the Lord when we ourselves are trapped in a world where we cannot think?  How shall we prepare the way for the Lord when our lives are in the valleys that we must fill?

On a couple of occasions, I have noted that I have seen the valley filled and the road made straight.  In one case, the effort removed a series of switch backs going up the side of Pine Mountain in Kentucky.  It made the drive down U. S. Highway 19 into Johnson City, Tennessee, a whole lot easier.  But I have also seen the tops of the mountains in that same area of West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina blown off so that the coal in the mountains could be easily obtained.  The debris from this mountain top removal ends up in the valleys and fills them up, polluting the streams and destroying the natural habitat.  The valleys have been filled; the roads have been made straight but the glory of God cannot be seen in the destruction of the land.

We are destroying the world around us, both the real and the spiritual world, because we are not thinking.  We pollute our air, our water, and our land because we do not see it as the glory of God.  We destroy the environment because we claim that jobs are needed but we are unwilling to pay the little bit extra that would create the same jobs yet protect the environment.  We are hardly preparing the way for people to live in the coming years.

We are faced with several crises right now, crises that cannot be solved by military might or government bailouts of large corporations.  Yet, because we cannot think, we see no other way.  We feel that it is better to give money to the rich and suggest that they help the poor rather than ignoring the rich and helping those who do not have.  We have forgotten the words of Christ who warned us against ignoring the poor and needy.

We fear the love of two people of the same sex and claim that it will destroy this country while corporations pillage the national treasury. Somehow, I don’t think we are preparing the way for the coming of the Lord.

But there is a voice crying out in the wilderness, crying to us to prepare the way and to prepare ourselves.  The Baptizer called out that the time is now and the opportunity presents itself.

We can prepare the way.  We must cast aside our childish ways and begin to grow in heart and mind and spirit.  We must begin to seek the Lord by thinking and saying and doing.  We can prepare the way and there is still time.

The Messiah is More Than Just a Piece of Music


This is the message I presented for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (December 5, 1999) at Walker Valley UMC.  The Scriptures were Isaiah 40: 1 – 11, 2 Peter 3: 8 – 15, and Mark 1: 1 – 8.

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George Frideric Handel’s English oratorio Messiah stands alone, a work in a class apart, telling of the birth, passion and triumph of Jesus not in direct narrative but by allusion. It is by general consensus one of the supreme masterpieces of all music. It was composed in just three weeks (August 22 – September 14, 1741) and was first performed on April 13, 1742 in Dublin.

Yet, for all of its majesty, beauty, and greatness, there are a number of misconceptions about the piece. First, there is more to the piece than just the “Hallelujah Chorus”. And this chorus is not at the end of the performance, as one might suspect.

Handel’s Messiah (without a the in the title) is also more than a Christmas piece, though that is when it is most often sung. As I have already noted, the oratorio is composed of three sections, which deal with the birth, passion, and triumph of Jesus Christ. As was also noted earlier, its first performance was at Easter in 1742.

And if you are like me, you did not initially know that the words Handle used for the Messiah are taken from the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament reading for today provides the basis for the opening tenor solo.

I might add that the first solo that I ever sang was an adaptation of that opening tenor solo, “Prepare Ye the Way.” Some of my students at the time commented that I looked a little scared when I was doing it. Something about my face looked a little paler than usual.

But the Scriptures for today are not necessarily about a piece of music; they are about Advent and what it means. The passage from Mark speaks of John calling for repentance, a word that in Hebrew originally meant to return. The passage from Isaiah for today, first spoken to the people of Israel and now to us, to return is an invitation. For the Jewish nation in exile in Babylon, the words of Isaiah were a call to return to their home in Israel.

For though Advent prepares us for Christmas, it is more than that. It is also a time for us to prepare for the coming of Christ, whenever that may be. As noted in the Epistle reading for today, that time is not known.

Just as last week, the message for today is one of preparation. That is why, today, we hear about John the Baptist. All four of the Gospels deal at length with John not because he was a significant religious leader with disciples or because of he suffered martyrdom but because it was understood that his function was to be the one who prepared us for the Advent of Christ.

John was the one, of whom Isaiah spoke,

A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40: 3)

But even John knew that he was not the one, the true Messiah.

And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop and untie.” (Mark 1: 7)

But we have to be careful that we do not rush past John’s words of preparation and repentance. John’s preaching makes it abundantly clear that one aspect of the Lord’s Advent is the full revelation of the kind of persons we are and of the consequences of character and conduct that await us.

Preparing for the Lord, as we are called to do in the Gospel reading for today, is not a simple task. As Bill McCormick noted last week, when a king would come to visit an area for the first time, engineers would come out and straighten the roads, removing all of the major obstacles, and making it generally easier for the king to travel.

In this day and age, do we do the same? Do we spend time preparing for Christmas or are we caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season? Is our focus on Christ’s birth and what it means or do we spend all of our time focusing on the gifts we need to buy and the gifts we hope to get?

Are we so busy with the matters of the world that we put God aside, hoping that He will be there for us when we really, really need him? Is our world such that we feel that we can solve any problem that develops using solely our own abilities and skills? In a world where our hope to solve our problems is based on our own abilities, the best we can ever expect is to keep things from getting worse, never better. If we isolate God so that our secular world is without Him, then it is a world without hope.

It is a primary truth of Christianity that God reaches us directly. No person is insulated. As ocean floods the inlets, as sunlight environs the plant, so God enfolds and enwreathes the finite spirit. There is this difference, however, inlet and plant are penetrated whether they will or not. Sea and sunshine crowd themselves in a tergo. Not so with God. He can be received only through appreciation and conscious appropriation. He comes only through the doors that are purposely opened for him. A person may live as near God as the bubble is to the ocean and yet not find him. He may be “closer than breathing, nearer than hands or feet,” and still be missed. Historical Christianity is dry and formal when it lacks the immediate and inward response to our Great Companion; but our spirits are trained to know him to appreciate him, by the mediation of historical revelation. A person’s spiritual life is always dwarfed when cut apart from history. Mysticism is empty unless it is enriched by outward and historical revelation. The supreme education of the soul comes through an intimate acquaintance with Jesus Christ of history. (From The Double Search by Rufus M. Jones)

So we pay heed to the closing verse of 2nd Peter,

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives.’ (2nd Peter 3: 11)

Peter also wrote of the Lord’s promise,

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2nd Peter 3: 9)

The Lord has always been true to his promise. The prophet Isaiah was sent specifically to give the people a sense of redemption. To redeem something means to make good, to keep a promise if you will. Having a sense of redemption is necessary if we are to successfully function in today’s world. Having a spirit of redemption means that we can operate with the belief that we will receive what was promised to us.

But as verse 9 of 2nd Peter concludes, that promise of redemption is all those who come to repentance. Christmas is a time of celebration, a celebration that comes from preparation. And while we may want to sing praises and hallelujah, that time is not yet here. It is more a time to sing of preparation and repentance, to prepare the way of the Lord in one’s own life.

The Messiah Is More Than A Song


This is the message I presented for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (December 8, 2002) at Tompkins Corners UMC.  The Scriptures were Isaiah 40: 1 – 11, 2 Peter 3: 8 – 15, and Mark 1: 1 – 8.

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If you are like me, one of the first exposures to the words of the Old Testament and Gospel for today came from hearing and participating in a performance of George Frederic Handel’s “Messiah”. Note that the title of the piece has no “the” in it, it is simply “Messiah”. In fact, the first solo I ever did was the tenor solo announcing the voice crying out in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord. And some of my students at that time commented that I seemed a little bit on the scared side when I sang. They said my face looked a little paler than usual.

There are a number of misconceptions about the piece. First, it is more than just a Christmas piece, though that is when it is most often sung. Its first performance was not at Christmas but on Easter in 1742. And it is more than the “Hallelujah Chorus”. My own surprise came when I discovered that this chorus comes not at the end of the performance but rather in the middle and serves as the transition from the birth of Christ to Passion Week.

It is an oratorio in three sections, dealing with the birth, passion, and triumph of Jesus Christ. Through its majesty, beauty, and greatness, you gain a sense of the emotion and vitality that Jesus must have been then and still is today. One can only imagine what Handel was thinking as he put the words from the scripture that announced the birth of Christ and put down the notes that would carry the message of the Scripture out to the public.

And I think that is how we should hear the words, as Handel perhaps intended them to be heard, announcing the birth of Christ, telling us to prepare for His coming and his ministry, culminating with His resurrection.

Even today we need to be reminded that Jesus came for us, individually and together. Consider the following:

It is a primary truth of Christianity that God reaches us directly. No person is insulated. As ocean floods the inlets, as sunlight environs the plant, so God enfolds and enwreathes the finite spirit. There is this difference, however, inlet and plant are penetrated whether they will or not. Sea and sunshine crowd themselves in a tergo. Not so with God. He can be received only through appreciation and conscious appropriation. He comes only through doors that are purposely opened for him. A person may live as near God as the bubble is to the ocean and yet not find him. He may be “closer than breathing, nearer than hands or feet,” and still be missed. Historical Christianity is dry and formal when it lacks the immediate and inward response to our Great Companion; but our spirits are trained to know him, to appreciate him, by the mediation of historical revelation. A person’s spiritual life is always dwarfed when cut apart from history. Mysticism is empty unless it is enriched by outward and historical revelation. The supreme education of the soul comes through an intimate acquaintance with Jesus Christ of history. (1)

We must then begin to prepare to meet Jesus, if not for the first time, then once again. That is what Advent is about; our preparation for the coming of Christ. It is a preparation that is individual in nature.

It is a preparation that cannot be delayed. Whether we hear the words of Peter in his letter today or the words of John the Baptist, it is clear that we must prepare for the coming of the Lord; that our encounter with the Lord will be ours and ours alone. It is a preparation that must begin now, for time is of no matter to God. His clock is not one we can read or even begin to comprehend; as Peter wrote, time is not important to God so it cannot be important to us. If we must prepare, we must do it now.

It is also important that we realize that John’s voice crying out in the wilderness was not preparing a way for the Lord to come to us but rather for us to come to the Lord. John’s message of repentance was also one of change; if one was to be baptized by the water, washed clean, then one must be willing to change. This is something many people have forgotten today. Too many people today want Christ as their Savior but they want Him on their terms; a deal that cannot be made.

And many evangelists preach a message that fits into that concept of God fitting into your plans rather than the other way around. John’s call was to repent, to change one’s self in order to be ready for God. If we are to gain because of Christ, we cannot keep our old ways.

For as we prepare ourselves, so too are we able to help others. To Isaiah, God said, “comfort my people.” The end of the Babylonian exile was near and the people of Israel would soon be going back to Jerusalem. The call to prepare the way was a call to remove all obstacles that would hamper that coming. In one sense, it means to prepare one’s heart in order to accept the Holy Spirit. It also means that we must help others. Now we can never get someone to accept the Holy Spirit; I continue to believe that is an individual event. But I also believe that we, individually and as a church, can and must do everything possible to help others come to that moment. We must comfort those in need; we must prepare the way so that when the time comes, the path is clear for individuals to come to Christ.

The other day I came across a powerful idea, one that I think fits the small church of today. There are many models for the growth of churches in America today but I don’t believe that they work well with small churches, such as Tompkins Corners or Walker Valley. But there are ways that we can grow and there are ways that we can reach out.

One way is to pay attention to what visitors to this or any church experience on Sunday morning. Will they experience warm hospitality? Will they get a palpable sense of the presence of God? Christopher Schwartz has stated that this is the single most powerful evangelistic outreach possible and through it church growth is possible without the presence or plan of an evangelism program. He concluded his discussion about church growth by noting that all growing congregations have eight traits in common:

  1. Leaders who empower others to do ministry;
  2. Ministry tasks distributed according to the gifts of the members;
  3. A passionate spirituality marked by prayer and putting faith into practice;
  4. Organizational structures that promote ministry;
  5. Inspiring worship services;
  6. Small groups in which the loving and healing power of fellowship is experienced;
  7. Need-oriented evangelism that meets the needs of the people the church is trying to reach;
  8. And loving relationships among the members of the church.

Schwartz maintains that if all eight of these characteristics are present, congregations will grow naturally and organically, without the need for an evangelist program.

This can be quite a challenge for many people. Some people think that the task of sharing the Gospel is harder than it actually is. It would seem that, as the humorist Dave Barry once wrote, the people who are the most interested in telling you about their religion don’t want to hear about yours.

Ben Campbell Johnson, of Columbia Theological Seminary, suggests that you ask people outside church “When has God seemed near to you?” There is nothing judgmental about this approach; it starts with where people are and it takes their experience seriously.

If you cannot or will not share your faith with others, it may be that you are in the midst of a crisis of your own. Often times, people use aggressive tactics because they themselves are insecure about their own faith and are anxious for others to believe and behave in the manner that they do so as to make their own faith more plausible.

The question then, is whether one believes in the efficacy of the Gospel — the Gospel that justifies so that we don’t need to earn our status before God or vie for position with others. It is the Gospel that gives shape and purpose to life, making us other-directed rather than self-centered. It is the Gospel of peace that can reconcile broken relationships and build communities. It is the Gospel of justice that advocates for the poor and the marginalized. It is a Gospel of good news and how can one keep from sharing the good news?

This can be a time of great joy and peace, but it is often a time of despair and darkness. As we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord, we are also challenged to make it easier for others to come to Christ. That preparation begins at the table set before us today. Christ invites us without regard to who or what we are. He says to each one of us that this bread was broken for each one of us and that blood that was shed was shed for us. We hear the words of Isaiah speaking of comfort and know that Christ died so that we may be comforted. We hear the words of John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness, telling us to prepare the way and we know that Christ died so that the way would be prepared. As we complete this, the second Sunday in Advent, we continue preparing for the coming of Christ. And we are invited, no, commanded to help in whatever way we can, through our own talents and gifts, to provided comfort to those who are in pain and to help prepare the way so that others may come to the Lord.

And just as Handel wrote the chorus to celebrate the birth of Christ, so too should we proclaim the presence of Christ in our lives.


(1) From The Double Search by Rufus M. Jones

Who is coming?


Here are my thoughts for the Second Sunday in Advent

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Laurie Beth Jones starts off her book, Jesus in Blue Jeans, by describing how she came to know Christ.

Many years ago I dreamed that I was standing in a meadow. Suddenly I saw a man approaching me. As he got nearer I gasped to realize that it was Jesus in Blue Jeans. When he saw the expression on my face he said, “Why are you surprised? I came to them wearing robes because they wore robes. I come to you in blue jeans because you wear blue jeans. (Jesus in Blue Jeans (prologue), Laurie Beth Jones)

At this time of year it is important that we understand how we see Christ. On the one hand we see Christ as a newborn child, young, innocent and unprotected. It makes Advent and Christmas so much easier when we celebrate the birth of a child; it makes it so much easier if we do not have to think of John the Baptist coming to us, calling out for us to repent and prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. A newborn infant is so much easier to deal with.

But we also see and we are reminded by the Scripture readings for today that Jesus is a young man coming into our world with the express purpose of offering us the greatest gift of all, salvation. The Scriptures today also tell us that we should prepare for this coming of Christ.

But we have to be careful when we read these passages because He is not coming to save us unless we first take some steps of our own. In the Psalter reading for today, we read that God “will speak peace to his people” (Psalm 85: 8) if they turn to him. There are things that we must do in order for Christ to appear before us.

The prophet Isaiah tells us to prepare a way for the Lord. We must build that straight highway; we must fill the valleys and lay low the mountains and hilltops. These are not easy things to do. Having lived in southeast Kentucky, I was privy to one of the greatest land removal schemes ever concocted.

Running along the Kentucky – Virginia state line is Pine Mountain. Back around 1988, Highway 19 ran south from Ohio and West Virginia through Kentucky and into Virginia. When the highway got to Pine Mountain, the builders put in a series of switch-backs to get up the mountain and through Pound Gap into Virginia. During the late 1990’s, these switch-backs were removed and the highway was made straight. Literally speaking the valleys were filled and the mountain tops laid low. It was one of the greatest earth removal plans ever devised. When I moved to that area in 1998, I had a sense that I had been there before because of a trip I had made from Ohio to Florida. But I could not figure out where I had been. Then I realized that the roads that I had traveled had been replaced by the new highway, a highway without the typical switch-backs of mountain highways.

So too is the road that we must build so that Christ can come to us. We must fill in the gaps in our lives and remove the barriers that we put up that keep Christ and people from reaching us. It is not an easy task. It is a task that we often do not even want to begin.

It is so easy to build mountains and dig valleys around us. It makes it easier for us to avoid dealing with people. It makes it easier for us to ignore the problems of the world. But when we do that we also cut ourselves off from the world. Cut off from the world, we cry out in pain. But there is no one to hear our cries because we have cut ourselves off so that we would not hear others crying out in pain.

And the prophet tells us that we are like the grass of a field that will wither in time. The prophet tells us that we are like the flowers of the field whose colors will fade over time. The prophet tells us that grass and flowers are only temporary things in God’s world but God’s word lasts forever. So we are to prepare a way for the Lord, we are to go to the highest mountaintop and not cry out in pain but rather in joy, And then our God will come in all His glory.

Even today we hear the voice of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness. Perhaps it is the voice of the homeless, perhaps it is the voice of the sick and needy, perhaps it is the voice of the oppressed and the forgotten, but we hear their voices. We would much rather hear the cry of a newborn infant.

We know that a newborn child will grow, especially that little child in the manger. We can wait for that child to grow up. But the voice of one in the wilderness tells us we cannot wait, for the grown-up Lord will be here any minute.

The coming of the Lord is discussed only in theological terms or as speculation at best. But Peter tells us that it is a moment in time that will catch us aware, as a thief in the night comes. And when He comes, we must be ready; when He comes, we must be aware. That is why Peter encourages us to be at peace, not just with God but with all.

We hear the voice of John the Baptist telling us to prepare; we hear the voice of Isaiah telling us to make the preparations necessary for the coming of the Lord. We hear Peter telling us that the Lord’s coming is any time. But we look for mountains to protect us; we make valleys around our lives so that no one can get to us.

We are afraid to do that which will prepare us. We don’t mind celebrating the birth of a child, for a newborn infant cannot affect our lives. But an adult, especially one who, as Peter describes, can make the heavens pass away with a loud noise and dissolve the elements in fire makes us scared.

But the prophet Isaiah also tells us that though the Lord God comes in might He will feed us as a shepherd feeds his flock; He will carry us in His bosom as a shepherd carries a lamb and He will bring us home.

So, let us prepare the way. Let us look to the coming of Christ, born a child but still a King. Let us open our hearts, fill in the valleys and tear down the mountains that keep Christ away. Then it will be our voices crying out, as prophets do, celebrating the birth of Christ.