Year C ,  ADVENT 2

 

Luke 3:1-6.                                                                  (Sermon 1:  “Blessed are the Prepared.”)

                                                                                                                                                (Sermon 2: “The Word Happens.”)

 

Phil. 1: 3-11...

Malachi 3: 1-4...

Psalm Luke 1:68-79

 

PREPARATION

 

The joy of the Coming Christ be with you all.

And also with you.

 

A voice cries out in the wilderness:

Prepare the way of the Lord.

 

Every gully shall be filled up,

every mountain shall be levelled.

 

The crooked shall be straightened,

and the rough road shall be smoothed,

and all the human race shall see

the salvation of our God!

 

                        OR –

 

SONG: Prepare ye the way of the Lord. (From Godspell)

                        * Sung by a soloist from the rear of the congregation.

 

Look! He is coming, says the Lord of hosts!

I send my messenger to prepare the way before me,

and the One whom you seek will suddenly appear.

But who will face up to the day of his coming

and who will stand up when he appears?

 

By grace you are saved, through God’s gift of faith.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

who has visited and redeemed his people.

 

PRAYER OF INVOCATION

 

Holy Friend of the earth, in your compassion you send prophets to shake us out of both religious and secular self-satisfaction, and to help us get ready for the wonderful thing you do in Christ Jesus. Make us alert again to the prophets’ call, that we may turn towards the Messiah who comes in wondrous humility to seek and save the lost. For your love’s sake.

Amen!

 

                        OR –

 

Loving God, be to us as a bulldozer of the spirit. Clear your road in us; clear a path through the detritus of possessions and obsessions. Thrust aside our divided aims and devious games.

Topple the ramparts of pride and the doubts that deride. Make a highway on which Christ may come and take possession of the whole territory of our being.  To the glory of your name we pray.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Sisters and brothers in the faith, we are not here to wallow in guilt, but we are here to make an honest confession. Let us pray.

 

Holy Friend, we confess that we want to have more of you in our lives, yet without the discipline and pain of preparing to receive you; please forgive our evasions and cowardice;

.

Holy Friend, we confess that we get sucked in by those false prophets who offer us an easy discipleship and a cheap grace; please forgive our liking for cheap substitutes.

 

Holy Friend, we confess that  most of us even we fool ourselves into believing that our rough ways and crooked paths are justified; please forgive our excuses and defiance.

 

By your saving grace in Christ Jesus, deal with us with whatever steeliness or gentleness is required, so that we may wholeheartedly return to you and thus come to our own senses. For your name’s sake.

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

 

The eye of God is upon all those who put their hope in him.

 

By the prophets,

God declared loving kindness in the morning

and mercy through the darkest night.

 

By the coming of Christ Jesus,

an amazing, saving grace is set loose among his people,

including even us.

 

In the name of Emmanuel, let us embrace grace, mercy and peace.

 

Now this is true love; not our love for God but God’s love for us.

In Christ we are a forgiven and renovated people. Hallelujah!

 

ZECHARIAH’S SONG

 

Glory to the God of hope,

            Friend of old;

Certain are God’s purposes

            in this world.

 

Speaking by the prophets’ word

            in our need;

From all fear and enmity

            to be freed.

 

Mercy promised long ago,

            fuels our trust;

Room to move and cause to serve

            as saints must.

 

Prophet of the Joy Most High,

            smooths the way;

Salvation free as sun and rain

            here to stay

 

Now dawns the long awaited day,

            of release;

From the shadows of the tomb,

            walk in peace.

                                                            ©  B.D. Prewer 2000.

 

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            God Never Forgets Us

 

Dear God, it’s me again.

I’m sorry

            that I’ve been forgetting your lately.

Thank you, God,

            for never, ever forgetting me.

Amen!

                                                from “Prayers for Aussie Kids” Ó B Prewer & Open Book Publishers

 

BRAVE WILDERNESS VOICE

 

O brave wilderness voice,

prophet of the Highest,

            come among our markets

            and consuming passions

and rebuke with your cry

            our modern addictions

            and frantic fashions.

 

O lonely, rough-hewn soul,

speaker of hard truths,

            axe our mad, fruitless boasts

            and viperous displays;

call us to that repentance

            which we have deftly dodged

            under pious cliches.

 

O smoother of crude ways,

mover of black mountains,

            tread down our pampered pride

            and cultured discontent;

straighten our twisted days

            until each childlike hope

            skips to meet the Advent.

                                                            From “ Beyond Words” ©  B Prewer & JBCE 1995

 

 

GOSPEL FOR THE DAY¾ IN AUSSIE CONTEXT

            (Note: The following was revised in November 2012)

 

It was in the year of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, when Quintan Bryce was Governor-General,  Prof Andrew Dutney the President of the Uniting Church, and Cardinal Pell the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney  when………..

 

The word of God happened on a bloke called John while he was in the Outback, near Menindee. John was the son of the late Rev. Bill Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. Some of you may remember the old fellow and his kindly wife.

 

When the word of God grabbed him, John immediately hitched a ride to Broken Hill, and from there down to the Murray River. Near Mildura, he began to preach by a river beach. He really had the gift of the gab. At first a few people from nearby towns went to hear him. The news spread and before long hundreds, and then thousands, gathered to hear this remarkable fellow. He was a sensation.

 

He had charisma. Yet his message was blunt: “Repent. Make the tough decision; turn your lives around and face God; be baptised and have your sins washed away. Then you will be ready for the coming of the Messiah.”

 

In that old Murray River, where once the paddle boats plied their trade, John baptised thousands. The press nicknamed him “Dipper John.” Seekers drove from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane, to be dipped by John in the river. Some even flew in from Hobart, Perth and Darwin.

 

When the newly baptised people asked him what they should now do to express their repentance, he gave them practical advice. “If you have two suits, give one to the person who has none; if you eat well, share it with the hungry.”

 

When politicians asked what they should do, he replied: “Stop rorting the system. Be satisfied with your salary.” When police officers asked what they should do, John said: “Cut out threats and violence and do not ‘verbal’ any prisoner; refuse ‘sweeteners’ and be content with your wages.”

 

The Dipper John phenomenon reminded many folk of the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah:

            There is a voice calling in the Outback,

            ‘Clear a track for the coming Lord;

                        make it a straight road.

            Fill up all the gullies

                        and level the ridges.

            Straighten the crooked tracks

                        and smooth the rough places.

            For everybody shall soon see for themselves

                        the rescue mission of our God.“

 

The press loved it all. At first they made John out to be some kind of folksy hero. But when he refused interviews with “This Day Tonight” and “Sixty Minutes,” the image makers took umbrage. They turned nasty and tried ferreting into his past to see if they could dig up some dirt. They found  nothing, so they had to rely on innuendo.

 

Dipper John ignored all the hype and just got on with what his God had called him to do, whenever the word of God grabbed him.

 

COLLECT

 

Most holy Friend, you never leave us unprepared for the new things you are about to do. Grant that we, like those who heard the call of your prophet John, may heed the prophets of our generation, and find that true repentance which prepares us for new life. Through Christ Jesus, who with you in the joy of the Holy Spirit are the goal of all love and worship, now and forever.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: BLESSED ARE THE PREPARED

 

Luke 3:4

 

Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain levelled, twisted ways be straightened, rough paths smoothed. that all people can see the salvation of God..

 

Hard words

            are sometimes the most loving words,

whereas soft words

            may be the most cruel words.

 

Today there are some hard, loving words

            to the crooked and the rough,

            to those who are too proud

            and those who are too self effacing.

 

So that should just about include all of us, don’t you think? I’ll leave you to assess into which category you place yourself. Maybe there is a bit of you in each category?

 

JOHN AND ISAIAH

 

Our preacher this morning is John the Baptist. He quotes the words uttered by the prophet Isaiah about the year 550 BC. These are words of inspired hope, originally directed to approximately 15,000 Jewish exiles who were languishing, far from their homeland, in the grandiose city of Babylon.

            Prepare the way of the Lord......

            Every valley shall be lifted up,

            every hill and mountain brought low,

            the crooked shall be made straight,

            the rough ways shall be made smooth.

 

This was a message that promised the Hebrew exiles a return home. Poetically, Isaiah declared that a highway would be opened up across the deserts to their homeland. The valleys would be filled, the hills levelled, the crooked path straightened and rough sections made smooth. It was the promise of a physical return home.

 

The prophet John the Baptist takes those words and applied them in a personal sense; to the things of the human spirit. He called upon his hearers to let God straighten their lives out. To repent and make a return home to God. In this way they can be prepared for the coming of the Messiah.

 

John did his job exceptionally well. His fame spread far wider than Israel (In fact, in the days of the early church, John’s famous name was often used as a character reference for Jesus) He had followers in many parts of the Roman Empire. When the time for Jesus arrived, the ground had been thoroughly prepared for him. Some of John’s disciples were the first to respond to Jesus.  The preparation was most effective.

 

PREPARATION IS IMPORTANT

 

Back to us. Preparation. Preparation does matter. Without it, the world too easily misses the deep heart of Christmas. For that matter, so does the church.

 

To be really ready, the crooked do need to do something about their crookedness, the rough should do something about their abrasiveness, the timid do need to assert themselves and the proud must deflate their egos.

 

Sadly, the simple but profound joys of faith are missed by those who dodge preparation, those who evade the pain of repentance or discipline. I am not an exception, nor are you. Will we be among the prepared? Among those people whose lives will be enriched by the coming Christmas season.

 

Have you had the disconcerting experience of going to a special event (like a concert or a art show) with friends, yet coming away from the event with a sharply different reaction? They come away thrilled and keep chatting enthusiastically about it. But you have been uninspired; in fact you may have been painfully bored.

 

It is the same event but not the same happening. In many cases the real difference is that they had been prepared while we had not. They have been prepared either by attitude, or experience, or by a disciplined training, to appreciate the event. We, the unprepared, have missed out.

 

To use a mundane example, I could walk around old goldfields in the bushland near Bendigo and find it rather boring. But an old prospector could walk the same track and be thrilled by it. I might see only slag heaps, white stone, old timbers, and the tough little ironbark trees trying to reassert themselves in stony soil. He would see the story of struggle, toil, defeats and rewards and, maybe, still be able to spot glints of gold. The difference would be the experience and hard disciplines which he carried into that situation.

 

Prepared people will see the golden glints of the glory of God in many unexpected places and events.

 

I admit that Advent /Christmas is becoming a season when it is difficult to spot the glints of the glory of God among the slag heaps of -

            piped music, Santa Claus mania, Rudolph the Red mythology, galloping consumerism,

            compulsive workplace binge parties, and trivial, sentimental religion.

These days, finding the naked love of God in Christ Jesus is no easy task.

 

Therefore we can do with all the help we can get. So preparation is the way to go.. We need some disciplines, and maybe some good honest repentance, such as John the Baptist called for.

 

COMMENCING WITH US

 

I am not going to be foolish or arrogant enough to suggest the particular repentance and disciplines that you might need.

 

Nor am I enough of an exhibitionist to confess to you the kind of repentance and new disciplines which I need.

 

But a need is there for our repentance.            Of that I have no doubt.

 

Maybe a likely place to start is with the words quoted by John the Baptist:

            The crooked in us which needs straightening,

                        the rough that needs smoothing,

                                    the cringing self which needs uplifting,

                                                or the pride which needs levelling.

 

If we truly want our own “flesh to see the salvation of God”,

            then we must want it with all our being,

                        want it urgently,

                                    then the grace of Christ Jesus will enable it to happen.

 

Maybe we could compose our own little beatitude:

 

            “Blessed are the prepared, for they shall really see Christ at Christmas.”

 

Thanks be to God!

 

 

SERMON 2: OUR REAL WORLD

 

Luke 3:1-3

 

 “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis  and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene; and during the high-priesthood of Anna and Caiaphas ¾

 

The word of God happened to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. John went into the countryside around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

 

Unusual phrase? “The word of God happened to John?”

 

The word of God is an event, not mere sounds like the words we tend to speak. God’s word “happens” like (yet unlike) other happenings. God’s word is a happening replete with unique opportunity.

 

Luke sets the scene for this word that happened to John.

Just as the real story of your life is set in the wider context of events that we which we call history, so the story of John the Baptist is set in the particular context of the history of his time. The Good News that Luke is keen to share, is about actual, potent events.

 

This is emphasised by Luke in his reference to the rulers of that time.

            “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of

            Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region

            of Iturea and Trachonitis  and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene; and during the high-           priesthood of Anna and Caiaphas.

 

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar?

We know much about this Tiberius, successor to that remarkable first Emperor of Rome named Augustus Caesar. Tiberius was a ruthless despot. A man of the cruelest kind. Nasty piece of work! Paranoid! All too real!

 

In one small corner this evil man’s empire John the Baptist took up his preaching post by the Jordan. And the word of God happened.

 

When Pilate was governor of Judea?

Real man. We thought we knew very little about this governor apart from the New Testament record and references by the historian Josephus. In the last century archaeologists found his name on a stone inscription from Governors’ palace at Caesarea (on the sea coast where the Roman governors spent winter). Pilate was an arrogant Roman Governor of Judea; rash and heavy handed. Not a cardboard villain to decorate the Christian story, but a real, historical person.

 

During the time of Pilate, the hair-shirted John began baptising those who repented, and the word of God happened.

 

Herod being tetrarch of the province of Galilee?

Ah yes, we know about him, also from the Roman records. This is not the same Herod who ruled when Jesus was born, but a less imposing rogue. A dilettante. He was educated in Rome and fancied himself as a friend of the Roman court. They “played along” and were happy to

use him. Again real person.  A genuine part of history.

 

In Herod’s time the word of God happened.

 

Also rating a mention are other men with clout.

Herod’s brother Philip and another tetrarch named Lysanias, and the high priests Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas. Here are the power brokers of that time, whose world is going to be altered by that coming Messiah, and whose path John the Baptist prepared by word and deed.

            The word of God happened to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.

            John went into the countryside around the Jordan, preaching a baptism

            of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

 

Real events. A happening. No fable, this; not like the ancient fables of Essop. Not even a forceful parable this, but real people living in a real world marked by both darkness and light, and startled by the word of God confronting them.

 

The same ‘fair dinkum” world we experience.  The same “fair dinkum” word of God which can still happen to us.

 

THE SCANDAL AND JOY

 

John and Jesus, Advent and Christmas, are not make-believe stuff. They have nothing in common with Disneyland. The pulse of the Advent message beats through the real bloodstream of this world.

 

This historicity of the story at the heart of Christianity is both a joy and a scandal..

 

It is a scandal to many people.

            (scandalon-- a stumbling block)

It’s especially a scandal to people who regard themselves as sophisticated. These would prefer a philosophy, erudite or homespun, emerging from the brains  of proud  homo sapeins rather than a faith embedded in the rock of history. They can argue eloquently and long about philosophy. No commitment is needed, no repentance demanded.

 

Philosophers can also cope with myths, ancient and modern, and discuss myths with majestic learning. But actual persons confronting them in a real, identifiable world, allow them limited space in which to manoeuvre; far less opportunity for evading the relentless call of John to repentance or the invitation of Jesus to inherit the kingdom of costly love.

 

Thus this historical nature of Christianity (it is an ongoing event, not a system of ideas) continues to be problem for many.  Jesus knew it would. He warned those who swarmed around him in the first flush of his Galilean ministry that he would be the tripping stone (scandalon) on which many would stumble.

 

Yet it is also a great joy to many.

 

This historical ground of Christian faith is the happening-ness [happiness] to which millions have trusted their lives, and found it to be indeed “good tidings of great joy.”.

 

The Christian story delights in a worldly God.The earthiness of the Gospel declares in unmistakable terms that God is concerned with, and heavily involved in, our real lives, be it under Herod or Henry V111, Pilate or President Obama, Tiberius Caesar or Julia Gillard.

 

Events affecting common people do matter. God is not only involved with the “top dogs  who carry the political muscle and bare the fangs. The God of John the Baptist is the real-life God found among ordinary people and common happenings.

 

Real life includes ¾

measles and birthday parties, music festivals and the travail of a woman’s birth-labour,

traffic cops and supermarkets, dinner parties and AIDS, gardeners and politicians,

slums and terrorists, bingo and children’s hugs, funeral parlours and comedians,

the rumbling of a didgeridoo and the gurgling of babies.

 

The slender thread of our lives spins on amongst these kind of things. And among these events, large and small, the Advent God is with us, and for us with redemptive love and power.

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Thank you Wise and patient God, for the thorough way you prepare for all good things:

 

By your creating Spirit you slowly prepared this planet earth to become the home of living creatures whom you shaped in your own soul-likeness..

Give thanks to God whose name is love, whose goodness remains forever

.

You prepared Abraham and Sarah to be the first covenant people by sending them on a journey, destination unknown.

You prepared Moses to liberate, lead and teach your people by a letting him live many years

in the wilderness, destination far off.

Give thanks to God whose name is love, whose goodness remains forever

 

You prepared Samuel to be your priest and the anointer of kings, by giving him the faithfulness of his mother Hannah and a training from childhood in the temple at Shiloh.

You prepared David to be a remarkable king and poet by the years he spent as a  humble shepherd of his father’s sheep.

Give thanks to God whose name is love, whose goodness remains forever

 

You prepared Amos to be your courageous prophet by the seasons he spent up in the hill country of Tekoa,  pruning fruit trees and caring for herds.

You prepared Hosea to understand and to preach the message of your love, through the painful experience of a failed marriage.

Give thanks to God whose name is love, whose goodness remains forever

 

You prepared John the Baptist to be your prophet by giving him a mother and father of faith,  and by (perhaps) training him among the desert communities of zealous monks.

In the fullness of time you prepared a young woman named Mary, and a carpenter of integrity called Joseph, to nurture and teach of your only true Son, Jesus our Saviour.

Give thanks to God whose name is love, whose goodness remains forever

 

Thank you, wise and patient God for these acts of far-sighted and most generous love. Thank you also for your Spirit today, around and within us, preparing us for things which no eye has seen nor ear heard.

 

Your goodness and love are over all your works. Blessed is your name forever!

Amen!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

            # For 2 voices.

 

Let us pray….

For those arrogant people often found in politics, business, education, and religion:

that they may be brought low enough to recognise their dire need and bold enough to trust the adequacy of the Saviour Christ.

 

For the lowly folk and the unthanked people, those easily forgotten and marginalised; the unjustly treated, and those falsely accused:

that they may receive the justice of Christ and the dignity of the children of God.

 

For the rough people, some who injure others without realising it and those who take a perverse pleasure in making others miserable:

that they may become more aware, repent and learn the gentle strength of Jesus.

 

For the crooked characters, the common criminals that can break into our homes, and those wily ones in business suits who try to exploit us:

that they may be confronted with the Saviour who can make the crooked straight and the lost found.

 

For the church everywhere, and for this congregation gathered in this house of hospitality:

that we may allow the Spirit of Christ, through comfort or discomfort, to complete the work so wonderfully begun in us.

 

God of faithfullness, your promises can always be trusted. Help us to trust you now and always, that as we try to love both neighbours and enemies, and do good to both the just and the unjust, we may be emboldened, guided, and love-sourced by your Holy Spirit. Though Christ Jesus our Advent hope;

Amen!

 

DISMISSAL

 

Go out into this new week, ready to break down the obstacles and fill up the chasms,

to smooth the rough ways and straighten the crooked paths,

that the day will draw nearer when all humanity shall see the salvation of God.

The promise of Christ inspires us.

The love of Christ enables us.

 

May the good God make each climb safe for you,

May the good Christ open each gate for you,

May the good Spirit clear each lane for you,

May both your hands be grasped by God

when you at last arrive home.

Amen!

                        ( From an old Celtic blessing.