Sermon, November 6, 2016

Prepare the Way     Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
November 6, 2016   Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost,
Advent Preparation Sunday
Matthew 25:1-13 and other Advent passages

Something is coming. A birth, something new, something good, a change, a transformation, an in-breaking of God’s realm of mercy, justice and peace on earth, a higher power of love and life and light that will fill us and fill our church and shine like a lighted window changing everyone and everything around us.

Something is coming, and yet it is already here, and it has been here since the beginning of time and will be here until the end of time. It is flowing into our hearts right now, every one of us, full of power and possibility. It is a mystery, beyond our understanding or control. It has its own way that is not our way, its own thoughts that are not our thoughts, its own wisdom and power far beyond ours, and yet it can all be ours if we give ourselves entirely over to it.

We can have that new birth, we can transform our home and church and community to be more like God’s realm, we can move through this world as an instrument of peace and lovingkindness, we can be full of the power of the Spirit, we can shine like a lighted window no matter how dark and foggy life around us becomes.

Advent opens the way to us, Advent unlocks the mysterious door and lets that glorious light burst into the humble, manure stained stable of our world.

The wise recognize the value of Advent’s gift, the priceless lamp oil that the spiritual masters of the church have refined over two thousand years. The wise fill their lamps with it and put it to practical use in their lives.

Or to use another metaphor, Advent comes to us as if we are in a boat that has been blown off course by a storm in the middle of the ocean, and now the weather changes and the wind shifts in the exact direction we want to go. Advent teaches us how to put up our sails and catch that wind and let it take us there.

The question you need to answer for yourself is, do you want to go? Do you want to go to Bethlehem this year? Do you want your life to be transformed by that birth of new light? Do you want the lighted window of your church to shine even more brightly? Do you want to do all you can to change the direction in which the world is going, and nudge it toward the light of love and peace? Do you want this enough to do what the spiritual wisdom of Advent tells us we need to do?

The scriptures say to prepare the way if you want the light. As Field of Dreams says, “If you build it, he will come.” To prepare the way you will need to make some choices that go against the demands of society and family and your own habits of thought or desire. Christmas and Christ are offering you gifts. Do you want them enough to prepare?

The coming of Christ did not bring the gifts that the Jews expected from the Messiah. Jesus did not drive the occupying Roman Empire out by force. He did not restore Israel to the glory of King David.

Instead he enabled people to be more loving and compassionate toward those in need and even toward their enemies. His coming helped people to create beloved communities that were powerful agents of peace and well being, doing the kinds of things Jesus did, bringing comfort and healing to those who were suffering, freeing the oppressed and lifting up the poor. Christ leads us to the same Holy Spirit that guided and empowered him. It enabled him to be what God needed him to be, and it will do the same for us. Christmas releases the power of light into the world, and part of that light comes through each one of us fulfilling our calling or dream or potential for creative goodness. Advent can help you do that.

The same is true of a congregation. We have a dream of growing “in numbers as we make this an increasingly welcoming, loving, helpful congregation where we take the love we find here out into the world around us, and where people want to participate because the church makes a positive difference in their lives throughout the week.” (from our congregation’s Identity and Aspiration Statement)

Picture these pews as the fullest they have recently been and imagine them even fuller. Picture the most enthusiasm you have felt here recently as people greeted one another after the service, and imagine that fuller congregation having even more of a love-fest over refreshments every Sunday.

Remember the most moving testimonies people have given during Joys and Concerns bearing witness to how much it has meant to receive the prayers and calls and meals and help of all kinds from this church when they were going through a hard time. Imagine that future congregation being even more helpful, being even more far-reaching as they take the love they find here out into the world.

Picture a time when church made a difference in your week, like maybe right before a Presidential election that was driving you crazy with anxiety or disgust, when church reminded you not to fret, not to lose sight of the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness can never overcome, and it calmed you and gave you courage and clarity.

Imagine all the people in that future congregation telling others what a difference this church makes in their lives. Imagine their friends and neighbors adding to our numbers because they want those gifts, too, for themselves and for their children.

We need to prepare the way for that vision to come to pass, and Advent shows us how, but first we have to prepare for the season of preparation in order to gain its benefits. We need to carve out the space for Advent’s spiritual focus. We need to envision what experiences could bring us greater love and joy and peace this Advent in order to prepare the way for them to come into being. We need to schedule time for them and for church and prayer and acts of mission and kindness during Advent because our secular culture can fill December with its demands on us, especially if there are children in our lives.

Time management and priority setting are part of preparing, but we also need to pry open our hearts to the possibility of new life and a changed world. This can be hard because the darkness is increasing, and we have had our hopes disappointed in the past, and suffered painful losses. We need to dare to hope.

And finally we need to prepare the way by living as if what we are hoping and preparing for is already here, because it is.

As one of the great Advent hymns says,

Redeemer, come!I open wide
My heart to thee;here, Lord, abide!
Let me thy inner presence feel;
Thy grace and love in me reveal.

Let us pray in silence, opening wide our hearts to that inner presence…