December 9, 2018 Advent II Year B
Malachi 3:1-4; Canticle 16; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
Today is the second week of Advent. It’s a season in the church year filled with expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Jesus into our world. The word “advent” itself, comes from the Latin word adventus which means arrival or appearing. And we as the Church have generally spoken of three comings of Christ: as a baby in Bethlehem, daily in our hearts, and at the end of time.
So in this season, we look with expectancy. We join with ancient Israel and yearn with them for the Messiah to come into the world, and we as the Church wait expectantly for the birth of Mary’s child as the savior of the world. We are encouraged to slow down and create space in our life, to look expectantly for Christ to come into our hearts on a daily basis. And we see the darkness in our lives and this beautiful world God has created, and we look expectantly for Jesus, the light of the world, to return and make all things new.
But Jesus’ coming into our lives requires preparation. That’s what the prophets do. They prepare us for the coming of Jesus. Prophets like John the Baptist who called all of Israel to change the direction of their lives and prepare for Jesus’ coming into their world as the Messiah. John was telling Israel to get its house and their lives in order in preparation for the appearance of their King Jesus. And his message is the same for you and me.
John, as our collect says, preached repentance to prepare the way of our salvation, and we in response are to heed his warning and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. There’s a penitential aspect of the season of Advent. We’re to take time and examine our lives to prepare for Jesus coming into our world, and the end of time when he comes to judge the living and the dead.
Have you ever thought about what that moment will be like for you? We’re talking about the end things here. You and I will all stand before the King of glory. We’ll come face to face with the one through whom all things were created and are held together. Face to face with the one in whom we live, and move, and have our being.
And there in that moment, the truth of who God is and the truth of who we are will meet. It will be a moment like no other, a moment of crystal-clear clarity. There will be no facades, just the naked truth of who we are in the presence of our Creator. Our abilities won’t matter. What we own won’t matter. And what people say about us won’t matter as we stand before the Ancient of Days.
Have you ever thought about what that moment will be like for you? And how are you preparing for it?
We believe he will come to judge the living and the dead, but it’s easier to not think about it.
The truth is that most of the time we aren’t preparing for that moment of truth and vulnerability with God—most of the time we are trying to run away from it. But that is the last thing we should do. Because standing in the truth of who we are is the only place where we can experience healing.
Today’s Canticle is the song Zechariah sings over his son John the Baptist. It’s a song that Christians have sung and said throughout history to greet the dawn of each day. And it’s a canticle that is found in Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. In this prophetic song that Zechariah sings over his son, he speaks of Jesus as the dayspring or dawn from on high, who is sent to us out of the tender compassion of our God.
“In the tender compassion of our God,” Zechariah says, “the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Zechariah sings that John will prepare the people to meet the dawn from on high, sent in the tender compassion of our God. And in our preparation during this season of Advent, maybe the sin we need to repent of the most is the failure to believe in God’s tender compassion towards us. Because we can’t experience the healing of Jesus, the dawn from on high, if we hide from the very one who has come to bring us out of darkness and the shadow of death.
On a sweltering summer night in New Orleans, sixteen recovering alcoholics gather for their weekly AA mtg. The meeting opens with the Serenity Prayer, followed by a moment of silence. The prologue from Alcoholics Anonymous is read from the Big Book. Then the twelve steps are read. The leader for the night asks if anyone would like to share something. That’s when Phil’s hand shoots up into the air.
“As you all know,” says Phil, “last week I went up to Pennsylvania to visit family and missed the meeting. You also know I have been sober for seven years. Last Monday I got drunk and stayed drunk for five days.”
The only sound in the room is the drip of the Coffee maker as the group listens.
Phil’s voice chokes and he lowers his head. Around the table there are moist eyes, tears of compassion, and there is a soft sobbing in the room.
Someone chimes in: “The same thing happened to me, Phil, but I stayed drunk for a year.’
Another one says, “Thank God you are back.”
“Boy that took a lot of guts.” says another.
“Relapse spells relief Phil,” says a substance abuse counselor “Let’s get together tomorrow and figure out what you needed relief from and why.’
As the meeting ends, Phil stands up. He feels a hand on his shoulder, another on his face. Then kisses on his eyes, forehead, neck, and cheek.
In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us.
I think the story about Phil is a picture of what it’s like to encounter the judgment of Jesus. It’s not to shame us or punish us. No, the judgment of Jesus is to bring us into the light of the truth so we might be healed and brought closer to God—not thrown farther away or discarded. Sometimes acknowledging the truth of who we are and the places we have failed can be excruciating. But it leads to life, if we can take that step of trust and vulnerability and continue the process of healing.
As we prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming into our lives during this season of Advent, we must repent of our failure to trust in God’s tender compassion towards us. Because we cannot experience the healing of Jesus, the dawn from on high, if we continue to hide in the darkness.
Where are you this morning? Take a step back from your life and open yourself to the truth of the judgment of Christ that you might be healed. And whatever you might struggle with in the darkness and the shadow of death, bring it out into the light. First confess it and bring it in prayer to Jesus our divine physician, but also in the communities of healing he has given us. Find a priest, a therapist, a group, a friend, a family member–anyone to whom you can be vulnerable and tell the truth about the things with which you struggle, the things that keep you from experiencing wholeness and connection.
Prepare the way of the Lord and trust in the dawn from on high, sent to us out of the tender compassion of our God, who comes to us in Bethlehem as a baby, in our hearts each day, and at the end of time, to bring us out of darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.