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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Prepare – Prepare – Prepare

Advent 2 12/5/21

Philippians 1:3-11

Luke 3:1-6

What more can one speak on or preach to than the encouraged theme of the readings – the opening collect? We are reminded on this second Sunday of Advent that the message of the prophets – the message of repentance – is the cornerstone of preparing a Way.

In this festive – and still frightening – time we asked God to help us forsake our sins – to hear and heed the warnings of the one crying out in the wilderness.

“God is coming! Christ is coming

Make a way – turn around – in other words repent –

Turn around – turn back ( oh man, that other Godspell song)

Forgiveness is coming – where

Every valley is filled – every mountain made low

The crooked straight – and the rough ways plain!”

Because – all – not some – but all – will see the salvation of God

There are so many familiar religious words in there – words we’ve heard and hear – year after year – Sunday by Sunday – do we hear them? Do they resonate after so much rote recitation? Can they penetrate our hearts?

I listened to someone expounding on a sacred text this week and he said – you know sometimes with Christians – we know the story by heart yet we have yet to hear the message of Jesus for the first time.

This morning I want to reflect (and thank you for listening) on the message of Jesus I hear through Paul’s opening to his community in Philippi. I want to focus on a word – that he doesn’t say – but that my heart heard in between the lines of what he did.

A word I would use to describe something I’ve seen – and I imagine most if not all of you have seen too –in Baltimore.

That row of houses decked out in preparation for Christmas in Hampden. Yes – you know it right? That miracle of 34th street – but even beyond – I was there there a week or so ago – and a house on Elm or Roland – a Christmas carol being sung by Dolly Parton carol was playing from speakers buried or hidden by lights upon lights upon lights – surrounded by characters and creatures – inflated – and floating – and planted or tethered.

All so that for the instant or two you walked the two or three squares of a concrete sidewalk – you are transported to another world.

A world characterized by extravagance. That is what creates the miracle. Those displays extravagant displays of light and lightness. Which required an extravagant amount of time and effort – not to mention an extravagance of electricity – but mostly an extravagance of enthusiasm and generosity share a spirit for all those who would be drawn to see.

Listen to the extravagance of Paul’s words to his beloved community –

I thank my God every time I remember you – constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you – because of your sharing in the gospel with me.

From the first day until now – I am confident of this – that the one who began a good work in you and among you will bring it to completion – and it is good and right for me to think this way because all of you hold me in your heart – share in God’s grace with me – both then and now – when I sit in a prison cell.

For God as my witness – I long to see you – I long to be with you – with all the compassion of Christ – and so this is my prayer.

That your love may overflow and overflow and overflow – with knowledge and insight and wisdom and courage – so that you trust what is best – for you – for your community – because you know a good harvest when you see it. You know the fruits you are capable of producing.

For the fruits that come through the love of Christ are always good and always glorify and praise God.

That’s all we have to do. This is how we prepare a way. This is how we turn around – or repent. We light our way with the way of the one who has gone before – and is yet to come – through an extravagant awareness of the goodness God has already given.

I’m sure you heard in the reading – or in my paraphrase – Paul writes this letter from his prison cell in Rome. And yet, there is no defensiveness – there is no blame. No critiquing – no complaining. There is no justification or insistence of pay back.

Instead his letter overflows with extravagant joy. A joy that is a fruit of extravagant gratitude.

This is what we long and hope comes down at Christmas - an extravagant awareness of belonging – of purpose – of all will be well.

Jesus said to his disciples – I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you – and your joy may be complete.

Paul wasn’t there that night – but he gets it! And just imagine how he’s able to share it even though he might not entirely feel it. He isn’t preaching when he writes this. He is imprisoned. He has been through the ringer and what awaits him is terrifying.

Paul isn’t a Pollyanna – he is not denying his own reality or the challenges the people he writes to are facing. He is choosing to prepare a way.

One of my favorite Christian pop or rock songs describes – the overwhelming – never-ending – reckless love of God. Paul gives voice to that extravagant reality that is always there – no matter what.

Do you remember where he reminds us that God gave everything for us – an overflowing of forgiveness and mercy (literally poured out) so that we know that no matter what – neither heights or powers or death or life or rulers or things present or things to come – nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

My friends all we need to prepare the way for Christ to come again – to come into our hearts – to come into our world – all we need to do is make a choice - to tap into our own extravagant nature.

What does that for you? How, where do you connect with extravagant love – extravagant generosity – extravagant gratitude – in a way that propels you to share the good purpose God has begun in you?

Prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight a way.

For Every valley shall be filled,

and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,

and the rough ways made smooth;

and all people shall see the miracle – the light of extravagant divine love.

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