The Second Sunday of Advent; Year C (12/9/2012)

Lessons:Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9 St. Luke 1:68-79 (78) Philippians 1:3-11 St. Luke 3:1-6

Prayer of the Day: Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming give to all the people of the world knowledge of your salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 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;  6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

St. Luke 3:1-6 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Preparing the Way of the Lord

I like a project. Some of my favorite Christmas gifts have been those where it is clearly stated on the packaging: “Some Assembly Required.” There is something about taking inventory of the contents, assembling the required tools, fitting pieces together, tightening nuts and bolts, finally going back to the assembly instructions, taking apart half of the project and starting over again… I enjoy figuring out how to do the job. I enjoy standing back when it is completed, and taking in the completed project. It’s so much more fun than simply pulling at item out of a box.

I like a project. I have to keep those feelings in check, though, when it comes to the season of Advent. This four-Sunday journey towards Christmas is fraught with danger for those of us who like a project. There is so much to do. Daily prayer and Bible study. (By the way: thanks so much, Discipleship Team, for the daily messages from Saint Peter — what a great way to start out the day!) Worship with my friends at Saint Peter twice each week. Service projects in the community. Preparations to make for the arrival of Christmas. It is easy to imagine that the quality of my Advent experience all depends on how well I do at these tasks.

This week’s reading from St. Luke can create the same illusion. St. John tells us that preparing the way of the Lord is what it is all about. His image is a profound one: paths made straight; valleys filled up; mountains made low; rough ways made smooth. For us project-lovers, it at first seems as though the work we have to do is monumental, if this is going to go well. We need to get after the traditions of Advent as if we were leveling mountains!

Then one becomes aware of another way to read the Baptist’s words. After all, the verbs in verse five are all passive. Perhaps the heavy construction is not the work we need to do. Perhaps the heavy construction is the work that needs to be done on us. Self-indulgent mountains need to be made low. Instincts toward loving service need to be raised up. Wandering, distracted minds need to be straightened out. Rough instincts need to be smoothed over. Now the broken nature of our own humanity becomes more evident. We discover that Advent is not so much an opportunity to perfect our spiritual accomplishments, as it is a opportunity to open our hearts up to the power of God that is able to tear us down, build us up, straighten us out and make us smooth. Not so much a project to complete, as it is a chance to be molded by our loving God.

The harder reality is to remember that when we pay close attention to these spiritual practices, we are more likely to be vulnerable to the transforming work the Spirit wants to do on us. Advent can become a profound time of transformation; not because of what we are able to do, but because of what God is able to do for us and through us.

With that in mind, I commend to you the historic practices of Advent. Spend a bit more time each day in Bible study, devotion and prayer. Set aside time every Sunday morning, and every Wednesday evening, to worship with God’s people. Take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves to reach out in service to the world around you. And see what the Spirit is able to do with you.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why is the beginning of this Gospel lesson so filled with political figures and religious officials?
  2. If repentance means “transformed thinking,” what change does John have in mind for us?
  3. How is repentance and forgiveness related to these words from the prophet Isaiah?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What work does the Spirit have to do in me?
  2. Which Advent practices will I adopt for myself or my family this year?
  3. How can I lower my resistance to God’s desire that I be transformed?