Advent 2 Year A
The Rev. Eric L. Miller
How do we prepare, how do we live into Advent most fully? I believe we prepare by asking ourselves honestly what God wants of us. Have we done that on a personal level in a while? This honest seeking of God’s presence in our lives is the root, the base of prayer.
Do you and I take the time to be present with The Lord? Are we capable of clearing our desks, our dining room tables, of turning off our social media and email alerts long enough to be still with the God of the living, already residing, already dwelling firmly within each of us?
The answer is that of course we are capable of creating this kind of sacred space. But first, we must recognize that we’re all seekers of something deeper than ourselves. All of us are with John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, down on the banks of the Jordan River. Whether we appear to have our lives in order or we appear to be falling apart at the seams, whether our health status makes our doctors beam with pride or we’re in for another horrific round of chemotherapy, whether our jobs provide amazing satisfaction and bottom lines or we’re out of work and desperately searching for employment anywhere. We are all on the banks of the Jordan River seeking the divine, hope, some sort of reassurance.
I believe that even the Pharisees and even the Sadducees were coming to the Jordan as seekers. They probably couldn’t have admitted that to anyone, but all were seeking something bigger than themselves, all are seeking something bigger than our joys and our sufferings.
And, how did John welcome the Sadducees and the Pharisees? “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Well, that’s one form of welcome. John continues, “Bear fruity worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”
John preached repentance, and I can’t help but wonder what the others thought of his words. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” We’re sitting on the second Sunday in Advent, and John is preaching to you and to me about repentance. That message doesn’t exactly line up with our Hallmark greeting cards. Most people don’t think of repentance when thinking of Advent but, repentance isn’t anything to be put off by. Advent isn’t a mini sort of Lent, but really, we are always to be readily repenting, to be examining our lives to see what needs adjusting.
Repenting isn’t scary or complicated or something to be ashamed of. Repenting is to turn aside, to journey in a different direction. And, the awesome thing about repentance is that when it truly takes hold of our lives, well then, repentance leads to fruit. When I allow myself enough time and space to listen to God I notice two themes: 1. Have I really accepted the love of God in my life? and, 2. If the answer to number 1 is yes, then what fruit am I bearing?
A friend of mine from seminary, the Rev. Charles LaFond, serves on St. John’s Cathedral staff in Denver, Colorado. Through Advent he’s committed to writing a short piece on his blog daily. A few days ago Charles reminded me of the “Parable of the crude little life-saving station (by Dr. Theodore O. Wedel). I love the truths in this parable.
On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little life-saving station grew.
Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.
Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station. So they did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.
I love that story because it shows to important of remembering the fruit you and I are to bear as Christians. It can become all too easy any time of the year, but maybe especially during Advent with all of our traditions and customs, to forget the fruits of love and compassion and mercy that we are to bear with one another for the each other and the world in the name of the risen Lord. We most certainly don’t believe in works righteousness, but we do believe that if we love Jesus, then our lives and our actions will reflect that love.
As busy and hectic as all of us find ourselves, I urge us to repent, to turn aside, and journey in a different direction. Allow repentance to fully take hold that yields fruit in our lives in the name of Christ. Amen.