St. Mary's Nanoose
December 8, 2019 Advent 2
Today is the second Sunday in Advent. The second week in this special pregnant time of waiting. What are we waiting for? The coming of love again in the world in the person of Jesus. Jesus, who is God’s love for us.
Knowing what a gift we have received, are about to receive and will be given over and over again…. well, you’d think we be able to rest into that love with some modicum of ease. You’d think with a gift like that, we would be a more peaceful, loving, joyful people.
But we struggle to accept this gift, receive this gift, enjoy this gift. We struggle because we think we are not worthy, because we haven’t fully unwrapped or thoroughly explored the gift, or, because we can’t really believe it is really meant for us.
Today in the Gospel according to Matthew, we heard about John the Baptist, calling the people to explore, believe and accept the gift of God’s love. He cried out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He didn’t say, “Get your act together so that the kingdom can come.” No, he said, “Repent, for the kingdom – the rule of love – has come.”
John was called to participate in God’s plan by helping open people’s heart to the truth. He wasn’t speaking to the faithless; he was speaking to Jews who had wandered from the truth, from the path, from following the law of Moses. And he called them to turn back to their God, by opening their hearts and changing their ways so that the way they lived would “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” He warned the people that saying “I’m a Jew,” or “I’m a descendent of Abraham,” means nothing. It’s how we live our lives that means something. And in order to receive the love that will fire and fuel our good works, we have to turn our hearts, minds, souls towards God, so that we will receive God’s strength, support and direction.
The same is true for us today. What does it mean to say, “I’m a Christian,” or “I believe in God.” It will mean as many things as there are people saying it. Some people use words to hide behind as they do things that hurt other people and destroy the environment. Other people use their idea of God or religion to punish and even kill others.
So John is very clear. It is how we cooperate with God that shows the kind of life we are living. Our words can be hollow, misleading or destructive. Our actions reflect what is really going on inside us; what we’ve allowed our hearts to be filled with.
And a life that is not informed by gratitude, love and joy – the expressions of someone who has turned to God and graciously receives the gifts of the Spirit – is an empty life even though it may look, from the outside, full and exciting. A life that is not lived in gratitude and service does not reap anything of value and John is clear what happens – the waste of that life is burned away like the part of the wheat – the chaff – that has no redeeming purpose. The shell of our lives – the things that do not survive death.
What does survive death? Just think for a moment of a loved one who is no longer on this earth and the qualities of that person that continue to nourish you – their love, compassion, creativity, joy, laughter?? Through memory we cherish and keep our ancestors alive and their gifts to us, keep on giving.
John isn’t baptizing people into the Jewish faith; he is performing the ritual act of cleansing, the ritual we perform every Sunday when we say together our confession. When we ask God to help us let go of the addictions, hurtful words, poor choices, lack of awareness and lack of trust that lead us to behave in ways that do not serve others, ourselves and God.
The purpose of confession, individual or collective, is to help us let go of our preoccupations with ourselves, our judgments of ourselves and others, and turn with open hearts and empty minds back to God; so that relieved of our burdens, we can turn to God with confidence and receive the love that is our birthright. And opened up, yet again, to that power, love and grace, go out into the world, ready to share the gift we’ve been given.
This season of Advent, we enact the first coming, so that we can exercise and prepare our hearts for the coming of God as human into the world. So that we won’t be asleep - our eyes will be open, our ears alert, and our yearning hearts curious to how love will arrive this time round. For each of us it will be different, each of us has our own unique sounding alarm clock. But we have to want to wake up, if we’re inclined to set the alarm. And then we have to wait for the alarm to sound. Because it won’t sound like it used to and we won’t know when it’s going to go off. But it will be a call to life that will make you want to spring from bed and rush to the window to see how love is arriving this Christmas.
So, set your alarm, clean up your inner home, and come to the table this morning, prepared to eat the gift given wholeheartedly in love for you so that you become the person God intended you to be, and the person whose gifts the world is waiting for.