Monday, December 10, 2012

Prepare Ye the Way!

December 9, 2012
Advent 2
Fr. Philip Eberhart

Prepare Ye The Way
(click here for sermon audio)

Malachi 3:1-2;   Isaiah 40:1-8;   Philippians 1:3-11;   Luke 3:1-6

Have you ever noticed that, when you are personally in crisis or in pain, it’s really hard to “lift up your eyes” and see that there is a larger meaning and purpose in life?  …that there is larger meaning, even to our pain and sorrow! 

There is more to this than the messes we get ourselves into!

Now maybe I’m the only one who lets things get into a mess, but I don’t really think so.

Messes happen!  Life happens – and life is messy.
So what IS the larger meaning in our mess?

Well as you can well imagine I get to deal with a particularly wide variety of messes, almost weekly it seems.  And over time I’ve come to realize that there are similarities in the messes, and there is often purpose that can be found in the middle of the mess!

Our scriptures and the overall theme of this 2nd Sunday of Advent is “prepare the way of the Lord.”  We’ve heard it several times already and will hear it some more this morning.

The phrase comes from the Prophet Isaiah, and he is quoted in Luke’s gospel this morning, as a pointer to the ministry of John, the Baptizer, Jesus’ cousin.

Advent is a time of preparation – but for what?

For the coming of Jesus Christ, - the remembrance of His first advent and the anticipation of His second!

But what I want to focus on this morning is the duty of preparation.  When life gets messy, as I mentioned, we tend to focus on ourselves, on our pain, on our dis-comfort, our dis-ease.  That is quite natural and quite toxic!

Most of us here in the state of Colorado, know the difference between mountain driving and driving on the plains.  The one is filled with curves, steep ravines, up and down, and in the right circumstances can be quite dangerous.  The other just the opposite, is straight, flat – a long drive in the same direction, to Burlington or to Kansas or Iowa!!  Believe me, I know!  For us, who drive we enjoy the mountains now, but the danger remains – just not to the same extent as those who were the first travelers through them.

I am a descendant of the pioneers for whom Donner Pass in N. California is named.  A wagon train party trying to make it to California that got caught in the snows of the Sierra’s north of Lake Tahoe – some 22 feet that winter.  They lived out the tragedy and danger of our mountainous terrain for those who are on foot or in a wagon. Even today, if one gets caught in such weather, in the mountains or on the plains, there is great danger involved.

The point of the story is that God uses the pathways that we are on to do His work in our lives.  I’m reminded that in the Chinese alphabet the word for crisis is made up of the two characters for danger and opportunity!
Paul said it well in his greeting to his friends at Phillippi:  “I am assured of this – confident of this one thing:  That the One who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ”

No matter what road you are on, or where you are on that road, as long as your eyes are on Jesus, He is working to do the good work He purposes in your life, in spite of and even through the circumstances you find yourself in. 

Let me repeat myself:
No matter what road you are on, or where you are on that road, as long as your eyes are on Jesus, He is working to do the good work He purposes in your life, in spite of and even through the circumstances you find yourself in.

The fact of the matter is that the purpose of His good work in you is always the same.

Is has little to do with your circumstances or even your ministry; it has everything to do with YOU!

Paul prayed for the Ephesians with these words:  “I pray… that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” 

In the Inner Man!  That is the focus of Christ’s work.  The outward circumstance of your life and the forces at play in your work, your school, your relationships, even in your marriage, are used by God to get at “The Inner Man.”

You remember Jesus railing against the Pharisees one time told them that they were careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they were full of robbery and self-indulgence!  (Mt 23:25-26)  The point of God’s work in our lives is the inside of the cup!

Look for a moment with me again at the epistle reading from Philippians 1.

Paul’s great love for this congregation which he founded and which partnered with him for the rest of his ministry, there and abroad, is very evident: 

For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

Paul was their pastor!  He was the one who prayed with them and for them as they struggled through their own set of difficulties and as God worked in and through them in that first century – pre-christian era.

Paul goes on:
“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” 

I believe that this is the direction that God wants to take us through our circumstances!

Overflowing love, always more and more
Knowledge and FULL Insight, no more groping around in the dark (ever feel like that?)
Pure and Blameless, the internal state of affairs of someone who has been formed into                 
      the likeness of Jesus Chris
Having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ

When I read that last phrase I was reminded of the reminder of the writer to the Hebrews in that famous 12th chapter:

Looking to Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  You (on the other hand) … have no resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;  It is for discipline that you endure;  God is dealing with you as a beloved child; just as earthly father discipline us for a short time … God disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness.  This is not a joyful experience, but filled with sorrow, yet the discipline trains us and afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (sound familiar?)

Now listen to the Therefore!

“Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, (anyone?)
and MAKE STRAIGHT PATHS FOR YOUR FEET, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.  Pursue peace and sanctification; don’t fall short of the grace of God!

Friends, there is grace for us who are in the midst of the circumstance of life, who are ‘under the circumstances.’   And I know without doubt that some are suffering in their circumstances today, and I know also that most of us have been there, possibly ALL OF US!

If you are there – if today the pain feels like you are in a fire, then listen to the prophet Malachi one more time:

He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi (those who worship Him) and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.

The God who created you is watching.  Not just watching but watching intently, the process that you are in.  When you feel you are in the fire, its because you probably are! But God is in the process too.  And He is carefully watching for something to come forth.

The refiner sits at the opening of the kiln and places the ore in the mold, begins to turn up the fire until the metal melts and as it melts the impurities that are on the inside begin to rise to the top.  The purifier takes a metal rod and scrapes off the impurities that rise to the top and discards them as dross.

So how can the refiner tell when the process is done?  Simple really.  When he can pull out the mold with the silver in it and look down and see himself in the reflection, the process is done!  He then pours the silver our of the refiner’s mold and into a cooling mold, in the shape He has determined.

That is the offering of ourselves that God is after, friends.  That He might see himself in the reflection of our lives and that he might mold us after His own image.  The dross, the impurities in our lives, act as a veil – a covering obscuring His image in us.

Listen to this one final verse from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  But we all, with unveiled face (having the dross removed), beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed in the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”


Let us pray!

Come, Holy Spirit, come among us here.  We who find ourselves in the fire of your workshop are being prepared for all that you want to do in and through our lives.  Look intently, Lord Jesus, on our lives that, having begun a good work in us, you bring it to completion.  Let us be transformed Lord, from glory to glory into Your image, through the fires of our lives.  And keep us mindful of your care and compassion in the midst of the fire.  Prepare in us today, the way for Your Advent in our lives.  Through Christ we pray.



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