Advent 2-B/Dec. 10, 2017/Community Lutheran/Pr. Joe Vought
Isaiah 40:1-11 2 Peter 3:8-15 Mark 1:1-18
Two Sundays ago Debra and I joined dear friends, Pr. Kurt and Lois Strause, to celebrate her retirement from teaching, nine days in Germany and the Czech republic, enjoying history, culture and the European Christmas Markets. We visited Markets in Regensburg, Prague, Dresden, Berlin, even Wittenberg for Luther’s 500th. Never have I seen Advent/Christmas celebrated with more joy and festivity. We walked among hundreds of holiday revelers in town squares decorated with thousands of Christmas lights and decorations. Craftsmen displayed woodcuttings, creches, twirling pyramids with Christmas figures. There was handwork in leather, cloth and stained glass. Singing groups and brass choirs filled the cold night air with carols and traditional music. And then there was the food: Currywurst, Bratwurst stands and Flamkuchen, Grilled Beef, Chicken and Pork on a stick, Cone-shaped bread baked to golden brown, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and other treats you just had to eat. And then there was Gluwhein, hot spiced red and white wines with a little shot of liquor like antifreeze that warmed you to the bone. I had a little taste or two.
But it was in Berlin that our revelry was given a wake-up call. As we walked through another Christmas market of color, light, food and carols, we came upon a memorial to those killed last year at the Market bombing in Berlin. Where there could be one more shop of Christmas cheer, there were photos and 12 candles lit for the people killed and 50 more injured when a truck was driven into the market by a Tunisian terrorist. And then I looked up to see the bombed out shell of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, a Lutheran Cathedral bombed by an Allied air raid in WW II. It was never rebuilt and remains a sobering memorial of another time when our world seemed to be going up in flames.
We all want Christmas joy and peace. But I think we can’t keep Christmas without coming home to the truth that all is not right with our world and God’s kingdom is still a long way off. Tribalism and hatred infects our politics, international relations and public discourse; irrational fear of refugees and foreigners; the growing list of casualties to gun violence and concerns about health care for those who are poor- all threatens to overwhelm us. In all of it there is fear that causes us to be fearful, keep us from generosity, hospitality toward each other and the very people Jesus calls us to serve. I know you don’t come here to hear commentary on politics, but the cry of Isaiah is that, “Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain made low, the uneven ground level and the rough place plain.” We can’t come to Christmas without hearing John the Baptist call each of us and the world we live in to repent of our sins. Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world.” Every Advent is a preparation for God’s coming in Jesus and God’s kingdom. If we can’t solve the big problems of our world, maybe we can bring a little light and peace into our personal and communal lives. It simply will not do to buy more stuff, max out credit cards, crank up the carols, have another drink and put on a mask of holiday cheer.
On Friday night I took a walk and saw lights in our Fellowship Hall. I walked into an open AA Meeting and listened as people shared their pain and confessed. The room was filled, the stories were hard to hear, but each person was supported and given a hearing. At the end of it we all held hands and prayed the Lord’s Prayer and it felt like worship. We may need to name our pain or reconcile with a brother or a sister. We may need a counselor, pastor or a Stephen Minister. Even in the Christmas parties we attend, I hear people speaking of their pain and hope for better relationships and a better world. We can’t do it ourselves. Luther’s first theses of the “95 Theses” reminds us in the spirit of Isaiah, John the Baptist, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand,’ he meant that the entire life of the believer is to be one of repentance.” Worship, Communion and Holy Scripture help us keep hope alive as we turn to God. Times for silence and prayer help us to be honest with ourselves, trust in God’s and be Advent people.
The Good News is this, as we do our best to be honest with God and with ourselves, God will come and the Glory of the Lord will be revealed. God is coming through the wilderness of our lives and this world to welcome us home and he will help us get there.
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert
a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up and
every mountain and hill shall be made low. And the rough
places plain. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will
gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.”
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.