St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, Woodstock
4 December, 2011, Second Sunday in Advent
The Rev’d Georgene Conner
MAKE WAY, MAKE A WAY
For today’s reading go to:http://bible.oremus.org/
The prophets Isaiah and John are calling to their people, in their time, to prepare a way for the Lord. In the Jewish Annotated New Testament 'way' is seen as part of an ethical discourse involving choosing the good and difficult path as opposed to the immoral and easy path.
'The way' in Jewish notion could be seen as being walking upright or how one walks the way of the land. And we remember that the early followers of Jesus did not call themselves Christians but rather described themselves as belonging to the way - as a community, one that sees itself as participating in a new Exodus - being released from the oppression of their time.
So how we might picture Isaiah and John's call to prepare the way might be different from their intention.
As I was thinking about today's scripture I remembered a Broadway musical called The Apple Tree consisted of three plays within the play. One of the short plays was The Lady or the Tiger, which was about a barbaric kingdom where a trial consisted of the putting a prisoner into a large arena where there were two doors - behind each door was a surprise - could be a beautiful woman or could be a ravenous tiger.
I was remembering how the approach - the way of the king was announced:
Make way, Make way
He comes. His royal tallness.
His highest highness. His self indulgeness.
His way, way upness. His mountainship.
Make way. He comes. King Arik.
The king in the story is a ruler who is an oppressor of his people who live in constant fear. This is the opposite of God - the ruler - that Isaiah is asking the people to make ready a way. Isaiah said God is a God of justice and mercy, offering words of comfort and hope for the future. There is no guessing here about which door to choose and wondering if there will be an unpleasant surprise behind it. The love of God is steadfast and in abundance. We may wither away, but the Word of God will never die.
In 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr., in his "I have a dream" speech, spoke of making a way in our own country where the America of his day was incompatible with the coming of Christ. He said, "There are mountains and hills of injustice, prejudice, inequality and oppression. These are to be laid low by the love of Christ and the dignity of all human persons."
When we prepare a way for God it is not for a God who marches in with way, way upness, or self-indulgeness. We are clearing a road - making space for God to live within us and around us. We are preparing ourselves to live the Way of God which means living making the hard decision to live in harmony with nature and each other, letting go of past grievances, making amends to those we have wounded.
Also on my mind was the reality show Extreme Hoarders where people have hoarded so much stuff that there is no place in the house for them or their families to live. If you imagine not being able to open the front door because there is too much junk piled behind it; not being able to cook anything because the entire kitchen, floor to ceiling, is loaded with junk; not being able to eat in the dining room same reason; not being able to sleep in a bed, same reason. Most often these homes are also filthy dirty. The sad part about the living situation is that the hoarder has put all these things first - before their children or spouse or friends. And in order to move through the house, they have to make a way - keep a small path open - often climbing over stacked items to get from one place to another. They are held captive, oppressed by their own doing.
A therapist comes in to work with them, encouraging them to get rid of stuff and several big trucks pull up to cart it away to the dump or to give to charitable organizations that can use it. It is really sad to see people struggle over not being able to let go of even the smallest, insignificant, and sometimes even broken item. The alienated family members stand by in disbelief and often the trucks leave, mostly empty, because the person has chosen things over relationships or safety.
What are we hoarding that takes up space in our hearts, our lives, that prevents us from having deeper relationships with people and with God? What are we spending our time and money on that is, in the long run, only stuff? What in our lives needs to be cleared out so that Christ can come in?
Advent is a time to develop an awareness that there are things in ourselves and in our world which are not worthy of Christ. It is a time to explore our ability to challenge those things in ourselves and in our world that are wrong and to attempt to rebuild a world worthy of Christ. In the biblical image of mountains lowered and valleys lifted a major change occurs - a level playing field is established. What can we do to bring about that kind of equality for ourselves and others?
Advent is a season which demands a critical consciousness, where we ask ourselves, as individuals and as a community, the question: 'what in my life, in my family, in my community, in my country, needs to turn around if I am to prepare the way and live the way of God in Christ.
There are no maps for our own roads, our journeys. We are making a path as we go. I remember once asking my mother how do you know how to parent? - this was way before Dr. Spock had ever written on the subject - and she replied - you don't. You just do the very best you can do.
That is what we should all strive to do at all times. Do the best we can do to be life-givers to others and to ourselves.
We live in a world where Neiman Marcus offers its fantasy catalogue each year. This year you can buy a custom made Ferrari for only $95,000 or you can buy a trip for six to all the main flower markets in Europe for only $420,000 or, here is my favorite, and perhaps we can get a grant for this, a dancing fountain display, such as the one at the Bellagio resort in Las Vegas, for only $1 million dollars.
I am sure that somewhere these fantasy gifts are being purchased but I highly doubt that the receiver will be, in the long run, satisfied and happy with the gift and the giver will still be wondering about what the perfect gift is.
Sometimes it does not take much to offer comfort and encouragement to another person. Another of my favorite TV shows is Chopped - where 4 chefs are given mystery baskets containing strange ingredients. They have 30 minutes to make something impressive out of things like sardines, gummy bears, cheese whiz, and pears. The loser will be chopped.
The show really went up in my estimation last week when it featured four women who prepare lunch in school cafeterias across the country. One of the judges on that program was the chef for the White House who is active in promoting healthy food in school. The women all said, "we are called lunch ladies and no one pays much attention to us." (In the sermon on Sunday there were quite a few children present. I asked them what they called the women who servedÊ school lunches. They said 'cafeteria ladies.')
Yet these women attempt to prepare a healthy lunch for children five days a week. One woman packed extra food in back packs for some of the children in her school because a lot of the children came from poor families and she knew they would not have food to eat over the weekend. One woman always deemed Monday as a 'pasta Monday' because she knew many of the children would not have eaten well over the weekend and that they needed some substance. (The fact that a news program reported that food pantries now exist in many colleges shows that in this country, hunger is becoming a bigger reality than any show could dream up).
These women were so impressive in what they managed to cook in 30 minutes out of strange things - and yet make them healthy and attractive to the eye. The judges said to them, "You are not lunch ladies - you are chefs. You need to be addressed as chefs.Ó They all said no one had ever called them that before. Think of it - the power of just one little word which offered not only comfort to those women but also a new way of looking at themselves. They felt honored and respected for who they were and for the important work they were doing.
This is the call of Advent - to make ready a pathway for God - make ready to live the Way of Christ. Are you getting prepared? Are you? You never know what might happen if make a way clear for God.