The Season of Advent is this interesting time of year I’ve been struck by two things this week:
- and I’ve also been struck by the stories I’ve heard in talking with people – stories of hope, stories of the ways God has worked in the past and in the present – stories of hope
- Coupled by stories of struggle – people burying those they loved, dealing with relationship conflict and struggle, and grief and pressure with finances, and struggles with sickness and health – and all of these things seem harder to deal with at this time of year because it’s supposed to be about joy and love and hope and it’s supposed to be different. There were some groups of people this week that had some really meaningful conversations about the cynicism and doubt that can often set in – where is God? Why is it that things actually don’t look different?
Advent is an intentional season in the Christian church where we talk about the stories of hope – but recognize that we aren’t there yet – and so it is a time of waiting and a time of expectation – a time where we sit between the reality of the world that we live in and the hope that we have been promised.
So – in the midst of this reality – in the midst of a challenging and beautiful season – we hear the words of our Scripture –the words of John the Baptist, words of hope and words of challenge spoken into the desert to those who were ready to hear.
prepare ye the way of the Lord – make the paths straight –
In the UM tradition we have a concept that we call Prevenient Grace – it’s this idea that God’s love and God’s grace go before us – that God’s love enters into our life before we are able to respond to it – before we are even aware of it – and even sometimes inspite of our apathy or disinterest or even refusal.
there is this sense that God’s love has already gone ahead of us – planting seeds that we can’t quite see yet – but that will come to light in the future –
Today – you will see one of the most beautiful examples of this – when we baptize little Layne Roberts. Layne is 1 year old and Kyle and Amanda and his big brother JC will come forward today with their family to celebrate his life.
But Layne will not really have much of a sense of what is happening – of the significance.
And yet – God’s love goes ahead of him – it claims him and accepts him and loves him even before he can know anything about it – and it plants seeds now that will bear fruit in his life in the future.
And as we celebrate Layne’s baptism today – it is a beautiful reminder that all of us are here today because of this same Prevenient Grace.
I want you to take just a moment this morning.
Close your eyes if its helpful.
And I want you to think about the ways in which God has gone ahead of you.
Where were the moments where you can look back now and see that even though you didn’t know it at the time – God was working?
Who were the people in your life who have loved you and made it possible for you to be here today where you are?
This week, I visited with a person in our community who was recovering from some time in the hospital and was on his way back home. And as we sat together, he shared the places and the stories of where God had gone ahead of him – even before he was able to know and see it at the time. He described his time in the war – being on a ship that made a sharp turn just in the moment where a torpedo was heading their way and having his comrades pulling him just out of harms way just in the nick of time. He described the women in his life – the people who taught him about love and showed him care and compassion even on the days when he deserved it the least.
Prevenient Grace all over his life – preparing the way for him to arrive at this place in the journey.
When John the Baptist tells us that we are to Prepare the way for the Lord – to prepare for God to be able to enter our hearts and lives anew.
There is also this humbling recognition that the season of preparation began a very long time ago – that God is and has been working in the world – long before we could know and understand it –
And perhaps the response that John is really asking for – is to prepare our hearts and our eyes and our ears so that just maybe – we could see it and hear it and receive it anew. Perhaps in ways that we weren’t ready to see and hear and receive before.
The story of Frederick Lehman in the mid 1900’s –
Heard the lines of this Jewish poem at a camp meeting and jotted down the words to preserve it.
Wrote the 1st 2 verses –
And the moment it seemed to come together – was when he found this 3rd verse – penciled in on the walls of an insane asylum – after the person had died.
In the depths of a kind of hell – here was the love of God – uncontainable.
The Love of God – rich and pure, measureless and strong –
Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade, To write the love of God above, Would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.
And the love that has been following and pursuing you since the moment you were born – whether you were aware of it then and whether you are aware of it now.
It is this love – that we are asked to prepare for during this season – it is this love that we are invited to make our hearts ready for.
And it’s OK if we can’t see it.
It’s OK if we don’t get it.
And it’s OK if we don’t think we deserve it.
Because God has gone ahead of us.
May we be a people as we watch and wait for the coming of Christmas – who are looking for, listening for, and opening space to receive this LOVE in a way that we weren’t ready to receive before.