What’s On Your List?, December 10, 2017

CHRISTMAS COMES ~ Second Sunday of Advent
This year let the day arrive when Christmas comes for everyone alive.

“What’s on Your List?”        Click here for audio




Pastor Donna Buell
Isaiah 40:1-11 , Mark 1:1-8

At this time of the year many of us become list makers, creating one or more list of the many things we need to accomplish over the next several weeks if Christmas is going to come. Lists are valuable, especially when we are busy, for they help us remember all the things we need to do. They help us break down a large project into small, manageable steps. They are also useful in helping us prioritize our time and track our progress.

Of course this kind of list making is a somewhat adult activity. For children, this time of year often includes a wish list of the things they want for Christmas.  Anyone who has children at home knows that it is hard to strike the right balance between nurturing the anticipation of Christmas, which includes the gifts they might hope to receive, with the deeper joy that is found in sharing gifts with others, especially with those who have little. And at any age, the challenge for us as people of faith is to set all of our Christmas lists, whether they be “to do” lists or wish lists, within the larger context of God’s amazing gift of love that was and is revealed in the coming of Christ. And I think that being here in worship, surrounded by our church family, immersed in the sights and sounds of this holy season, is one of the ways we maintain that focus. For it is here that we are inspired and encouraged by the stories and messages that lie at the heart of this sacred season.

This year our Advent theme is Christmas Comes. And each week as we light our Advent candles we are singing a prayer that this year the day may arrive when Christmas comes for everyone alive. Now that’s a big dream. Last week, as he introduced our theme, Marty invited us to think about what kind of Christmas we are dreaming of. And with the help of the prophet Isaiah, he set before us God’s dream for our world. If you weren’t here, I encourage you to visit our church website to read or listen to Marty’s sermon.

Now it seems to me that if we decide to give prominence in our lives to God’s dream for our world, then that ought to have some impact upon our daily lives – upon our “to do” lists.  Too often our “to do” lists are focused on short term every day tasks that are designed to simply get us through this day or this week or this season. So if we don’t consciously keep God’s dreams in mind as we are making and completing our “to do” lists, before we know it another day, another week, another season, another year has passed without our intentional participation in helping to make those dreams a reality. I’m not saying that we are necessarily going to make the kingdom come in all its glory simply because we put it on our “to do” list. But if it isn’t even an intention for us, then it is unlikely to receive much attention from us. This morning in a devotional email I receive each day, I read these words which seem to echo that thought: “The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”  Flora Whittemore

One of our church members had an interesting experience with list making that she shared on Facebook a few months ago, and she gave me permission to share it with you. She had been making a to do list for herself, which included such things as cleaning out the garage, signing her kids up for piano lessons, emptying and refilling the sandbox, ripping out weeds on the side of the house, cleaning and resealing the bathtub, fixing the drain in the bathroom sink…  It was the kind of list that makes us feel heavier just thinking about it. Well one of her daughters saw that her mother was making a list and decided that she wanted to make a list, too. Out came a piece of paper and some crayons and she got to work.  And here’s what she put on her list: hug, eat, kis, swing, play, love, sleep, work hard. We all can feel the poignant contrast between that good and loving mother’s very adult to-do list and the list that came from the heart of her young daughter, which in many ways has far more to do with the spirit of God’s dreams for the world.

I encourage each of us to think about what’s on our lists this Advent season. Is there anything that has any relationship to God’s dreams for the world as Marty talked about them last week? Is there anything that encourages us to help make Emmanuel, God with us, something that is real and tangible in our own lives, in the lives of those who are dear to us, and in the lives of strangers near and far?

A few minutes ago we heard from John the Baptist and from the words of the prophet Isaiah which inspired him. We hear from John every year on this second Sunday of Advent, for the church sees his message as central to what it means to prepare for the coming of Christ. In a sense John’s message is on the church’s “to do” list each Advent. So I found myself looking to see what John puts on his list.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t escape the fact that the first thing on John’s list is the call to a baptism of repentance. John always insists that we come before God with honest clarity about who we are and where we have been, acknowledging those things of the past that have led us to the place where we find ourselves now. But repentance is not about wallowing in feelings of guilt or laying blame at the feet of others. That’s far too easy and it keeps our attention focused on the past. Repentance has more to do with turning around, with realigning our focus and our direction, so that the future is not just a repeat of the past. The Baptism of repentance is about turning toward God and toward the things of God, and away from those things which tend to distract us or keep us from a real and tangible experience of God’s gracious, loving, and forgiving presence. So repentance is a good place to begin for at the very least it gets us pointed in the right direction.

The next thing on John’s list is: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” John is not talking about the meandering path of a personal spiritual quest. He’s talking about a metaphorical road construction project that will require a lot of people, with a wide variety of skills and some heavy equipment; a project that will likely take a long time. And the purpose of this highway is to facilitate the experience of God’s presence, and to make it possible for it to happen sooner rather than later, intentionally rather than accidentally, and for everyone, not just for a few. And it is there on that highway, as we work our way together in the direction of God, that we and others encounter the one who comes; that we behold our God.

I think John’s list would also assume a continuation of his quote from the prophet Isaiah, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground…level and the rough places a plain.”  I think that Isaiah is telling us that as we seek to prepare the way of the Lord we will face huge obstacles, like mountains of hatred and fear, of poverty and injustice, of discrimination, violence and oppression; systemic problems that seem built in to the fabric of our culture. We will face valleys of despair and disillusionment, illness and grief, hopelessness and indifference. And there will be little things, too, that could cause us to stumble and loose our footing along the way if we don’t watch our step.

Isaiah and John are painting a picture for us of a dream of the day when all of those obstacles will be no more.  When “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill be made low,” because it is THEN that “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” in such a way that “all flesh shall see it together.”  It is then that God’s presence will be experienced in all its fullness and everyone and everything that has life and breath will be able to see and experience it together. It is then that Christmas will come – truly come – for everyone alive.

For Isaiah and for John this is not just a pipe dream, but a vision of the future which God intends and for which we are called to pray and live and work in the midst of our daily lives as people of faith. And so it is this dream that needs to inform and give shape to all of our wish lists and to all of our “to do” lists, not only during the season of Advent, but in every season of life.

So what’s on your list?  Is there anything on that list that will help you and your family get pointed in the right direction – the direction of God – and that will help to keep you pointed in that direction? Is there anything on that list that can contribute to the construction of that highway where God’s love and compassion and justice and grace are experienced in real and tangible ways by real people in this world? Is there anything on your list about making the deepest reality of Christmas – the promise that God is with us – arrive for just one person, let alone for everyone alive?  As this Christmas comes, what’s on your list?

Will you pray with me?

While others are making lists of things we have enough of, you come:
to offer us salvation, that one gift we cannot purchase.

As the world prepares to entice us with more and more, you come:
to fill our hearts with all the hopes you have dreamed about us forever.

When skepticism and fear callous our hearts, you come:
to bathe us in the soothing lotion of compassion.

When stress scoops out potholes for every step we take, you come:
filling the emptiness with serenity as tough as your grace.

As the clock turns faster and faster each day, you come:
to swaddle us in a shawl woven with patience.

When others push past us to get to the front of worry’s line, you come,
so we can clasp them so close to our hopes so they can hear your heartbeat.

So come to us, God.
Come to us in this holy season.
Come to us, and abide with us, for you are Emmanuel.
Come and fill our hearts with your peace.
as we hope and pray and work for that day when your glory shall be revealed in all its fullness
and all flesh shall see it together;
that day for which Jesus taught us to pray and live and work…our Father

(prayer adapted from Thom Shuman)

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