Only the Beginning

a sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Advent

What does Good News mean to you? Think about it… if somebody said, “I have some good news that I’d like to share with you,” what do you think about?

Some of us might think about children; maybe a friend who is having a baby. Some of us think about a job, about having a way to provide food and a home for ourselves and our family. Some of us might think about our health; about a cure for something that is breaking our heart, or our mind, or our body. Whatever we might think about, when somebody says that they have good news, we tend to stand up and take notice. We are put on alert, we listen more expectantly. Good news means that somehow, someone’s life is about to change for the better.

In today’s Gospel, we are confronted with the good news of Jesus Christ. But it is not very clear what kind of news it is. There isn’t any baby – no manger, angels, or shepherds. There isn’t any miracle – no walking on water, or feeding of thousands of people with a few fish. There isn’t any healing. None of this has happened, yet. Instead, we are told about an old prophecy from Isaiah, who lived about 850 years before Jesus, about straightening hiways and preparing for the coming of the Lord. Then we meet John the Baptist, a guy who wanders around the countryside, baptizing people by dunking them in the river. He dresses funny, he eats funny, and he lives out in the country – out on the fringes of society. All of this, we are told, is the beginning of Good News of Jesus Christ. But what kind of news is this, and how is it Good News for us?
We live in a culture that is completely saturated by media. We are bombarded with images and sounds competing for our attention – movies, television, the recording industry, news, advertising, and the internet – all competing for mindshare. And the vast majority of those messages tell us that who we are depends on the things we have. We are defined by the school we went to, or the job we have, or the money we make, or the company we keep. We see someone who has a big house and fancy car and we say, “that person is blessed.”

But here comes John the Baptist. John is a prophet who is hard to love, and he has a message that is hard to hear. God doesn’t care about our fancy clothes or fine food, he seems to say. God doesn’t live in the halls of power and wealth. Instead, God always shows up where we least expect him, in the fringes of our experience. God is present at the margins of society, in the least and the lost. John the Baptist cries out, “God is coming, soon. You better get ready. Prepare the way of the Lord.”

This is where God comes to us, at the very fringes of our lives. God is present when we are pushed beyond our limits – when our money runs out, or we’re trying to take care of a sick child, or when we’re lying awake in bed at 3:27 in the morning, wondering if we’ll ever find a job. God is with us no matter how far we have fallen, or how long we have been down.

But this is only the beginning of the good news; there is so much more to come. God has always been with us, and will always be with us still. But sometimes, we have to listen real hard to hear what God is saying to us. With all of the noise and clatter of the season, we find it hard to hear the Good News. And the good news is this: God, the creator of all that exists, is real. God, the source of all love, loves us. God, the core of all relationship, want us to live in relationship with God.

So how do we start, how do we begin to have that relationship? How do we begin to find God? As the Gospel says, we begin at the beginning. Advent is the start of a new year. We just elected a new vestry, and next month, we (the vestry and I) will be going on retreat to discuss our focus for the new year. I personally believe that focus needs to be on finding God in the fringes of our lives; finding God in the fringes of our community here in Irmo, finding God in the wilderness. And this requires a new beginning.

The Sunday school teachers and I met about a month ago to start discussing how we can refocus our Christian Education program on discipleship. What are the things a disciple needs to know? What are the things we want our children, and even our adults, to know and do as followers of Christ? Part of it is learning how to practice being a disciple – learning disciplines of prayer, interpreting scripture intelligently, learning what it means to serve others before ourselves. I believe that this is what it means to live as “people of The Way”, the way of the Lord.

The ushers are now passing out pencils and paper and I’d like you write down one thing that you believe we should be focusing on in the coming year. What one thing would you like for us to do, or would you like to learn? Maybe it is a prayer practice; maybe it is a service project; maybe it is a particular form of worship. What one thing would you like to see us do to help you find God? Then, next month at our retreat, the vestry and I will take these suggestions as input for planning out our year. What one thing would you like to see us do, as we we learn to walk in The Way of the Lord in the coming year?

Thanks be to God.

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