A Christmas Worth Waiting For #2 – Warning
You heard about the city boy that moved out in the country, didn’t you? Yep. Called up the township and asked them to move the deer crossing sign that was out by his house. Said too many deer had been getting hit out there. He didn’t think it was a very good place for them to cross.
It’s deer season. But for weeks and weeks, it’s been deer collision season. Every year, estimates are that there are 1.5 million deer/car collisions. (Insurance companies say 1.5 billion dollars of damage. Remember when that seemed like a lot of money?) Illinois ranks #3 nationally for these close encounters of the bad kind.
And do you know what every one of the 1.5 million drivers involved in those crashes say? “It came out of no where! There wasn’t any warning!” In spite of the thousands of deer crossing signs, it still seems like we’d like more warning of dangerous situations and impending hazards.
Well – the Second Sunday in Advent is traditionally “Warning” Sunday. It is the Sunday that we read about crazy old John the Baptist, out there by the Jordan, shouting that people had better REPENT! REPENT! The Lord is on His Way! Straighten up and FLY RIGHT! Or You’ll be Sorry when He gets here!
And always, this catches those of us who have spent our weekend putting up a tree and decorating, shopping or reading the Christmas story to our children – a bit by surprise. We’re focused on the sweet baby Jesus – and then come to church and hear about a man wearing camel’s hair and eating bugs and telling the crowds that human beings are terrible sinners and we better shape up.
John the Baptist is an important part of Advent – because in order to experience Christ entering our lives in a new way this season, we need to be warned about the things that might prevent that from happening.
This sermon is about the difference between a threat and a warning. Threat is when someone says that they are going to hurt you because they don’t like what you are doing. A warning is when someone says that there is danger up ahead and you can avoid it or prepare to meet it. A threat is hateful. A warning is given out of love.
Warnings and the need for them:
My grandmother, as a very young woman, received a warning in a dream. It was a warning that about warning – sort of a meta-dream where meaning is interwoven and rich. In this dream, which she received as a young mother, she saw her toddler son – her first born child – playing in the yard, and then, she dreamed that he was headed toward an open well. And she called to him, but he just turned and looked at her and kept on going. In the dream, her shouts to turn around were not heeded, and he fell down the hole and she lost him. When she awoke, she felt that she had been warned about the importance of having her children pay attention to her warnings. I remember her telling me, she didn’t like disciplining them, but God had showed her that she had to in order to protect them.
Warnings are about love and protection and guidance and the deep desire for the person being warned to avoid danger and live well.
God’s advent warnings are like that:
The warning in Isaiah – we are like flowers of the field. Our time is limited. Life is fragile and breathtakingly short.
Make straight the paths! There is crookedness in every single one of us. There are mountains we have made out of molehills and valleys we do not wanted lifted into the light. Christ’s coming is for the purpose of reunion, and we have put up some pretty big obstacles in his way.
God wants us to avoid the danger of wasting out lives on meaningless trivia, of wasting our energy on holding grudges. God warns us of the dangers of putting our trust in the riches or popularity or fame. Those are dangerous things. Those are wells, down which perfectly beautiful children of God may, indeed, fall. Children have been lost this way before. But God does not want to lose YOU.
Coming to the table, in some traditions, used to be a time for straightening things out in our lives. It used to be that if you had a bad grudge, this was the time to resolve it. If you had a debt to pay, or an apology to offer, the table was the warning to get that done so that you could receive the sacrament. The rite of “Penance” in the RC church is still practiced. We Protestants have a slightly different take. We understand that table as a way to become Christian enough to deal with the problem. We need grace BEFORE we can turn our lives around, make the apology, mend the relationship, fix the behavior or whatever we need to do to get right with God and one another. So the table shouldn’t be avoided. Neither should it be approached without caution. Be warned! This meal can and should change you from the inside out!
John the Baptist’s warning is out of love for the people, that they should prepared to receive the Christ when he comes. God wants to warn us that our hands need to be free to receive the precious Christ. Our hearts need to be unconflicted and ready to love. Our lives need to have enough space in them for prayer and fellowship. Prepare yourselves. The warning is our time is limited and God’s coming is not on our timetable. Don’t be caught like a deer in the headlights!
Head the Baptist’s warning:
Prepare the way of the Lord.