Second Sunday of Advent
Packing and Preparing, Pastor Fred Kinsey
First of all, thank you for providing for my vacation: for encouraging me to go and take time away for rest and renewal, and for welcoming me back.
As you know, one of the great things about vacation, is sleep! Kim and I set no alarm for the first couple of days, and I think we slept 10 hours, straight through! What a wonderful feeling that is, after a busy schedule and sleeping 6-7 hours per night. It was a true luxury!
But then, two or three days into vacation, we noticed that we were sort of holding back Kim’s sister Pam, and her husband Jeff, who we were vacationing with. They were going to bed an hour or more earlier, and getting up and hour or two earlier. And that made us just that much behind in our combined important quest, the excitement of searching out the best and brightest corals and sea creatures, there were to offer, snorkeling the waters around St John’s Island! There, in the summer-like Caribbean paradise of 85 degree days, with its natural cooling tropical breeze, it was still, like here, the shortest daylight time of the year, and maximizing those daylight hours became all important!
So we starting going to bed right after Pam and Jeff did! And so it was that the goal of preparing for, and seeking the best snorkeling, set the calendar and agenda for us.
We still slept great, but we made sure we also had the proper time to prepare. I was the coffee maker, and so I made sure the beans were ground and ready to perk even before going to bed, and whoever got up first could just flick on the switch on the coffee maker. And because we were – as one of the local beers there was called, “Pale Tourist’s” – we had to make time to apply a liberal dose of sunscreen. To prepare for the beach, sandwiches were made, and with them, drinks put into the cooler, and the snorkels and masks, wet suits and fins, the towels and beach chairs – and of course, for me, a book to read – were all packed into the Jeep!
Preparing for the day was involved, you might say, but not rushed; meticulously planned and anticipated, but not excessive or a burden. We continued to prepare by reading up, and talking with local people, to find out where the best dives were, which was all part of the fun.
And the payoff was amazing! We saw stag-horn coral – brain, finger, elkhorn and golfball corals! And the fish were swimming around and with us, of every size and color: pork fish and sergeant majors; blue tangs and bluehead wrasse; Queen and Blue Angelfish; Princess and stripped Parrotfish; sharks, barracuda, turtles, and much more. Visions and wonders, that were always worth the preparation and planning.
In the 15th year of Emperor Tiberius’ reign, …the word of God came to John …in the wilderness. He was something like the prophet Isaiah before him, preparing the way of the Lord, in this case, for Jesus, who was to come after him, and also crying out in the desert, like him, “make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.” Preparations were made by John for the one who was greater than he.
The gospel of Luke has already told us, back when John was just a gleam in his parents’ eyes, that he was to be a prophet, and that even his father Zechariah, should but pay close attention. And in case we missed it too, or weren’t really sure it was all that important, Luke tells us again here, the word of God came to John, and this is even before it came to Jesus, before he was baptized by John.
There’s stuff that John has to do, to get ready for the coming of his cousin Jesus – to get us ready – ready and prepared. This is not a vacation time, but the time, says Luke, when rulers everybody knows – Emperor Tiberius, the Governor Pilate, the two King’s, Herod and Philip, and the High Priest Caiaphas – were all in power, in Israel, in the Roman Empire. Prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah and others, had all been announced like this before: at the right time, when they received the word of God, naming who the parents were, where they lived and worked, and finally, who the kings, or other players at the time were.
And so, Luke tells us, John was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who went all around the region of the Jordan wilderness, to proclaim a baptism of repentance. While his parents lived and worked in the Temple in Jerusalem, John, in order to prepare for Jesus, was called to the Jordan, to the margins of society, to the region of a symbolic transitional place for Israel, where the people’s journey from enslavement, had crossed over into freedom. John prepared and paved the way for the Messiah and Anointed One to re-enter the religious world in a new way, without breaking from the past, but fulfilling the moment, in the time of Emperor Tiberius, et al, to create a new way, for us, to see the salvation of God.
This gives us great perspective today. God comes to us in the past, in the history of Israel and the incarnation of Jesus. God comes to us in the present, in the word and sacrament of each Sunday. And God comes to us in the future, at the end of all things. For “all shall see the salvation of God.” John prepares us for this, and is a role model for the church.
Just a couple days ago, preparing for our last snorkel on St John’s, Kim said that, you know, the one thing we haven’t seen yet is the spotted eagle ray – which is the grandest of stingray fish – and wouldn’t that be a good way to go out, she said! That was a good goal, something to shoot for, I suppose. But how in the world can you plan for something like that? In all the vast waters, just around tiny St John Island, you never know what you’re going to see. All we could do is plan like every other day.
We had coffee and breakfast, we put on the precautionary sunscreen, we packed up the snorkeling gear, and the lunch in our cooler, but this time we headed out to Leinster Bay, on the margins of a very remote spot that few go to. Swimming out was just average, fish and coral nice, but not the best we had seen. At the end of the bay we hit rolling waves, 5 or 10 foot swells, and I kept my head down, swimming hard and trying not to be deterred. Below the surface the coral and rocks opened up into huge canyons of beauty on either side of us. Large Queen Angel fish, schools of sergeant majors, and then suddenly Pam called: eagle ray, eagle ray! And we all swam over next to her and just below us, there it was! It was huge, and the spots on its back were stunning, like a leopard-skin coat. So majestic, it swam with big graceful sweeping motions, and was well named we discovered, because it looked exactly like an eagle soaring in the sky!
Back on the beach we felt like we had really reached paradise and seen it all, and that every preparation had been worth it!
John calls us to prepare for Jesus the Lord, and it’s worth it! Make his paths straight, …make the rough ways smooth.
What can we do to prepare? How can we take the birth of the Messiah seriously? What preparations are needed? What is required of us? What must we pack? When is the time of his arrival? Are we getting enough sleep? Do we need to change something in our regular patterns? Do we know where to find such a king? Who are the rivals and political players of the Messiah that are now demanding our attention, and are they helping or distracting us from discovering who the ruler Jesus is?
Advent is not just the four Sundays before December 25, and Christmas. Advent is the preparations we decide are needed, day-in and day-out, to get ready for the best swim of our lives, a paradisiacal snorkel, we don’t want to miss. When we get this excited to see the new born savior, our Messiah, our flesh shall see the salvation of God.