Outward signs

John preached a baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming of Christ, and this ritual washing wasn’t just about purification, it was a sign of personal transformation, a commitment to live in a whole new way. Is there an outward sign of your own inner preparation for Christmas?

#AdventWord #wash
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Photo: Baptistry of Neon, Ravenna, Italy


As the labor of our fathers and mothers has sustained us, so has their faith inspired us.

#AdventWord #ancestor

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Join the chorus

You can sing by yourself,
but you’ll never know
the true joy of making music
until you join the chorus

#AdventWord #sing
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A sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent 2018

When I was about 10 years old I had a coat that I still remember really clearly. I’m pretty sure that my grandmother made it for me, because she was still making a lot of my clothes at that point, my good clothes, anyway. It was a lovely tan color, and it was really soft. And technically I don’t believe this was accurate, but I called it my camel hair coat, and it colored my perception of John the Baptist for a long time. I thought, “We have something in common. We both have camel hair.” I think, technically, it should just have been called a camel coat, because it was an imitation. In modern times a camel hair coat is a luxury item. It’s made from the soft undercoat of the camel, which you wouldn’t think of as an animal with soft hair, but it is, it’s very soft. And a coat that’s camel hair, real camel hair, would go for hundreds of dollars.

John’s garment of camel hair was not a luxury item. This would have been a sort of an outer cliaj, and it would have been made from the coarse outer hair of the camel. It’s what peasants in that region might have worn, but more significantly for John the Baptist, it’s what a prophet would wear, it’s what Elijah the Prophet wore. And this reference is supposed to point out to us that John is a prophet. He’s following the great tradition of the prophets of the Old Testament, and he’s a sort of a bridge from the Old Testament to the New. He’s carrying on this tradition, pointing to the coming of the Messiah.

So, today we light the third candle on the Advent Wreath. It’s the candle for John the Baptist. Every year in Advent, on the second and third Sundays, we hear about John the Baptist. He is so important to this season. His basic message, “Repent and prepare for the coming of Christ”—that is the essential theme of the season of Advent. So, John is a really important character and his message comes right down to us. 

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Rejoice in God with all your heart

All week as I prepared to preach I’ve been remembering the sermon I wrote on these lections six years ago, right after the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. I’d finished one perfectly nice sermon by Friday, but on Saturday I sat down and wrote another one to speak to a world that had been changed by that tragedy. 

Rejoice in God always, Paul writes in Phillipians. And my heart answers: Always? Always? How can we rejoice when our hearts are broken? We live in a world where terrible things happen, and sometimes it’s just so hard to see that light that shines in the darkness. 

We preach on the same readings every three years, but the place where we stand is never the same. I’ll take a very different sermon into church with me this morning, but I offer that deadline effort from 2012 as my reflection on todays #AdventWord, #rejoice:

“Rejoice in the Lord always,” Paul says in the letter to the Philippians.

“ … The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything,

  … And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, 

will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

You know, I hear those words, and I wonder what possible sense it can make to talk about the peace of God in a world where terrible violence takes the lives of innocent little children. But then I ask myself if there is anywhere except in God that we have any hope of finding peace.

Once again, we find ourselves a nation united in mourning. So often these days our country seems polarized and divided, but there is something in the shared experience of tragedy that still has the power to bring us together. Because of our common humanity, we experience what happened in Connecticut last week as something terrible that has happened to all of us. And all of our hearts are broken.

We can imagine the incredible relief those parents who were reunited with their children must have felt. But we know they’ve been marked by this tragedy, and their lives will never be the same. And we feel in our own hearts the pain of those who lost loved ones in Connecticut. We feel that unimaginable pain as if it were our own. 

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Prepare to share

We hear a lot about John the Baptist in Advent, because his call to prepare for the coming of Christ is the essential theme of the season. John’s Advent preparation was all about repentance, about turning away from a life marked by sin, and from sins of economic injustice in particular. Our own spiritual preparation in Advent is about simplicity as we focus on the longing for God that is the deepest desire of our hearts. And yet at the same time we’re getting ready to celebrate, and the feast of abundance represented by the Christmas cookies and other holiday treats we prepare to share as we gather with people we love also serves to remind us of the generous goodness of our God.

#AdventWord #prepare

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Let the light shine in

You could say that Advent is a time for careful spiritual gardening, a time when we prune away what has grown up in us to block the Light in order to foster the healthy growth of our souls.

#AdventWord #prune
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If there is beauty in the rough places, it is because God is there.
#AdventWord #rough

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Let’s go!

There’s some uncertainy about today’s Advent word: Is it #grow, as per the graphic circulated in advance, or #go, as per the website and today’s official reflection? I say it matters not, since my photo works either way.

She’s ready to go. The world that awaits is awesome, but it can also be a little scary. We grow by exploring, by opening ourselves to the wonder of it all, and by being willing to take some risks because total safety would be stifling. And to prepare for the journey, we dress warmly and hold hands with someone we trust. Come on, now: let’s go!

#adventword #go #grow

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