EXPECTING A CHILD: 1 PREPARING

 

SCRIPTURE: ISAIAH 11:1-10; MATTHEW 3:1-12

 

 

In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!

 

          The sermon theme for this Advent season is “Expecting a Child.” The sermon ideas come from Joan Rivers book entitled, “Having a Baby Can Be a Scream.’” In this very funny book, Joan Rivers tells of her experience of giving birth to her daughter Melissa and the interactions with her husband, Edgar and her doctor.

          The three sermons of “Expecting a Child’ are Preparing, Gathering, and Naming. Part of expecting a child is preparing. There are a lot of preparations when a baby is coming:

          Room for the child must be made, a nursery, has to be created.

          Stuff, lots of stuff needs to be obtained, a car seat, high chair, crib, stroller,

          changing table, and the list goes on….

 

           Day care reservations have to be made very early, at the first hint of pregnancy.

          For example there is a year’s waiting list for a Children’s Growing Center infant

          and toddler room at a large church in the southwest.

 

          Clothes, many clothes, diapers, many more diapers, and foods have to be

          purchased.

 

          Time adjustments in the mother’s and father’s schedules have to be planned,

          and those adjustments will continue for the rest of their lives. This also applies to

          many others in the extended family as well.

 

          There are mental and emotional preparations to be made. One has to begin to

          think of himself or herself as a parent, and it is something we never fully figure

          out. As prepared as we think we may be, there are constant surprises, glitches,

          blessings, and other experiences that will come our way.

 

From this partial list and your own experiences, you know it is a good thing babies usually give us nine months warning about their arrival!

If you have ever walked in the woods, most likely you have seen an old stump,

Weathered , splintering, gray, lifeless looking, but with a fresh, new, tender, green shoot coming forth reaching for the sky and proclaiming new life. Isaiah uses this image as a statement about what the people of Judah could expect God would do.

          They were living under constant threat from Assyria and no doubt felt they were nothing but a dry, lifeless stump, as good as dead. Isiah plainly sees the stump, but also the new green shoot coming forth from it. This new shoot comes from the family of Jesse, David’s father, from the time when Israel was at its greatest.

          God will bring forth a new ruler for God’s people out of the old family tree that gave great leadership in the past.

          The image contains a larger vision for us. Advent is a season of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ. There are really three Advents celebrated. First, was Israel’s longing and anticipation of a Messiah. Isaiah is the greatest spokesman for this Advent, and we Christians believe Jesus is the fulfillment of this hope.

          Second, Christians celebrate and prepare for the gift of God’s Spirit of Christ coming in a new birth for our individual lives. Third, is the coming of Christ again at the end of time in power and great triumph.

          This season affords us the occasion to revel in the hope that God can and does come to us as a God of newness, of infinite possibilities, a God of fresh beginnings. This time of year we contemplate hope embodied and enfleshed in a new born baby, the perfect example for us of newness, potential and possibility.

          Cheryl Lawrie, a Director of Spirituality in the Uniting Church in Australia, observes that Advent is a time of preparation and waiting, but not an idle waiting of just sitting and doing nothing. Faith is not about trusting things are going to work out in the future, but rather believing that the present, this moment, these conditions, do not define us or our future. The question for is how do we need to live now so that hope can have its birth.

          Even when we feel cut off at the knees, “stumped” we might say, cut down, destroyed, limited physically, or emotionally by other people’s attitudes about us, there is hope for us. We can prepare for new life. For just as Isaiah says the Spirit of God will rest on God’s chosen one coming from the stump of Jesse, so God’s spirit will rest on us.

          The promise of Advent, of God coming to us, is for all of us no matter the condition of our lives. This announcement is pure good news. God here is acting from the depths of God’s own character, a character revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6) Now, God acts with grace, unmerited favor, with the promise of a new leader, a leader who will bring peace. This will be a peace recognizable in the rule of justice among peoples and the transformation of creation.

          In our New Testament lesson today, John the Baptizer is introduced to the reader as the one who is preparing the way for the Messiah. Isaiah had said God is going to raise up a new chosen leader. Now, John’s task is to get the people ready to receive him.

          John announces two things. First he states that the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s rule, is at hand in the long expected Messiah, and second, that people must repent to receive it. It appears from the way Matthew writes the account that John gladly received the common people as they confessed their sins.

          However he has a different reaction when he sees both Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him. First, these two groups were the Republicans and Democrats of the day. They did not see eye to eye on much of anything, but here, they seem to be united in fearful opposition to John the Baptizer and later to Jesus.

          Despite their very different beliefs, both would have claimed to be real patriots, the true believers. Both would have been absolutely certain of how the Messiah was going to be, and both obviously are missing what God is doing in their presence. John states that ancestry or party affiliation makes no difference.

          He calls the Jews just as he would the Gentiles, they are no different. All must be washed of their past and start over. God’s grace comes to all of us, that is the good news. While judgment burns away the past, it is grace that ignites God’s possibilities from the future.

          What John points to is God who is not willing to just stand by and wag the finger of judgement, tossing the unrighteous into unquenchable fire. It is God who is willing to enter the burning chaos of human live and save us.

          Each of us needs to receive this grace. So often those who think of themselves as most religious and faithful, have preconceived notions of how God is going to act. John says don’t count on it!

          So repentance here certainly is sorrow for our past mistakes and sins, but it is also opening our hearts and minds to receive the promise of God’s new beginning in our lives. We prepare for the expected redemption in Christ by opening ourselves to God. Our Advent preparation is an open, active seeking of God, a relationship in which we are willing to receive whatever God gives.

          Let me take you back to the early summer of 1968 and tell you how Andrea and I prepared for our first child. I was working for the Texas Highway Department and getting ready for my last semester at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). On a Friday afternoon while at the Highway Department district office, I received a phone call from Andrea who just finished with a doctor’s appointment. She had good news. She was pregnant and we would become parents. I literally had to sit down with that news. My relationship to Andrea was forever changed that day. We were no longer just a couple –we would also be Mom and Dad. I confess that my emotions were running rampant with the announcement that Andrea gave to me.

          We figured we had about six months to prepare. Later that evening we attended a double wedding of two sisters at the church we belonged to. We told our parents and it seemed the word was out. We belonged to MYF and later a college and career group at the church. Andrea and I were the first of that group to be married. And our relationship to that group changed. But with the announcement that we were going to be parents, it seemed as if we didn’t fit in with the group anymore. Our status had changed.

          You will be hearing more about our first pregnancy and delivery in the next two weeks of Advent.

          Preparing for a child, any child, is full of the unexpected. I think that is John the Baptizer’s message. This advent let us not predetermine God or God’s actions. Let us not presume and turn our hearts to rock. Let us trust God will come in grace to give new life, how and when is God’s choice.

MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH