1 of 3 A sermon preached by the Reverend Stanley A. Dubowski on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 7, 2008 Year B: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8 How in the world do we love God and neighbor in worlds that is seemingly involved in endless conflict and war? How do we love God and neighbor in this season of commercial excess, the biggest and most frenzied retail period of the year all the while knowing that we’re in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis? In the midst of that harsh reality, can there really be good news? Those questions came to mind and made me think about what we call the human condition. At birth, we humans are just about the most dependent of all living beings. We can do very little for ourselves for the first several years and even then we are limited and are very dependent on others to take care of our needs. Being waited on and tended full time from birth leaves us in a predicament because as we grow and mature, we must learn and cope with the reality that we really are not the center of the universe. The tough part of parenting is caring for and at the same time teaching your child to see and understand that there are others who are equally as important. Regardless of how well we were taught and how much we were loved as children, all of us manage to fall into the mode of thinking in terms of “my” needs and “my” opinion and “my” plans. We really do slip into being self-centered at times. And our society encourages us to focus on our own wants and needs sometimes telling even us outright that it is OK to ignore the needs of others. The focus on self is heightened in our society with its focus on consumption and the sometimes not so subtle messages that tell us that instant gratification is actually an entitlement. And now as we approach Christmas and the holiday season the secular world calls us to shop, to worship in the many, albeit somewhat shaken, temples of consumerism. The current economic crisis seems to have made the marketing world hyperactive. Even more than usual the inherent message in almost every advertisement is that we can buy happiness if we just rush right out to buy this or that gift item. Madison Avenue and the marketing community are doing their best to convince us that we can actually make someone happy by spending a lot of money on gifts. In light of our human inclination to slip into self-centeredness and amidst the siren call to participate in the annual winter ritual of shop-til-you-drop, the church begins the liturgical year by standing firm yet again and providing the annual Advent wake up call. We are called to stop, take a breath, contemplate on what is really important, and to prepare the way of God. Part of the annual Advent wake up call includes spending time with John this strangely dressed prophet with his outlandish diet of bugs with honey. Standing on the bank of the Jordan, John calls us to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John invites us to join him, to shift our focus away from self, away from consumerism and secular holiday preparations and turn toward God. John reminds us that there is more to life than our aches and pains or our wants and desires. John is joined this morning by the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah tells the Israelites that despite being in captivity and despite the horror of the political mess they are in, God has not abandoned them. Humans may be vulnerable and finite like the grass but God provides salvation and deliverance. The Almighty One comes with power beyond our comprehension but comes not to destroy us but rather to feed us, carry us when we are too weak, and lead us back into the fold. Advent is a reminder that we do can nothing to secure our salvation quite simply because salvation is provided by God as a free gift. Every year during Advent, at the beginning of the church year, we are reminded that God is in charge. And, regardless of how good or bad we think things are God’s 2 of 3 A sermon preached by the Reverend Stanley A. Dubowski on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 7, 2008 Year B: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8 salvation plan will be fulfilled according to God’s promise and in God’s time. Too often we forget that we are made in the image and likeness of God and not the other way around. The history of God found in Holy Scripture is the history of God with humanity, an incredible love story that shows over and over that God doesn’t work the way we do. God is looking for our repentance, looking for us to turn around, God is not looking to punish or be wrathful. God wants all of humanity to return to God’s way, the way of being in real relationship with God and one another, the way of true peace. This call to repentance isn’t about harsh punishment. God simply wants us to come back into relationship. For this very reason the church takes us on this annual pilgrimage, out to see the man in the wilderness, strangely dressed and eating weird food. We go out to meet John who is baptizing with water and calling for any of us who will listen to him, calling us to change. At God’s direction, Isaiah called out letting the people know that regardless of how bad things were, there was hope, God was with them – but God was not with them to do their bidding or act as they wanted God to act. God was with them, had forgiven them, and was preparing a place for them. Oh – and sorry – but the timing might not be just what we want but it will be in God’s time. So here we are at the beginning of the good news… The new order that was promised has begun. Things will never be the same again. John’s message in the wilderness reminds us that God alone is our security; God is there with us and for us every step of the way. God is our rock. The seemingly never-ending sales seem to be more pervasive this year and may be distracting us, the holiday prep may be clamoring for our attention, but we have the power to concentrate on change, we have the power to concentrate on and become centered on God, not on our selves or on the world. This morning, both of these prophets stand before us calling us to see what God has already done in and around and even through us. That is the call for repentance reminding us that regardless of what has caused our exile God is acting to draw us back, calling us to a new life by forgiving us. God isn’t checking some list to see if we have been naughty or nice and, quite honestly, God isn’t the least bit worried about our every wish or want being met. God is however acutely focused and you could even say that God is practically obsessed with what we need, what is best for us. As the ever-present, ever-loving parent, God calls each of us, offering us life – which is the free gift of forgiveness. We are simply being called to repent, to turn our lives around and focus on God. Reenter into relationship with God. This is the good news that Isaiah proclaimed to the Jews in exile in Babylon. This is the good news that the author of the Gospel launches into this morning with no prologue or introduction. God is with us inviting us to repair our relationship with God so that we can resume our partnership with God to make the world a better place – to establish true peace on earth and goodwill among all people. Repentance is not about pain and punishment; it is all about turning around so that we can see 3 of 3 A sermon preached by the Reverend Stanley A. Dubowski on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 7, 2008 Year B: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8 God’s work all around us. Regardless of what we have done, regardless of what we have not done but should have done, when we find ourselves in the wilderness or we find that we’ve allowed ourselves to be taken into exile, we can find comfort in God’s presence and grace. Comfort, O comfort my people! With those words God implores the heavenly hosts to provide comfort for the Jews during the Babylonian exile. Comfort my people – this is an ongoing mandate for us to be in relationship with any and all who need comfort because there really is no way to provide comfort without some level, some depth of relationship. I invite you to do your best to make sure that whatever Christmas preparations you have yet to do are consciously focused on others so that whatever you do is done for others and not out of a sense of obligation or guilt or simply because it is the tradition. And in closing, as each of us looks into our own heart and soul and mind this morning; as we inspect and inventory the entirety of our very beings so that we can go out of here today to do our best to prepare the way of God, I leave you with these words of one of my favorite hymns: Breathe on me breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love and do what thou wouldst do. Breathe on me breath of God, till I am wholly thine, till all this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine.