Something’s coming!

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Community Eucharist

Read a version of the sermon here:

The Collect of the Day (the prayer we prayed at the very beginning of our worship ) names two major themes for this Second Sunday of Advent: repentance and preparation. But if we think about it within the context of how things really work in life, one of those themes actually includes the other. Preparation usually includes and involves repentance.

Repentance, we know, is not just about saying “I’m sorry.” It’s not just apologizing or feeling regretful about something. It’s about change. Repentance is about turning from one thing to another. It’s about movement, reversal, and return. Repentance is often about cleaning up and throwing out.

And so, repentance is a part of preparation. When a person prepares to sell an apartment or a house, the person cleans it up and sometimes makes some changes. It might be painted. Repairs might be made. Furniture may be removed as a part of the preparation. Someone expecting a child prepares by giving up space and time. Space is made ready. A room might be taken over. Some things might be gotten rid of, changes are made—and then there’s the clearing of the schedule, of work or commitments—all a part of the preparation.

In our first scripture reading, Isaiah speaks of preparation. God will send a prophet, Isaiah says, who will sing a song of comfort and mercy. Prepare a place for God, he says. The mountains and valleys will be cleared, the rough places smoothed out. Things are going to get cleaned up and thrown out. It may not always be pretty. It may take a while. But in the end, fear itself will be banished, making room for God and the Word of God. Isaiah’s word begins and ends with “Comfort. Comfort, my people.”

That prophet “who is to come” DOES come in today’s Gospel. He comes in the form of John the Baptist. This strange looking and sounding John comes as a voice (a little bit like Isaiah’s voice) crying in the wilderness: repent, get ready, something good is coming. He is preaching repentance, but notice that he’s asking, pleading, hoping for people to repent not for the sake of holiness, but in order to prepare. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” he says. “Clear way,” “make room,” do what you need to do, but prepare.”

Though I love all the great hymns of Advent, and am always grateful for how Cleve Kersh choses the music we sing and enjoy, I also think of a secular song that would match the mood of this Second Sunday of Advent.  It’s Tony’s song from West Side Story:

Something’s coming, something good, If I can wait!
Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is, But it is gonna be great! ….
It’s only just out of reach, Down the block, on a beach, Maybe tonight . . .

Maybe this morning or this afternoon. So get ready.

John the Baptist is very clear about his job.  He understands his role is to make the announcement, to try to get people ready, to warm up the crowd. He prepares, but he’s very clear that another will come, Jesus, who will actually accomplish the work of God.

This is a crucial piece to Christian discipleship, I think—understanding what we’re called to do, and what we’re NOT called to do.

The task for us, as Christian disciples, is to follow in the work of John, to prepare the way for God’s coming, but to also understand the scope of our calling. While we do our part, it’s God’s job to finish things. The work is ours, but the results belong to God. The outcome belongs to God.

As people who try to live and function in what we call the “real world,” this is hard because we like results. We like to achieve, to prove, to finish. We set goals and we like to realize them.

But the spiritual world moves in a different way. God is in charge of the way things turn out. We work. We pray. We hope. We do our part, but then we come to a point of having to let go, of waiting in faith and watching as God continues to work, and God’s will unfolds.

We’ve all probably heard the phrase, “Let go and let God.” And if you’re at all like me, you’ve probably rolled your eyes at it once or twice.  It can sound a little simplistic or naïve. It can sound like someone is avoiding responsibility and passively waiting out all of life’s storms.  But the phrase really assumes another piece:  that we’ve prepared.

We can prepare our children for the world, but we can’t control the way they turn out.
We can prepare our bodies for aging and for stress, but there’s a point where we have to trust in doctors and science, and pray for God’s healing.  We’ve all seen this past year, we can plan and prepare, but especially when a pandemic shows up, everything is changed.

John the Baptist preaches PREPARATION, but he also assures us that we won’t be alone. “One who is more powerful (than me) is coming …. And he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” We have that Holy Spirit—with us, in us, guiding, shaping, comforting, reconstructing, and always burning with faith and hope.  

This Advent can invite us to prepare in at least three different ways. Some of us might be called to prepare through repentance—by turning from old habits, practices, or thought patterns in order to create some space for God to do a new thing.  Repentance can call us to let go of resentments or grudges and leave them in the wilderness as God’s Spirit calls us forward.

A second way Advent invites us is to prepare through HOPE.  As the whole world prepares to make way for a Covid-19 vaccine and its distribution, we’re hopeful.  Things are going to get better, and if we can just hold on for a little while longer, we’ll get there.

But a third way the season invites us is through FAITH—by trusting and letting God be in charge of the results.  The pandemic has changed our world and some things will be different on the other side. We can prepare ourselves—our relationships, our work and vocations, our exercise and health habits, our spiritual life—but God will surely surprise us.

Thomas Merton wrote that “The Advent mystery in our own lives, is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.”   (Seasons of Celebration, p. 95)

May we prepare this season with repentance, with hope, and with faith.

Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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