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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, December 10, 2006
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Ddedicated to Lynne Niederkorn on her baptismal day and to all our new members as they join our community of faith and always to the glory of God!
Peace: Desert Road Ready for Business
Part II of VI in the Sermon Series: Road Signs on Bethlehem's Highway
Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 3:1-6

Into the Second Sunday of Advent step the prophets -Malachi and John. Both are "crying" in the wilderness. Malachi cries out, "The leader you have been looking for will come into his Temple. He will clean up everyone and everything!" No to be outdone, in Luke's Gospel, John cries out as Isaiah has before him: "Clear a space - make a pathway for God's arrival! Make a landing strip in the desert. Get rid of the detours and pave the ruts! Everyone will be on hand to see the parade of God's salvation!" The message is clear. God is coming! Get ready! Get set! WAIT!

That's right. The prophets want us ready and waiting. Waiting is something we all do for various reasons in a variety of ways and places. At this time of year, "waiting" - online, in line or for the lines to move - seems like the real "reason for the season." While some of us may notably be waiting for the day of the Lord, all of us are waiting for definitely something.

We may be waiting for true love or someone to sweep us off our feet, for answers to questions we have been really struggling with, for the return of health for ourselves or our most beloved ones, for a job, or perhaps happiness in our current job, for a house to call our "home," for peace in our home, in our families, in our nation, in our world.

Like Malachi and John the Baptist, we yearn for something or someone who will bring us peace - peace of mind and being, and certainly peace in the world. Like Malachi and John, we struggle to give names to that reality we seek, for, like the prophets, we don't know a lot of details of that for which we are waiting. We don't have a name or a location, we just know that old ways are passing away and we hope and pray that new ways are on the way. Like the prophets of old, we are crying - perhaps crying internally, perhaps crying out for the coming of the new way. Our crying may be joyful and it may be sad. But, it is crying nevertheless.

I know it is hard to wait. To make room for this unnamed, unspecified reality is very hard. We have to let go of our old ways, even though we quite often love our old ways. Since we, as Christians, are waiting for the birth of our savior, once again, our minds go (quite naturally) to birth and even a particular birth this time of year. Even though ultrasound, amniocentesis, and DNA research can tell us what to expect, parents and families still don't know exactly whom they are expecting with the birth of a baby. Knowing the gender a child is one thing, but what remains in the midst of waiting is the mystery of how they will look and the personality and character they will bring, and how they will change life in the family.

In the face of all this anticipation, we do know one thing - we must clear a space for the one who is coming - whether a nursery, a corner in the parent's room - a place must be cleared for the unknown one who is coming in order for them to become part of the family.

Clearing a space is no problem when you have enough room. But, by the time a second or third child is on the way, most families struggle with where to put the little one. But, if we were honest about clearing space in our lives, we could admit to all the things which clutter our lives.

In her collection of sermons entitled, Mixed Blessings, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about "waiting without idols" (B.B. Taylor, Mixed Blessings, Cowley Publications, Boston, Mass., 1998, pp. 44-45). With the prophets of old, we need to stop looking to all the idols in our lives to save us and start opening ourselves to God for our salvation. And we all have many idols in our lives. They don't look like the golden calves of the Hebrew people in the desert. Our idols surprise us.

Dr. Taylor points out that there are many idols in our lives which are not as obvious as that golden calf. For example what about "the idol of independence - the belief that everything will be all right if we can just take care of ourselves and not have to ask anyone else to look after us? Or the idol of romance - the belief that we can face anything in life if we just have one other person to love us the way we are, and to love us in return? Or, as a variation on that, the idol of family - the belief that if we can just gather around us a close, committed family, our happiness will be unassailable. Then there is the most deceptive idol of all, the idol of religion - the belief that if we simply go to church and struggle, really struggle to live a life of faith, then our souls will be safe (Ibid, pp.44-45).

You might want to name your own idol. "The list can be long: the idols of health, friendship, patriotism . . . Now in each case mentioned, these are good and noble things! How else could they become idols?!? The first criterion of an idol is that it gladdens our hearts and nourishes our souls, because that is how we learn to believe in it and depend on it, and finally to cling to it as our only source of life" (Ibid, p. 45).

But the problem is, when our hearts are so full of what WE KNOW will sustain us, we have lost our ability to wait and receive the as-yet unknown things that God has in store for us. We are all filled up. There is no room in the inn. God is seeking a place to reside in our hearts, but there is no room for Him to be born again.

This week, we saw the results of this in our national policies. Our President, along with Prime Minister Tony Blair, and leaders in their administrations have idolized their foreign policy - especially their war in Iraq. They have done this so completely that as the Baker Commission came forward with its plans for leaving Iraq, they couldn't let go of what had happened to clear a space for a future without war. While Baker and his commission said, "bring our soldiers home," the President and his advisors responded, "we'll see . . . " For peace to come, the idolatry of this war and policies upholding this war needs to be released from its hold on the heart of decision-makers leading this war.

Do you see how this works? Do you see that making highways in deserts clear the path for peace in our hearts and in the world?

During Advent, we are invited to clear a space for God to come into our hearts. This does not mean that we forsake the things we love and want in our lives - whether they are independence, romance, family, religion, health, friendship or patriotism - or other things which only you can name. Instead, what it means is that we learn to hold them lightly, without clinging to them when it becomes clear that they are taking up too much room. As we are invited in this season of Advent to prepare a way for something new and unknown in our lives in the person of the living God, we need to figure out that of which we will let go. What is taking up too much room in your life? (Ibid).

If you don't know all the answers, that's all right. Advent is all about preparing for something new in our lives. It is about waiting without knowing what is coming. Follow the sign. A desert highway is ready for business. God is coming! So, get ready! Get set and . . . WAIT! Amen.

Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church