Second Sunday of Advent
December 8, 2002
The Gospel: Mark 1:1-8
Sermon: "Preparation in Times of Tragedy"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
Preparation in Times of Tragedy
Second Sunday of Advent - December 8, 2002
The events of this last week have strongly affected all of us. This community has lost one of its own and one who was dearly loved. Tim's death is a great loss to all of us. This accident hits us very hard. Tim's young age, leaving behind a wife and two children, the vacant possibilities of their lives together in this community cause our spirits to ache and wonder. We ache for our sense of loss and for the family, for Tom and Mary Jane, Stephanie and the children. We wonder because the suddenness of this tragedy causes us to say why and when. We want to know why him, why now? We also want to know when. Lord, when will it be our time? We wonder if we are ready. We wonder if there is anything we can do to prevent the inevitable moment.
For the questions of why there is not an answer. We don't know why things happen when they do. We don't know why they happen now. To be honest no one knows those answers and to try to determine the answer usually hurts more than it helps.
We also don't know the answer to when. When will it be our time is also a question whose answer is unknown. If we remember last week's Gospel reading we do not know the day or the time of our ending or of the second coming of Christ. This question has no definitive answer for us. We can't do anything to prevent it from coming either. Life and death are not in our hands. We do not give life and we do not take it away.
So what do we do when we are faced, no, thrown into struggling with these questions? How do we respond to the starkness of life and death around us? I believe we have two things we can do. First, we put our trust in God. Secondly, we prepare.
At times like these we are faced with the reality that we are not in control. Life is full of uncertainty. The only place where we can find certainty is in God. God does not change. God was the same yesterday, as God is today, as God will be tomorrow. God's changelessness is our hope. For the essence of God is love, the very being of God is love. God's love created us. God's love breathed life into us. God's love gave us free will. It is God's incredible love that sustains us.
Sometimes I hear the argument that God can do anything. God can change events. God can prevent things from happening. God can prevent the bad things from occurring in our lives. I believe that God could do those things. However, God chose a different way to work in our lives. God came to us. God came to us in our form, flesh and blood. God came to us in our world of uncertainty and lived and breathed, and ate and drank like us. God Incarnate, Jesus, was tempted like us. He experienced joy and laughter, sorrow and crying, successes and failures. He experienced ridicule, abuse, loneliness, anguish, beatings, whippings, and even death. I would find it hard to follow a God who was always kind of a pie in the sky God. If everything is right God is there. If something is wrong God is either nowhere to be found or the cause of the problem. I find it very easy to follow a God who has gone through the same things I have been through in my life. I can believe in and follow a God who has experienced all of the wonder and all of the frustration of being alive. I can follow a God who has experienced death. I can believe that Jesus, God Incarnate, will come again. He promised to teach the disciples a new way and he did. He told them he would go to Jerusalem suffer and die, and he did. He promised them he would rise again from the dead and he did. He promised us he would come again at the proper time to take us all home and I believe he will. The evidence shows me that Jesus came because of love, died for us because of love, rose for us because of love and will come again for us because of love. The love of God knows no bounds. I can put my trust in a God with this kind of love. We can trust this kind of loving God.
With this trust we prepare. We prepare for the day when Christ will come again. We prepare in the manner proclaimed by John the Baptist so many years ago. We repent, we forgive and we are baptized. These traditions of the church call us to reform and convert. When we repent of our sins we recognize that we have wronged others and we promise not to do it again. In that act we turn to God for help and hope. We ask for help not to sin again and we hope God will be with us and strengthen us. In the act of repentance we turn to God and away from our own agendas. In the act of forgiveness we restore the community that is broken. When we forgive others we restore our relationship with them. We remove the barriers between us and begin to rebuild the ties of love that have been broken. Furthermore we learn how to receive forgiveness. We learn how to receive love as we give love. Finally, in baptism, we convert. We give our lives over to God. We turn away from the ways and means of the world and put our trust and hope in God. We donít do these things to draw God near to us. Instead as we do these things we open our hearts and minds to see that God has been with us all along. All God has been waiting for is for us to recognize Godís presence. It is kind of ironic that we prepare ourselves to find someone who is already present.
We might be asking ourselves where was God in the events of this week? God was present with Tim at the accident. God was present at the hospital with those who waited for answers. God was present with those who formed prayer chains and prayed diligently for Tim and his family. God is present with everyone who mourns. God is present with us now, this afternoon and in the days to come. Because God knows what death is all about. God knows how much it hurts to lose someone close to you. We have a God who has experienced all of the aspects of life. Our God promises to be with us every step of our journey. Our God promises to come to us when we are in need. Our God promises that there will be a day when we will come to Him, the center of all hope and love. In those promises we find the only source of love and hope on which we can depend. To our loving and caring God be all the power and the glory.