Sunday, November 27, 2016
First Sunday of Advent

Prayer of the Day
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection save us from the threatening dangers of our sins, and enlighten our walk in the way of your salvation, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 2:1-5  Weapons of war transformed into instruments of peace
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14  Salvation is near; time to wake from sleep
Matthew 24:36-44  The sudden coming of the Son of Man

Sermon:  Preparing with Prayer
The starting gun has fired.  The race is on.  What today feels like a marathon, will soon turn into a sprint only to finish as a mad dash as we make our way through four weeks of preparation for Christmas.  Have you started doing your shopping, taking advantages of Black Friday specials, Small Business Saturday, and a whole host of online opportunities?  Or are you in the list making stage?  Maybe you are in the preparing to make a list stage, where your mind is a flood with I gotta’s.  I gotta get the Christmas cards out.  I gotta buy the gifts.  I gotta plan the menu.  I gotta attend this party and that party.  I gotta let certain people know what I want for Christmas lest they buy me…yeah, I gotta get the word out.  I gotta get all this done early this year.  I gotta avoid running myself ragged this year.

With all these I gotta’s it is very easy to see how this season of preparing for our Savior who is coming to us and for us, how it can become all about me and all that I am doing to me and for me.  The soundtrack of our ego-centric Advent features the “All I want for Christmas…”  “I’m dreaming of a…” and “Santa Baby” songs of personal longing, craving, and satisfaction.  We’re indoctrinated as kids and perhaps we never let go of it.

Now from God’s point of view, it is all about me and you, that’s why we celebrate so grandly the coming of our Savior King.  However, in preparing for such a flood of divine attention and gifting, perhaps we are better served to back off the me (God’s got us covered), and seek God’s guidance and aid to clear the channels through which we receive all that God is joyously and graciously giving.

One of those channels is the gift of prayer.  Investing and engaging this gift of connectedness with God, will be at the heart of our communal Advent worship here and our journey together as a community of faith with special attention and energy this year.  This exploration of prayer is not about what pretty words we say, or what lists of petitions we develop.  Rather I invite you to focus our journey of prayer on the reaching down to us by God (made visible in the coming of Christ) so that we might be comforted by God’s presence, renewed by Christ’s resurrected life, and inspired by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Hear the invitation in Isaiah’s word’s this morning.  Set in our midst, clear for all to see, high above for all to look to is God as mountain, that safe dwelling place into which we climb and reside, are protected and secure.  And to this mountain, all are coming, all nations, all peoples, not just those descended from Abraham, not just those who believe a certain way, but all peoples from all nations are invited to communion with God, to connect with God, to know God’s presence in their lives.  To be in prayer with God – God who speaks to us, who listens to us, who dwells with us.

And when we are connected, we are engaging and learning the wisdom of God’s ways, we are walking in the light of God’s ways, we are hearing the good news of God’s ways made know to us in Jesus.  When we are connected to God we see God’s justice centered on mercy and compassion and we are led to join into its works of light.  Isaiah goes on to give us an example of what that transformative justice looks like, as swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.  What are tools of destruction in our hands and used in service to our oppressive ways, are transformed into tools of harvest and feeding when we are connected to the justice of God’s kingdom.

Now we could look at these weapons being beaten into farming equipment, and focus our prayers that the Department of Defense and the Pentagon would see the light and stop making bombs and instead make tractors.  (A prayer that we probably wouldn’t really mean or entrust our national security in.  But would be praying it just because we think that’s what we’re supposed to pray for.)  But as we look at prayer as part of our preparation, perhaps we can take Isaiah’s wonderful imagery and allow it to piece our own war making.  In preparation for the coming of the Prince of Peace, we are wise to look at the swords that we ourselves use on one another.  Words that tear down.  Silences that cut off.  Grudges that destroy.  Weapons in the arsenal of the ego-centric, all about me.  Take those weapons and pray that God might beat them into tools of harvesting, feeding, and providing.  Beat insults into words of comfort.  Beat silences into understanding and compassion.  Beat grudges into forgiveness and renewal.  Only through our connectedness with God (through prayer), can these miraculous transformations take place.  And then we go forward, in the newness of life in Christ, no longer looking to wage war at the ones who aggravate, the ones we count as enemies, but instead we invite them to walk with us in the light of the Lord.

For the psalmist and other pilgrims to Jerusalem, this great mountain of God was the temple, sitting on the highest spot of the city.  Drawing all people to itself, to God.  It was the place that the people said together, Let us go.  And so we are reminded of the communal nature of prayer.  It is the gathered assembly that praises God’s name together, together they pray for peace.  Together they pray for the sake of their kindred and their fellow travelers.  Just as prayer connects us to God, so in community it connects us to one another.  Brings us together for the discerning of God’s light that is leading and guiding, together for the walking in God’s light that strengthens and encourages, together for the spreading of God’s light that is reaching out to the dark places of our world.

And so we are reminded that we engage in prayer for the sake of the world.  Paul certainly knows the fury and fight of the world.  And so he invites the Roman Christians to put on armor of light.  To surround themselves with God’s light that stands up against all our foes, even death.  To live knowing this light is ours this day and always.  Through prayer we grow in our understanding of the light that surrounds us.  We grow in our awareness of this light that surrounds us.  We grow in our trust of God’s light that surrounds us through Christ who is the light of the world coming to piece our darkness.

So stay wake in prayer and through prayer.  Not out of ego-centric fear of being left behind, but rather out of joyful anticipation so as not to miss the wondrous light that is coming to us, all of us.  Stay awake in prayer and bask in God-connectedness for the living of life.  Stay awake in prayer and unite with others as the body of Christ so that together we might be the light of the world that he calls us to be.  Stay awake in prayer and carry this light with the help of the Spirit, that all might see and know God’s light, that desires no one to be left behind, no one to be left in the dark, no one to be left thinking that they are all they’ve got.

For the sake of our connection to God, to one another, and to the world, let us pray.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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