Isaiah 40:1-11 Mark 1:1-8
As many of you know Julia and I have been moving and unpacking the last couple of weeks. We’re not done yet, but we’re getting there. It’s coming along.
We actually moved two weeks ago yesterday, but the preparation for the move had started long before then. We had to give sixty days’ notice that we were moving, so at least intellectually we had been preparing for almost two months. Physically, not quite that long.
We had prepared, though. We had friends and neighbors over to help us pack. Julia did most of the work and most of the organizing, and she did a great job. We didn’t have everything packed, but we had most of it. I thought we were in pretty good shape, and I would have guessed we had about 80 or 85% of it packed, and it wouldn’t be too much trouble to finish the rest of it up once the big move was completed.
On the day of the move there were eight or ten people from my workplace who came to help us, and they brought along a F250 pick-up truck and a trailer and a big conversion van with the seats removed, in addition to some SUVs. We made two trips, and while I knew we didn’t have everything I thought we were in pretty good shape. When people asked me I told them we probably had 80 to 85% of the stuff out of the apartment, and that we could probably get the rest into a van.
A couple of days later we rented a van and got some help from the local Labor Resource Center. At first I thought we were in pretty good shape. Then they started packing the van. My estimate of 85% done quickly dropped down to about 65%, and as the van filled up I realized that it was going to be more than one trip.
When we came back to pack the van a second time, the guys helping us started loading boxes into the van. They started loading boxes, but did not load the big stuff like bookshelves and floor lamps and a desk, so that by the time they had the boxes in there was no room left for the big stuff. By the time they had unloaded from the second trip it was over eight hours of work, so we took them back to Centreville and paid them off, knowing that we had at least one more trip to make.
Finally, on Thanksgiving Day, after two months of planning and packing and about 75 or 80 person-hours of moving, Julia and I wrestled the last of the stuff into the Forester and got it down to our new home in Manassas. If you ask me about the unpacking, my answer is probably that we’re in pretty good shape and that we probably have about 80 to 85% of the stuff done.
Obviously preparing has been on my mind. That’s one of the reasons I liked the worship folder for this Sunday. I don’t know how many of you read the pieces on the back, but they are usually very good. This one spoke to me, and not just about Advent. Here’s the first part by Theresa Cocklin Eshbach, A Highway for Our God. “It was time… time to prepare for the journey to Bethlehem. It was time for a nine-months pregnant woman – with aching back and swollen belly – to prepare for a donkey ride across rugged terrain. She would endure it ten long days and nights.
“Which route should they take? How would they ease the stress on her puffy limbs? What supplies would they need for meals? For overnight camping? For protection?
“Would they travel alone or join a caravan of other sojourners returning for the census? And what would they need for the baby that was sure to be born on this trip? They must prepare. They will carefully prepare.”
One of the reasons that I like that is that it reminds us that Mary and Joseph were real people, on a real trip. They weren’t plastic or china figures in a manger scene, or models carefully recreated on canvas as a piece of fine art. They were real people, with real issues, and real discomfort, and real troubles in the trip to Bethlehem. And they really had to prepare.
I don’t know how they prepared. I hadn’t really thought about it for years. They did have to stop and camp along the way, didn’t they. And it probably took a lot of thought and planning to know how much food and clothing and stuff to take, and how to pack it efficiently so that they could access it along the way without having to unpack and repack every time. That’s all before we even get to the other issues that Theresa lifts up in her writing. I don’t know how they prepared.
The second part of the worship folder meditation continues: “Now it is time for us… time to prepare for our journey to the Bethlehem mangers. It is time to traverse the wilderness of our lives, as once again we prepare the way of the Lord to our hearts.
“What spiritually dry deserts must we face? How will we recognize the uneven ground, the rough places in our relationships? Can the glory of the Lord be revealed through us? Among us? Will we notice unattended flocks and feed them like a shepherd? Or gather floundering lambs in our arms and carry them to safety? We must prepare. We should carefully prepare.”
When I think about what it means for us to prepare, our readings from Isaiah and Mark are two of the scriptures that I look at. They call us to prepare the way of the Lord, to make his way straight. They call us to smooth out the valleys and the mountains and the hills and the rough places. Often we think about that as something we do inside ourselves; looking at our own sins, recognizing the uneven ground and rough places inside our relationships, as Theresa said. And that’s true. That’s important.
But preparing the way isn’t something that is just internal. It’s something external, it’s something that’s on the outside. It’s not just about us – it’s about others too. What did John do when he began to prepare the way of the Lord? He talked about other people and what they needed to do – he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. What does Isaiah talk about? The glory of the Lord being revealed – not just in us, not just to us, but to all people. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.
So how are we coming with that? How far along are we in our preparations when we think about it in those terms? Not in terms of presents and trees and lights, but in terms of revealing the Lord’s justice, the Lord’s peace, the Lord’s grace, the Lord’s glory to all people. How far along are we?
My thought is that we’re in pretty good shape – we’re about 80 to 85% of the way there. And that estimate is probably just as accurate as every other time I’ve made it in the last few weeks, which means that we have a long way to go.
Eric Garner. Akai Gurley. Tamir Rice. Michael Brown. John Crawford III. How far along are we?
Boko Haram. ISIS. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Hezbollah. How far along are we?
People still die from lack of food. People still die from lack of health care. People still die from lack of drinking water. People still die from lack of shelter. How far along are we?
We are on the journey, whether we like it or not. Although we are on the journey already, it is not too late to prepare. It is not too late to take stock of our lives, to look inside ourselves. It is not too late to recognize the world around us, to look outside ourselves.
In Advent Credo, Daniel Berrigan writes: “It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;
“It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.
“It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.
“It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.
“It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.
“It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.
“So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.”
I like that. Having already entered Advent in hope, as this is the Second Sunday in Advent, let us nevertheless prepare. Prepare for the kingdom of love. Prepare for the Prince of Peace. Prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare. Amen.
Excerpt from Testimony: The Word Made Flesh by Daniel Berrigan, S. J., Orbis Books, 2004.