First Sunday of Advent: Getting back on track

Advent is all about getting oneself back on track. Back into a place where one can wait with expectation and watch for the coming king. Back from all the busyness of materialism and consumerism and the stress that many of us associate with ‘getting ready for Christmas.’ Advent is about preparing ourselves to be receptive to God’s message. And we cannot do this by ourselves. To do so, would be to ensure that Christ is not part of our endeavour. And if he’s not part of our endeavour then we’re lacking something fundamental to our being, that which we are, and can ONLY  be found in Christ. The endeavour that Isaiah saw when he described the ways of the people. Their lands filled with silver and gold, with horses and chariots and idols.

That last word ‘idol’ describes so much. In Isaiah’s time, the silver and gold was fashioned into idols of gods which were then worshipped. Silver and gold that had most likely been plundered from other towns and villages through incessant fighting, all of which, in those days, required horses and chariots. It all seems like a million years away, in a different land, in a different history. But I wonder what idols we have in our own lives? Is it our smart phone? The latest gadget with an outstanding camera? Or is it the latest Nikon or Canon camera that might allow you to take numerous frames per second instead of your old one which only allowed you to take 5 frames per second? Are the idols in our lives the various social media applications that seem to absorb so much of our time as we try to keep up with friends and family, albeit in a passive way that means we don’t actually stop to have a meaningful conversation with them? Perhaps our idols are in our past, where we hearken back to ‘the good old days,’ and spend more time thinking about some ‘golden’ period instead of being excited about the future?

Perhaps intertwined with our perspective of looking back there is, as the writer of the first reading describes, a haughtiness or to use another word, a pride that goes along with the yearning for times in the past where things seemed better in some way. Hindsight always seems to show a much better way, don’t you think? Both the writers of our first and second readings show that there is something to look forward to, but.. here’s the thing, the catch, if you will. We don’t know what that looks like, and might give us anxiety. It might scare us. What does the future hold? What happens when the king is born? Where will he lead us? How will he lead us?

Isaiah writes “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” Instruction that comes from God and those who choose to follow will beat their proverbial swords into plowshares and WAR shall not be the ‘go to’ action for the people. He will arbitrate for us, showing us a better way to walk alongside each other instead of being demeaning or being aggressive to each other. The writer of Isaiah encourages the people to hide in the cleft of the rock when the wrath of God is near. And hundreds of years later, John the Baptist is recorded as asking the people: “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” He then demands them to “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” What does that look like? What does that even mean? And how does this look like the good news, when he says: “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

If Christ has a winnowing fork in his hand, I don’t want to be the chaff that he throws into the fire, or the tree that he chooses to chop down because the fruit of my service to the Lord isn’t encouraging or edifying to the people of God. So I have a chance, an opportunity of getting my life back on track. We ALL have a renewed opportunity of getting our lives back on track. We all have a chance of working together to prepare the way of the Lord. To make his paths straight, so that all humanity has the opportunity to experience the salvation of God.

Advent invites us to acknowledge that somewhere along the line we chose a different route from the one that God invited us on to at the beginning of our journey with Him. Advent invites us to recognise that we need God’s deliverance from the busyness of our lives, from the materialistic and consumerist idols that we are constantly bombarded with, but also deliverance from the pride and reminiscence that doesn’t allow us to look forward.

We are asked to be watchful, expectant, vigilant and to wait for God’s coming. Advent asks of us, as a people, to be ready for God and to respond with courage when presented with a way that might not look anything like what has gone before, but is a way that encompasses fruits worthy of repentance, such as love, hope, joy, and peace, and asks us no more than to follow in Christ’s footsteps, to be his disciples and share Him with those around us.

Stir up your power, Lord, and come: that, with you as our protector, we may be rescued from our sins; and with you as our deliverer, we may be set free; for you live and reign with God the Father, in the unit of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.