Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
12:00pm Fellowship
Pastor Rev. Brooke Newell
Secretary Donna McDonald
315-265-7474

The Preparation

December 4th, 2011:

Potsdam and WS
Text:           Isaiah 40: 1-11
Read:   Advent  (201)
Closing:        Mark 1: 1-8

The Preparation

Wouldn't you think that by the time someone turned 65,
he would know just about all he needed to know
and that nothing older than he is would surprise him?

Well, I am here today to testify that that is not the case
        At least for this 65 year old - albeit, a very young 65 year old

Wouldn't you think that by the time a preacher was preaching during his 17th Advent season,
that he would know just about all he needed to know
and that nothing the season provided would surprise him?

Well, I am here today to testify that that is not the case
        At least for this preacher preaching in his 17th Advent season

Wouldn't you think that such a preacher
would at least know all that he needed to know
about a scripture on which he preached five previous Advents and        which was part of at least four Bible Studies he has taught?

Well, I am here today to testify that that is not the case
        At least for this preacher and today's scripture from Isaiah.

A month ago, I spent three days at Raquette Lake preparing the services for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

As I did so, I examined the lectionary scriptures in the hope of
        - and with the expectation of -
finding a theme, for  the candles, the sermons, and the services.
        For this six week/seven service season

I read those scriptures
I studied those scriptures
I prayed about those scriptures

But I also struggled with those scriptures
For although it was clear to me that the Isaiah scripture
For last week, the first Advent Sunday was a plea for help
I did not find my theme until I realized
that the scriptures for the remaining three Advent Sundays (today, next week, and the following week)
        were God's responses to the pleading people of Isaiah's day

And the biggest obstacle to my reaching that realization
was this morning's text.

For, the text cried out with the concept of "preparation"
        But I had always seen Advent "preparation"
                As our "preparation."

But the limit I put on the word "preparation,"
By my single minded use of the possessive pronoun "our"
limited my concept of "preparation" to our actions

And thus, overlooked and ignored the fact
that "preparation" can also be God's "preparation" of us
                and a part of God's response to our plea for help


I found that I had limited "preparation" to what we do
rather than what God does
        But God also prepares

God's preparing us makes sense.

This makes sense
        First, because the giver of the gift always has to do more preparation than the receiver
                The thinking and the planning
                Are done by the giver

This makes sense
Second, because we worship an active God,
not a God who sits back in a recliner
                and expects us to do everything by ourselves.

And this makes sense
In a third way as well,
For we have long celebrated God's sending JTB
As an instrument to prepare us for Christ's ministry

Of course, God prepared us
Of course, God responded to our pleading by preparing us

God began that preparation with the words that we heard as we lit the second advent candle,
        The first eleven verses of Isaiah's 40th chapter

But Isaiah spoke those words 27 centuries ago.
        He spoke them in a different language
        He spoke them with a different style and a different rhythm

Today, some find it difficult to listen comprehendingly to the words.

So let me take a stab at modernizing and "deformalizing" God's words as Isaiah spoke them,

"My people,
Relax, for you have
Served the term of your punishment
And you have fully paid the penalty for your transgressions.

Now we start again with tender, kind, and loving feelings.

We both know there are some obstacles in the path that is our relationship
        We both know what they are"

[and here I briefly move from paraphrasing Isaiah's words
        to share Jim Barnes' thoughts
        by suggesting that these obstacles include:
money, power, status, selfishness and ego]

[return to what God said through Isaiah]

I want you to see the obstacles of commission   as hills;
And I want you to see the obstacles of omission         as valleys.

I want you to level the hills and fill in the valleys
        As if you were building a flat and fast highway
        Between us
                So that we might interact unimpaired
                And so that you and others - all people -
                        Might see my glory revealed.


I know you are not perfect
        You are like grass - which withers
        You are like flowers - which fade.

But please understand   And please be confident
that my word stands and endures                 forever

Now I ask you to go to a place where you can be heard
        And to tell all who can hear you
        That I am with you,     that your God is here

And I will come to you.

I will come to you with power and with might

But I will also come to you as a shepherd

And as a shepherd
        I will feed my flock
                And you are my flock
        I will hold my lambs in my bosom
                And you are my lambs
        I will gently lead the mother sheep
                And you are my mother sheep.

In summary,
(and I know Isaiah didn't summarize, but this part of his book goes on for another 15 chapters
I thought you might prefer the summary)

Therefore, in summary,
I am about to answer your pleas
        By coming to you
                With power and authority
                And yet with the compassion of a shepherd.
As I prepare you for arrival, I need to have you do certain things
        First, recognize that you have had your punishment and you and I are about to start over;
        Second, get rid of the obstacles that make more difficult our being together and thereby create an unimpaired high speed connection between us;
        And third, tell people I am coming and will be with you.

And by the way,
do this the entire year
not just during Advent.

[pause]

Advent is so much more enriching
        When we recognize that God prepares us
Rather than limiting our thinking
        To what we do in preparation.