“The Power of Preparation”
Please read Mark 1.1-8
What is the Advent blessing that God has for us? News! It won’t come through Macy’s but through Mary. It won’t be encased in flashy gift wrap but in swaddling clothes. The gift was born in a manger, and now wants to be born in us.
John suggests the blessing we need is the Christ Child. However, we’ve got to get ready for him. We must participate in our own blessing.
To do this, we need more than cities and nations with clean houses; we need cities and nations occupied and run by people with clean hearts. I am drawn to the words that Gospel songwriter Margaret J. Douroux penned, “Give me a clean heart, so I may serve thee. Lord fix my heart so that I may be used by thee. For I’m not worthy of all these blessings. Give me a clean heart, a clean heart, and I’ll follow thee.”
If we who occupy seats in sacred and secular sectors want Advent blessings, some assembly will be required! We must set up our blessings by repenting, revealing a visible redirection of our lives away from sin’s path – that route that boasts we can live apart from God. Reverse! Reverse! Turn around!
For those who place the spotlight on preachers, John said, “Don’t look at this preacher for I’m not the one! I’m in the wilderness, wearing a non-designer camel hair suit with a leather belt, so clearly, I am not a fashion model.”
“I’m not eating lobster but locusts! I’m not dining on wild turkey but wild honey. My modesty signals that this preaching thing is not about me; it’s about the Lord. I’m just a spokesperson for the savior; when you get right down to it, I’m not even worthy of untying his shoes.”
I baptized you with water, but he’ll baptize you with the Holy Spirit. My water cleanses your body; his Spirit cleanses your soul!
This is the time of year when some of the best food ever will be cooked, served and eaten. In fact, I plan to cook and serve greens to my family. However, some of my friends make fun of me, saying I am not a greens purist.
Their complaint? I buy pre-cut, pre-washed, greens sold in bags. I simply boil water, add seasonings, put in smoked turkey, and then pour in my pre-cut, pre-washed kale or collard greens and let them cook. That’s it!
My friends claim I’m taking the easy route, as they personally pick, cut and wash their greens while reminding me that serious greens eaters won’t eat just anybody’s greens because greens must be prepared properly.
In other words, greens have got to be correctly washed. If the washing is not thorough, you will end up with sandpaper-like greens that are challenging to eat as they are, well, rocky!
Propper preparation involves holding each leaf under running water and unfold each layer so the hidden grime can be exposed and washed away. Only when the grime has been washed away can you safely cook, serve, and enjoy your greens.
If we want to be blessed, if we want to be serious, practicing Christians, we must repent. Repenting is not an event; it’s a life-long process. Like that water on the greens, we’ve got to allow the Holy Spirit to unfold our lives, to pull back each layer until our sinfulness, brokenness and estrangement are exposed and cleansed.
We’ve must say, “Lord, expose and cleanse my apathy and silence! Expose and cleanse my fear and indifference! Expose and cleanse my selfishness and privilege! Expose and cleanse the hurt I carry and the hurt I inflict! Lord, I don’t want to be a sandpaper saint; I want to be a smooth saint.”
Then, we, along with people from every city and county, across our nation and every nation, may emerge from the dark tunnels of despair, and the unsteady hills of hopelessness, and sing with expectancy and urgency, O come, o come, Emmanuel. Ransom captive Israel. Ransom addicted Ohio. Ransom fragmented and uncivil America. We are mourning in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, rejoice, for Emmanuel shall come to thee, O, Israel; O, America; O, world. Amen.
Gracious God, as we await the birth of the Christ child, give us courage to avoid the allure of party, nationalism, and privilege, so that we may be transformed by his presence.
Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr.
Senior Pastor, First Christian Church, Findlay and Regional Church Council