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The Muddles

This post contains the sermon preaching on December, 2015, at The Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.  The sermon is titled:  “The Muddles” and is based on Jesus words recorded in Luke 3:1-6.

This is the sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, focused on the Peace.  You can see the video read the manuscript below.

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The Muddles

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,     make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in,     every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight,     the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

 

“How the H-E double hockey sticks are we going to pay for all this crap?” That’s the edited version of what the man said to his wife while Christmas shopping in one of those warehouse stores.

 

“Let’s just put it on a credit card,” his wife said.  “After all, it’s Christmas.” They were pushing two giant sized shopping carts, each filled to capacity.  They had two big screen TVs, one smaller screened TV, two X-box game consoles, and an assortment of other electronic tablets, gadgets, and gizmos.  They also had numerous toys, clothing items, Christmas décor, and a host of other things not readily identifiable.

 

As they stood in the checkout line in front of me, ready to make their purchase, the wife looked at her husband and said:  “Oh, and what would you like for Christmas, dear.”  “How about a winning Powerball ticket so I can pay for all of this,” he said.

 

I do not know the family’s name, but I am going to call them the Muddles.

 

The word “muddle” means to bring into disarray, disorder, and confusion.  Giving them the name “Muddles” seems appropriate.  Lots of people feel “muddled” this time of the year.

 

The gift shopping process does it to us.  We want to please our friends and loved ones.  We want to get them the perfect gift, but our budgets do not permit it.  So, we muddle up our credit ratings, hopeful we’ll have everything paid off before Christmas 2016.

 

Then there’s the calendar.  Our days were already filled with family, career, school, and church activities.  The world does not take a break during Christmas season.   There is still work to be done, errands to run,  and clothes to wash.  But at Christmas we muddle up our lives by pushing office parties, family gatherings, and school programs onto our already busy weekly agenda.  It can feel overwhelming.

 

Then we have to decorate the house.  Most of our homes already have things on our tabletops, end cabinets, shelves, and closets.  But at Christmas we pull boxes out of the attic with even more stuff to muddle up the house.

 

We haven’t even mentioned the food, yet.   There are so many sweets during Christmas – cakes, candies, pies, and puddings – all ready to be consumed and muddle our waistline.

 

So, here we are, on the Second Sunday of Advent.   There are so many things at Christmas – so many things in everyday life – that leave us feeling overwhelmed, confused, bewildered, and  befuddled.  So we come here to pray for peace.

 

John the Baptizer spoke to a malaise similar to what we are feeling.  John was a colorful character, that’s for sure.  He wore camel hair clothing long before it became fashionable.  And when it came time to eat, he fought bee hives to harvest wild honey in order to dipped locust in it for dinner.    When he started his ministry, John set up shop far removed from the hustle and bustle of the big city life.  Yet out in the wilderness, away from the masses, he still managed to attract a crowd.  Matthew’s gospel tells us that people from all over the region congregated to hear John’s message.

 

John’s sermons were largely based on the writing of Isaiah.  He called upon materials written by the prophet while Israel was in exile.   They had been separated from their homes, taken away from the Temple, and enslaved by the Babylonians.   It was a wilderness like experience, a heart-wrenching time of hopeless despair.  In John’s day, things were not much better.  Israel lived in a land occupied by the Roman Empire.  They lived in harsh times.  They lived as a people who has lost their moral and spiritual grounding.  They lived a wilderness type of existence.

 

John quotes Isaiah.  He proclaims a message of peace to people muddled in despondency and depression.

 

Part of what’s going on is that both John and Isaiah want to communicate the truth that God is not geographically limited to a particular time and place.  The people of Israel believed that God had taken up residence in Jerusalem in the Temple.  But when temple laid in ruins and the nation was taken into exile, the Israelites wondered:  “Are we still God’s people?”  “Is our God less powerful than the god’s of the Babylonians?”  “Have we been deserted ?” John and Isaiah speak of a God who enters the wilderness of our existence.   “God comes to us!  God become one of us.”  That’s the message of incarnation.  When we make a mess of our lives, God does not turn His back on us.  In the broken places of our lives, God is present.  God is with us in the wilderness.

 

God comes to us in our brokenness.  God takes up residence in the troubled places of our lives.  God brings salvation, hope, and peace.  Advent is a word that refers to the coming of God in Christ.  It references the inauguration of a new day.  That’s what Isaiah and the Baptizer said God was doing.

 

But it was bigger than just freedom for those in captivity.  Both Isaiah and John were talking was bigger and better than anyone could imagine.  The new day and new way of the Messiah’s appearing was not going to be limited to a select few.  It was a promise, Isaiah wrote, that included “all flesh.”  It was for “all people.” The good news is for everyone.  God’s salvation has come to all.  Everyone will see it, hear it, feel it, touch it, and get the chance to respond.  In a world muddled by all sorts of political, religious, cultural, and racial dissention, this is a proclamation offering a promise of peace for “all people,” the test says.   It’s for the democrats and the republicans, tea-party people and the progressives.  It is for the Jews and Gentiles.  It’s for the gays and straights.  It’s for the black, whites, Arabs, and Asians.  It’s for the “reds, yellows, black, and whites, they are all precious in God’s site.”   It’s for all the people we love and call family and friend, and it is for all the people in the world that we call enemy.  Isaiah promised and John announced the Advent of a Messiah who would embody in human flesh the power of God’s presence with us in the muddled up world in which we live.  This Messiah enters our wilderness to lead us into the dawning of a new day.  For Isaiah, this was a far away hope.  For John, it was a day that was just appearing.  For us, it is a present reality.  The kingdom of God is not near, it is here.  During Advent and Christmas we celebrate that this Messiah has been born and is revealing Himself to us now.

 

Yet still we miss it.  We miss the Messiah because our lived are too cluttered, our calendars too busy, our priorities are out of whack, and our senses have been dulled.

 

The “Muddles” have cluttered lives.  They are spending beyond their ability to pay.  They are trying to live up to everyone’s expectations and demands.  They are burdened by life’s struggles.  are desperately seeking peace.   What they (what we) are missing is the good news is that peace is present.  It has come to us all in Christ.

 

“Prepare the way for the Lord…”

 

Are you living with regrets over what you have done in your past?

 

Are you living with fears about tomorrow?

 

Are you living with envy toward others?

 

Are you living with life’s focus on material gain?

 

Are you harboring anger for some perceived slight?

 

These this muddle up our lives.   These things rob us of the experience of God’s peace.

 

“Prepare the way for the Lord…”

 

It’s time for us to  disentangle ourselves from the things that keep us muddled, confused, and bewildered.

 

“Prepare the way for the Lord…”

 

The challenge is to surrender to God’s control.
Here’s my suggestion.  Take a brief inventory of your life.  Seek to discern what attitudes or actions that might be preventing  you from experiencing God’s peace.  What’s muddling up your day and distracting you from surrendering to God’s grace? Once you have taken that inventory, seek the Spirit’s guidance at disentangling from those distractions.  Open your hearts and recognize the Advent of the Messiah.  Let the Spirit lead you to rid yourselves of the clutter that comes from divided loyalties.

 

God has given us resources to help us in this endeavor.  Each month we gather around this table. We remember that the babe of Bethlehem was a man who walked among us as one of us.  Fully God and fully human, Jesus came to the brokenness of our humanity to reveal the Father’s love, grace, inclusion, and acceptance.  He came to reveal the grace that brings peace.

 

This table represents to overwhelming love of God.  In the light of that love, we are challenge to examine ourselves and repent from divided loyalties that prevent us from seeing God’s grace and peace.

 

People went to the wilderness to hear John preach words from the prophet Isaiah.  But both Isaiah and John pointed toward Messiah who travels into the wilderness to find us, freeing us from captivity, and giving us a new direction for living.  The Messiah stops by this place on this day to bring you His peace.  Receive it this day by faith and we receive the Lord’s Supper.

 

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