Proper Preparation [Luke 10:38-42]
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Proper Preparation – 11.27.2022
[Isaiah 40:3-5 and Luke 10:38-42]
There are not enough hours in the day. Work, School, Kids, Homework, Volunteering, Shopping, Decorating, Cooking, more shopping, wrapping, hunting, cleaning, travel time, baking an endless stream of cookies and desserts that you never get to enjoy because you bring them to all the events you attend. Dinners, concerts, plays, fundraisers, caroling, visiting with family, maybe a bible study, shoveling snow, putting up lights. There are not enough hours in the day. Add to that the stresses that come from the fact that all of this must be done with extra people in your house because family is visiting. And by family I mean the people you love the most, but also the people who can drive you the craziest. There are not enough hours in the day. And then there’s the emotional pressure to experience the magic of the season. If you’re not happy, and you’re not cheery and merry – it’s like you’re doing something wrong. And so the fact that you are stressed, adds more stress because you’re not supposed to be stressed – you’re supposed to be happy. And so you plaster that smile on your face and you nod along until the storm has finally passed. There are not enough hours in the day. It’s just a fact, we pick and choose what we can do. Truly we live in a time and a place where we can do anything, but we cannot do everything. You can do anything, but you cannot do everything. There are not enough hours in the day. Tis the season for preparation, and preparation means making a choice about what you will do, and what you will not.
Now, this past week, I was reminded of some amazing truths we find in the scriptures, and I’m so excited to share them with you and so we’re going to dive right in. Now I know that at the beginning of the sermon I said I was going to use the New Living Translation, and I will for our primary story of Mary and Martha with Jesus – the scripture we heard earlier. But before we get there, there’s something I want to show you in the pew bibles. The pew bible is the New International version, and so I brought that. If you’ve got your bible with you, I want you to turn to Isaiah 40, and if you forgot your bible there should be one nearby, and in those bibles it’s on page [insert proper page number]. Okay, so today is technically the first Sunday in the season of Advent. That means that we have officially entered into the Christmas season, because Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s a season of preparation. And traditionally, this scripture is used in most churches on THIS Sunday around the world. So we need to do a pit stop in Isaiah 40, because we’re in the season of Advent, we are preparing for Christmas. Jesus is coming. [Read verse 3]. One thing I realized this past week was that I have been reading that verse incorrectly for my entire life. It says, “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” Now my entire life I have read that as “there’s a voice, somewhere in the wilderness crying out, and that voice that happens to be in the wilderness is saying, “prepare the way of the Lord.” But I’ve got the wrong punctuation. Look closer. It says, A voice cries out, colon, quotation mark, “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” The voice doesn’t come from the wilderness, the voice is telling us, “in the wilderness, prepare the way.” Do you see how that, like, radically changes the message. Who cares where the voice is coming from – they’re not in the wilderness. We are in the wilderness. In the places where life is wild, we need to prepare for God. So let me ask, have any of you ever looked at your calendar and said, “yeah, I could call that wilderness?” Or maybe you’ve never thought about it that way, but now that you think about it you’re like, “yeah, that totally fits.” My life is full of wilderness. When I hear about all the things that we have going on in our lives – you know I get people who haven’t been here in church for a couple weeks, and it’s always the same thing – they come up to me and say, “Oh man, we’ve been totally swamped - we’ve been doing… [vomit noise] fill in the blank with your own personal chaos.” And what I realized is that one of the best analogies for our lives in this season is the wilderness. In the jungle that is our calendar, in the midst of the insanity – that is where we need to prepare a way for the Lord.
And so we read on, “in the wilderness prepare a way for the Lord.” And verse 4 tells us [read it]. And I’m not going to lie, I’ve always read that and wondered, every valley will be lifted and every mountain will be leveled, and I thought “what’s God got against mountains?” Like, why does this plan sound an awful lot like driving through Nebraska? Now, nothing against Nebraska, but if you’ve ever had to drive through that on a road trip, you know what I’m talking about. It’s just nothing but corn fields, flat as it gets. Why is God making the world flat, and then it hit me, maybe he doesn’t mean geography. The voice is not crying out in the wilderness, we are in the wilderness. And if you know anything about traveling in wilderness, you can’t get anywhere. It’s hard to walk through the brush.
Couple weeks ago, I finally got around to blowing the leaves in my yard. Now, if you’ve never been over to the parsonage, it’s over on the other side of the cemetery and we have this huge side yard. We have a tiny little front yard, but on the side it goes way back. And a couple years ago we built a chicken coop. So we’ve got a chicken coop, and then a garden and like a kid’s playset in the back of the side yard. Now I don’t know about you all, but I have loved this fall. It’s not been too wet. I hate it when it rains constantly and the leaves are all wet and it’s so hard to rake ‘em up. I’ve got this little electric leaf blower, and it works great with dry leaves but it’s sort of pathetic if the leaves are heavy. My neighbor, he’s got a gas blower, and he’s so amazing he does his yard and then like half of our yard as well. I think he might feel guilty because all the leaves are his fault. That tree is in his yard. Anyways, this year it’s been really dry, I finally got out there and blew a bunch of the leaves out into the road for the city to pick up. I was so proud of myself. One day went by and then there was this weird like wind storm. Do you remember that? There wasn’t any rain, it was just SO windy that day. And all my hard work, (well, it was mostly his hard work, but I helped a little) my big pile of leaves that was out in the road – blew all back across my yard. But it didn’t stop there, it kept going. And the leaves blew all the way to the back, where they piled up against the chicken coop and the garden fence. So by the end, there were no leaves left in the road, but they were chest deep out by the chicken coop. So I’m out there trying to get some eggs and I’m wading through waste deep leaves like what is happening right now? I’m trying to make a way through the wilderness.
With this passage in Isaiah, when he’s talking about the mountains being leveled and the valleys getting raised up – they are talking about the coming of the Lord. The coming of God into our lives. They are making a point that we need to make a clean and clear path through the chaos of our lives for God to enter in to our world. God is coming, and we need to prepare our lives so that he can get to us. It's not bad to have lots of stuff going on in your life, the wilderness of the Christmas calendar in a lot of ways it’s inevitable. But in this season, and in every season – we need to make a clear pathway for God to enter into our world and our daily life.
But then we get to our second scripture for today, and I’m switching back over to the New Living Translation. And Jesus is hanging out with Mary and Martha. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and Martha goes to do all the cleaning and housework. Now we all have that one family member who sits down and doesn’t help, when the cleaning needs to get done. I know that, because I AM that family member. Most of us can sympathize with Martha, when she complains to Jesus. Mary should be helping. Have you ever had that moment, where you’re reading this story and you see Martha doing all the work and Mary chilling at Jesus’ feet and you’re totally on Martha’s side in this argument? Of COURSE Mary should be helping. But there’s actually a whole other level to this story that I want to show you today. Apparently, there is a rabbinical code, and the rule goes: if you have a rabbi visit your home, you are supposed to sit at his feet and listen to him. But that rabbinical code only applied to men. Men are supposed to sit and listen, while the women go do the housework. By sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary is bucking tradition in more ways than one. She’s acting like a man. On a historical-social level, Martha is justified in her complaint. But then Jesus shocks everyone when he says no, “Mary has chosen the better.” Jesus rejects the inequality, rejects the social norms, and says – sitting here at my feet is the most important thing you can do in this moment.
Looks, it’s almost December, Christmas is coming. Part of our preparation for this season is realizing that God is so unknowable and amazing and we could never completely understand Him – but the miracle of Christmas is that God comes to us. God reveals himself to us, God wants you to know Him. Just sit with that for a second. Think about how amazing that sentence is. God wants to KNOW you, to grow close to you. And our instructions are – to prepare the way. Cut a path in the wilderness, make it easy for God to get into your life. Luke tells us, [read verse 40-42a]. You are worried and distracted by many things, but there is need for only one thing. There is only one thing we need in life – and that’s God. How many of us believe that? Like deep in the core of who we are as a person – do you believe that the only thing you actually need is God? The phrase I hear all the time when I’m talking to people is, “But I NEED to get this done, before I get to the God stuff.” I need to get through this crazy thing at work. I need to get the travel trailer closed up, and then I can squeeze God in when there’s time. I need to get my Christmas shopping done. I need to visit my friend, or my family. To all of our needs this morning Jesus is standing in front of us saying, “You are worried and distracted by many things, but there is need for only one thing. Do you live your life with Jesus as your only need? Well, I just got my new job. Well, my kid just has a few more games left. Well, I just got married. Well, I just got this new hunting camera. Soon as things calm down, I’ll be back to church. I’ll fit God back into my life. That’s my favorite one. As soon as things calm down, I’ll be back. Hey God, just sit tight – just let me do life, and then I’ll get back to you. You are worried and distracted by many things, but there is need for only one thing. What was it Isaiah told us? In the wilderness. In the midst of the chaos, prepare the way of the Lord. The truth is, life never calms down. There will always be something to fill our time. We have to prepare a space for God in our lives, in the wilderness, in the midst of chaos.
So coming out of that good news, I have one challenge for you this week. My first challenge is that I want you to prepare for God in your life. Cut a path through the wilderness, so that God can come into your world. And we have to do that first. Right? You prepare for a pie by getting pumpkin pie mix at the grocery store. You prepare for a snowstorm by dusting off the snowblower and gassing it up. And you prepare for God by carving out time in your life to make him a priority. Jesus’ instructions were twofold – we’ve got to love God and love our neighbor. I was talking to somebody recently about coming to church, and they said, “Oh I go hunting every year, and I experience God best out in nature. I don’t need to go to church.” And I had to point out, that’s only half the job in front of us. I mean, how are you loving your neighbor out there? Like, loving God out in nature – experiencing God in different places around the world – that’s all good. But we were given two commandments. Love God and love your neighbor. And then in other places the bible teaches us that we have to show love specifically to our Christian brothers and sisters – and I just don’t know how you do that outside a faith community. Prepare for God in your life by making your faith a priority.
Let me give it to you in three easy steps. First, go to church. Bring a friend, carve out that time every single week. That’s one of the simplest and most obvious ways to make God a priority, to prepare for God. And I think we all have friends we haven’t seen in a long time. It doesn’t have to be shameful or full of guilt – but you could reach out and tell someone, “we haven’t seen you in a while and we miss you.” First – go to church. Second, give God some time every single day. Call it devotion time, call it prayer time, quiet time, call it bible study – call it whatever you want. But get started, by taking just a few minutes and dedicating them to God every single day. Read your bible and talk to God. Start that conversation. Not after Christmas, not after sports are done, not when things have calmed down. Carve out a moment right now. Start today, and then do it again tomorrow. Show God you know He is coming. Prepare yourself, by cutting a path in the wilderness. Go to church, read your bible and pray.
See, here’s the thing I love about that imagery of wilderness. It makes me think of overgrown jungles. Some of you might know, I am recently on TikTok. If you don’t know – it’s a social media app that’s full of just goofy videos to watch. And it’s probably the best time sucker I have ever seen. I warn people away from it, because you will lose yourself in all these little 2 minute videos. But there’s this one type of video I really enjoy. After I’ve had my quiet time with God, after I’ve spent time in the word and time in prayer – then I watch these videos. And it sounds ridiculous, but there are time lapse lawn mowing videos – and they are so satisfying to watch. Guy will come in, and the yard is just so incredibly overgrown. It’s like two foot high grass, you can’t even see the sidewalk. And it’s a sped up video, so it only takes like 3 minutes to do the whole yard. But it’s amazing, because it completely transforms the yard. They weed whip it all down, they bring in the edger, they scrub away all the mold – and it’s just amazing to watch the yard reappear out of the jungle and I’m totally addicted to these ridiculous lawn mowing tiktoks. Sara gets mad at me, “what are you doing? Are you watching more lawn mowing videos?” But what I’m trying to say is that when we’re talking about carving a path in the wilderness, what I want you to realize is that it grows back. Your yard might be a jungle, and then you get all intense and you mow it down, and you get the edger out and it looks incredible and you’re like, “yeah, I’m gonna spend my morning with God, I’ve got my bible, I’ve got my prayer list. I’m going to do this.” And your devotion life looks freshly manicured yard… for like a week. But the weeds grow back, the distractions resurface, the priorities shift as the world tries to pull us away from God. And I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I’m never trying to shame anybody or guilt them for not reading their bible enough or not going to church in a while. I don’t want you to feel bad. I just want you to mow the lawn. It’s been a minute and the wilderness is growing back. I don’t want you to feel bad, I want you to feel good – and that starts by carving out time with God every Sunday morning, and then every day from Monday to Saturday.
There are not enough hours in the day to get it all done. And the chaos of the holiday season is coming if it has not already seized your life. But out of the wilderness we can prepare a way for the Lord in our life, if we truly believe that God is one and only thing we NEED in life. And so I’ll leave you with this – May you prepare a place in your life for God, may you carve out a moment each and every day, carve out a moment in the wilderness for you and God – the one and only thing you truly need. Amen.