preached on the Second Sunday of Advent 2017 at Holy Cross Anglican Church
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God speaks. He has never been mute. He has never been at a loss for words. He has neither stuttered nor stammered. He has not let loose a single empty word, a word which has not accomplished his purpose. This is indeed what makes each moment of our lives possible, that God continues to speak. This is indeed one of the things God most clearly reveals to us about himself. By contrast, our idols are mute, they are deaf, and they are dumb. They are powerless, but more importantly they are speechless. They say what we want them to say, and therefore, the person who pursues idols does nothing more than create a world of mirrors. This leads us to our Psalm for today, and it leads us to one of the most important questions in Advent: Are you a good listener?
Please turn in your Bible with me to Psalm 85. (give them time to turn there). I would like to read again for us today’s passage, Psalm 85 (read it).
Consider the very first thing we learn of God in Scripture. From Genesis 1:1 and following:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God’s very first act was creating, and he created by speaking the world into existence. Consider Christ’s last words in Scripture. From Revelations 22:16 and following:
"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star." The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
From Genesis to Revelations, from sunrise to sunset, from day to day and minute to minute, God is a God who speaks, and that means we are required to be a listening people, if we have any hope of getting things right. This theme of hearing runs through our lectionary readings today, especially in Psalm 85, and it is a central Advent theme.
In Isaiah, Isaiah the prophet is told to speak tenderly to Jerusalem the comfort of God. Isaiah tells us of a voice who will cry in the wilderness. A voice then tells Isaiah to cry, that people are but a breath. Zion is then commanded to speechfully proclaim the greatness of God.
In our Gospel reading from Mark, we see John the Baptist, the wilderness voice of which Isaiah spoke. John is a voice, summoning his listeners to hear and repent.
In our New Testament reading from 2 Peter, we are instructed to wait and hasten the day of God, to not be carried off by how others twist Scripture. But the only way to do this is if we listen and become discerning listeners, able to know the Lord’s voice and the contrasting voices of those who twist his words.
In Psalm 85 the psalmist asks to “hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints, but let them not turn back to folly.”
Listening is not a very popular idea today. It is not a sought after skill. Employers don’t ask in an interview how good of a listener you are. We offer no classes or curriculum to our school children on how to listen well. We have tests for reading, writing, and mathematics, but rarely, if ever, will we take a test on being good listeners, and yet our present happiness and the eternal state of our souls depends on this activity. Our world is filled with perhaps more chatter than ever, yet it is filled with fewer listeners than ever. And often the ones who do listen have not been given the tools in how to be discerning and wise listeners. So we are left with a very loud world and few skills to discern the noise. Advent and Christmas are indeed very loud seasons, and too often we cannot find our earlids in order to block out the noise. Mortimer Adler, in his book How to Speak, How to Listen says it this way:
How utterly amazing is the general assumption that the ability to listen well is a natural gift for which no training is required. How extraordinary is the fact that no effort is required. How extraordinary is the fact that no effort is made anywhere in the whole educational process to help individuals learn how to listen well…yes, however low the level of writing and reading is today among those who have the advantages of twelve or more years of schooling, much lower still is the level of skill in speaking that most people possess, and lowest of all is skill in listening.” (p. 5)
But listening is necessary to the good life. It is necessary to the life of godliness and faithfulness. Listening indeed precedes obedience. We must first listen, and then we must act upon what we hear. We must listen and obey. And it is most reasonable to listen to those things our Father in heaven continues to repeat to us.
One author calculates the church has been celebrating Advent, the season before Christmas, since about 380AD. If this is right, there have been 1,637 Advents. This means there have been 1,637 chances to slow down, listen, contemplate, and await our Incarnate Lord, his first coming and his second coming. Perhaps before his second coming the Lord would be gracious to give us 1,600 more Advents. As the 18th century English writer Dr. Samuel Johnson once said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”
Here in Advent we find ourselves in a season of preparation, a time when we should be attentive to our speech-filled God, because in Advent we indeed await his Word which became flesh, his Word which will come again. The incarnate God came to us, so that we may come to him. And so here sits His table, here in another Advent, on another Sunday, so that we would listen. So that we would listen and be reminded. How is it we know that we are not listening? In our Psalm today, the Psalmist states, “hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints, but let them not turn back to folly.” These are our two options: we hear and we turn to this table, or we ignore and turn to our folly. As you come to the Eucharistic table today, this second Sunday of the one-thousand, six-hundred, and thirty-seventh Advent, let us be a listening church at Holy Cross. Hear God’s invitation to sit and feast at his banquet table. Hear his promises fulfilled in Christ. Hear his word of comfort to you in the bread and the wine. Hear him speak, “Behold your God.”
Now hear, as we close our time, a poem by George Herbert.
“The Call” by George Herbert
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in love.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.