31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
December 6, 2015
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
We all know of someone who really, really gets into Christmas decorating: the people who have a different themed Christmas tree in each room. Those whose Santa Claus or angel collections take over every surface and corner of their home. And of course there are those who go beyond a few icicle lights to setting up sleighs and nativity scenes, grinches and reindeer in their front yards.
No one, though, compares with Jennings Osborne of Little Rock, Arkansas. Osborne had so many lights on his property that his neighbors took him to court to stop it all because a trip to the corner store took them two hours in traffic due to the popularity of the Osborne family light display. Jenning’s response to the lawsuit? He added 3 million more lights!
When the state and US Supreme Courts sided with the neighbors, Disneyworld offered to host the Osborne family’s Spectacle of Dancing Lights. This is its twentieth and final year at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but my first getting to see it. It is truly a spectacle, and no surprise that it takes 20,000 man-hours to set up these millions and millions of twinkling and dancing lights.
Very few people have the resources to decorate for Christmas like Jennings Osborne or Disneyworld for that matter, however we all decorate and prepare for Christmas in our own ways. I have 3 nativity scenes that I carefully unwrap and display throughout our home. We hang our stockings with care. In consideration of having a cat and a young child, we no longer have a real tree, but we enjoy hanging the ornaments on our pre-lit fake one just the same.
We all have our own ways we prepare for Christmas however in all that we do to prepare our homes for holiday company, prepare gifts for loved ones, and cook Christmas treats, we too often overlook preparing our hearts and our lives for Christ-mas.
And yet, this is the point of the Advent season – to prepare, to prepare for the presence of God.
These Advent days though when we are supposed to be watching and waiting for God incarnate, God to come to earth in human form – these Advent days are often exactly the time when we are much, much too busy to think about God at all.
Whether we have newly come to a relationship with Jesus Christ or we have been life-long followers of Jesus, we all struggle to live out Advent. In the hustle and bustle of shopping and parties and decorating and baking, we struggle with preparing our hearts and lives for the presence of God.
The Bible talks about being hard-hearted toward God, but what about busy hearted or distracted hearted or over-burdened hearted? Aren’t they just as bad? Our running here and there, our compulsive need to do one more thing, get it all just perfect, it fills our hearts to the point where they might as well be rock hard because there is no room for God.
“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3)
What does God’s path into your heart, God’s way into your life look like? Is it a six lane highway with plenty of room for new revelation or do those six lanes look like an LA freeway at rush hour, bumper to bumper, smog blocking any visibility?
What does God’s path into your heart, God’s way into your life look like?
The first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah are filled with the prophet’s dire predictions of what will happen if the people of God, the people of Israel, refuse to turn back to God and be faithful. Two hundred years separate these first 39 chapters from our reading this morning. Two hundred years of darkness, sorrow, and pain – the time of the Babylonian captivity and the exile from Israel. Jerusalem had been sacked and destroyed. Their king had been led out of the city bound and blind, with many of the people following in chains.
Two hundred years of darkness, sorrow, and pain, and then God tells the prophet to speak these words, “Comfort, O comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1), speak tenderly to them, tell them to prepare their hearts for me, prepare their hearts for my glory, their hearts for my love.
They were words spoken to the people of Israel, and they are words spoken to us. God wants to bring you comfort; God wants to bring you hope; God wants you and all people to experience God’s glory; God wants to gather you up in God’s arms and nurture and lead you; God wants to love you more unconditionally and extravagantly than you have ever been loved.
God wants to give you the present of God’s presence. God wants to dwell in your life, to care for your hurts, to fill you with peace, and God can only do that if our hearts and lives are open enough, have space enough to receive the present of God’s presence.
“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3) A voice cries out, intentionally prepare your heart and life to receive the amazing love of God.
Intentionally prepare your heart and life to receive the amazing, glorious love of God.
We all have our own ways we will prepare for Christmas, and we all have our own ways we will prepare ourselves for God’s presence. We will prepare our hearts by putting God first, by reciting the words of Deuteronomy, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might“ every day.
We will prepare by finding time for peace, lighting our own Advent candles at home, reciting the Jesus prayer throughout the day. “Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world; fill my mind with your peace and my heart with your love.”
We will prepare for God’s presence by focusing on God’s incarnation, focusing on the baby Jesus in our nativity sets and saying, “Thank you, Jesus, for your love.” Reciting the words from the book of John whenever we see Christmas lights: “God’s light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
In these Advent days, intentionally prepare your heart and life to receive the glorious, amazing love of God. With quiet diligence, open that pathway for God. With expectation and hope, make room for God’s presence.
God wants to be in your life. God wants to be in our lives. That is what Christ-mas is all about, God’s presence in our lives.
With the care and consideration we give to decorating our homes, buying gifts, and baking, may we also prepare our lives to receive the Christ child, the Prince of Peace – that the glory of the Lord might be revealed in us and through us and all people might proclaim, “Here is our God!” – because we know how very much God’s love, God’s peace, and God’s glory are needed in this hurting world.