December 10, 2017

Preached by Rev. George Yando on December 10, 2017.

Isaiah 40: 1-11
Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3: 1-15a
Mark 1: 1-8

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Get An Attitude!

I’d like to begin this morning by asking how many of you have seen – or know about “Hagar the Horrible,” one the cartoon strips that appears regularly in many newspapers across the country. It’s one of the strips I read regularly and one of my favourites.  Now for those of you who haven’t seen him, Hagar is a Viking, an overweight, somewhat lazy, good natured individual – despite his nickname, “The Horrible – who enjoys eating, drinking beer, sacking English towns, you know, the usual Viking things.  In one particular strip, Hagar is having a conversation with a Monk.  In the first frame, the Monk, complete with Bible tucked under his arm and wearing an expression of peace and contentment on his face says to Hagar, “Remember, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”  In the next frame, we see the monk disappearing over the horizon, with Hagar watching him go.  In the final frame, Hagar is looking out as if to make eye contact with the reader and says, “But I enjoy cursing the darkness.”

How often are we like Hagar?  How many of us enjoy cursing the darkness?  How many of us would rather complain about what’s wrong than to add to what’s right?   How many of us prefer to expend emotional energy feeling sad or upset, or angry about what’s going on around us, rather than investing that energy to make a positive change in what’s happening?  How many of us will put ourselves out to cast stones and criticize what is, rather than strive to gather up the stones and use them to build a new and better thing?

You may think the questions silly, the answers obvious, that no sane or reasonable person would want to feel upset or angry.   On the other hand, perhaps we’re not as sane or reasonable as we might be, or would like to think we are.

Advent and Christmas are – for many of us – strange times of year:  a time in which, as we prepare for the coming of the Son of God, we often feel down, disappointed, and anxious; a time of despair, rather than a time of joy; a time for fretting, and worry and driving others crazy.

It really is amazing.  As we anticipate the coming annual celebration of our Lord’s first Advent, as we look forward to Christmas Eve, to the candles and carols, and to reading again the ancient story of that first Christmas night, I am increasingly aware of the growing number of Grinches grumbling around me, the great number of people who grouse and complain about how Christmas is corrupt, how our songs have been stolen, our gift-giving cheapened, our hopes made trivial, and our dreams destroyed.  I am amazed by the mounting volume of the voices of cynicism surrounding us, by the clamour of people telling us how nothing is as it was, how Christmas has become little more than a season saluting commercial greed and consumer gluttony.  What was once – and is supposed to be – a time of faith, hope, love and joy, has now become little more than a time of mean-spirited selfish indulgence, pessimism and despair.

Whatever became of our faith?  Whence disappeared our conviction?  Where is our sense that indeed God has come to us in Jesus and that with his advent, there arrived in the world a Light that overcame the  power of darkness?  Or do we actually, perversely enjoy cursing the darkness?  Would we rather do that than take delight in lighting a candle?

This is the season of good news, the season of preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord, the season of celebration, of rejoicing, of praising God for what God has done, and what God is doing, and what God will yet do. But is that plainly evident?  Does it show?  Can people look at us and say, “Yes, something special is happening!   Something good is going on?”

Most every year around Christmastime, I get the urge to cry out with John the Baptist and with Isaiah the prophet.  I want to cry out with them:

“Get with it, people!  Get an attitude!  Take a look around you and see what’s really happening!  Prepare ye the way for God!  Look for his coming in power!   Make his paths straight!   Know that the time of vindication and of peace is at hand!  Rejoice and be glad, for while there is darkness in the world, there is also light, and the light is stronger than the darkness and the darkness cannot and will not overcome it.”

I want to echo the words of Isaiah and of John: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, Be comforted, take comfort,  my people,  the Lord comes with might, His arm rules for Him, He brings with Him the rewards He will dispense, and His recompense goes before Him.  “He will feed His flock like a shepherd, He will gather the lambs in His arms and carry them cradled in His arms.”

Take a good look around and notice what’s really happening.  There is so much good around us.  There is so much power and righteousness at hand.

What does the Monk say to Hagar?  It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.  My friends, a candle has been provided to us, a light has been granted unto the world, and its power is unquenchable.

So what are we doing?  Are we letting the enemy win?  Are we cursing the darkness rather than lighting a candle?   Are we dithering, rather than preparing the way of the Lord?

Think of the good news!  Get an attitude!  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Celebrate the good news instead of cursing the bad news.

Do you really want good news?  Then look around you for what is truly good, look for God, and you will find God.  Look for God and you’ll see that not only is God coming, but God’s already here.

How else can you account for mothers who feed their children before they feed themselves? How else can you can explain the men – and women – who spend their spare time in lodges and fraternities, service clubs, sororities and societies dedicated to helping others?   How else can you account for the little ones who unreservedly hug and play with their neighbours, giving no thought to differences of race, creed or economic and social standing?  How else can you account for what keeps the food banks going?  What explains the tenderness of a young married couple, and the same devotion between those who have been married for decades?  What makes sense of the feelings that come to us when a new born is placed in our arms, or we see a baby take her first steps, or a son or daughter walk proudly down the aisle, having collected a college or university diploma, or having just pledged lifelong commitment to another person?

Advent is about preparing for the coming of the Lord.  But, you know, that getting ready is not just about celebrating the arrival of One whose coming happened two millennia ago. Nor is it limited to preparation for a future return of that Promised One.  It is also about being open to the God who is already with us.  It is about being open to the here-and-now presence of  the Prince of Peace, the One who first came to us as a babe in Bethlehem, and who, after his resurrection, ascended to be our Lord in heaven above.

Are we prepared?  Are we open?

Fred Craddock,  a well-known preacher and bible scholar, tells the story about a young minister who went to a hospital to visit an elderly lady who was very sick.  He entered the room and saw her lying on the bed, gasping for breath.  He decided to remain for just a short visit, so as not to tire her.

He asked, “Would you like me to pray for you?”

She nodded “yes.”

“What would you like me to pray?”  the young preacher asked?

“I want you to pray that I will be made well, that God will give me health,”  the elderly woman said.

Although he knew the her condition was critical, the young preacher acceded to her wishes.  He prayed, praying something like, “God, if it be Thy will, restore this sister to health.  However, let us accept thy will, so that whether she receives her health or not, she will know that you are still close to her.”

When the prayer ended, the old lady’s eyes flashed open.   She sat up.  She startled the preacher by throwing her legs over the side of the bed.  She stood up.  She stretched out her arms.    She turned around to face the astonished young minister and said, “You know, I feel better.  I feel a great deal better.  In fact, I feel like I have been healed!”  With that she bounded out of the room and headed down the hall toward the nurse’s station, shouting, “I am healed!”

The young minister was astonished, but he managed to collect himself enough to stagger out of the ward, down the stairs, out the door of the hospital and into the parking lot.  As he stood beside his car, He looked up toward the heavens and said, “Don’t you ever do that to me again!”

There are a lot of people who believe in God, and yet miss the good news.  For them God is always coming, but never here.  God is always promising, but never delivering.  God is always near, but never quite in touch.

But that’s not the way it really is.  God lives.  God is here.  And God is coming here.

You can see it in the face of a new born baby, in the gaze of young people deeply in love, in the eyes of older married couples for whom the light is a bright as ever.  And you can see it within your own hearts, when you take time to look.

God will accomplish His purpose.  The kingdom will come.  The question for us is: will we get an attitude?  Will we be a part of the solution or continue to be part of the problem?

Will we be involved on the front-line of the fulfilment of God’s purpose?  Will we light a candle?  Or will we curse the darkness?

Get an attitude, people! For your own good, for the good of the world, and for the glory of God.  Amen.