Minor Ministerial Musings (September 2013)

This article first appeared in the September 2013 issue of HHPC’s The Connecting Link.

Adopting Dwiane has changed my life.  This was expected.  Of course having a baby changes your life, whether that baby comes through adoption or childbirth.  Everything – from the contents of our refrigerator (always at least one bottle of formula ready to go) to the way we furnish our house (baby swings, a crib, and a pack ‘n’ play) to my call and my career (stayed out of the pulpit for three months!) – is different.  Sometimes I’m surprised that Kirk and I even recognize ourselves when we look in the mirror.  Surely we have changed as much on the outside as we have on the inside, and as much as everything else on the “outside” of our world has changed.

As of August 25, I was back in the pulpit.  But this doesn’t mean that things in my job and in other areas of my life went back to the way they were before Kirk and I brought Dwiane home.  Things will never be the same, and even the way I pastor and preach will change.  My life has changed, because my perspective and my priorities have changed.

I need to take care of my son, filling needs that he is unable to fill for himself.  In adopting Dwiane, Kirk and I have adopted the responsibilities of meeting those needs for him and caring for him.  That is what a parent does for his or her child.  Dwiane eats certain amounts at certain times, a certain number of times a day.  He naps at particular times of the day.  And then there are the unscheduled parts of his life – diapers, spit up, clothing changes, play time, baby babble conversations, and crankiness.  So as Kirk and I have both gone back to work, we have respected our work schedules, but we have planned our days so that Dwiane’s schedule comes first.  We have formed our schedules around Dwiane, making our son the center of our daily lives.

This is how we are to live with Jesus, if we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  Our lives must be lived so that Jesus is the center.  Not because Jesus has needs that cannot be met without our help, but because in accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior, we are accepting that we cannot live without Jesus, and what Jesus has done and continues to do for us.

What does it mean for Jesus to be the center of our lives?  It means that praising Jesus, worshipping Jesus, obeying Jesus, following Jesus, must be our priority.  Everything in our lives must serve this end, must revolve around this center of our existence.  If there is some aspect of our lives that does not directly serve Jesus Christ, then it must be pushed to the side, out of the way, out of our lives if necessary, to make sure there is enough room to make Jesus Christ the center.  Everything in our lives must fit around Jesus, only if there is room, and only if they serve the purpose of our lives, to love and follow and serve our Lord and Savior.

And it means that, if we truly accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and seek to follow Jesus in all that we are and all that we do, we must keep diligent watch over those aspects of our lives that directly serve Jesus – our worship, our mission, our fellowship with others, our obedience.  We must make sure that we are doing these things in a way that honors Jesus as the center of our lives.  Worshipping; giving of our talents, time, and treasure; feeding the hungry; making repairs in Kentucky; teaching Sunday School; going to Sunday School; fellowshipping with one another; not out of guilt, or because it is expected or proper or what “good Christian people” do, but because we love God.  Because we recognize all that God has done and does for us, and we want to live our lives in thankful obedience.

“But wait just a minute, Pastor Lara!  You just said that Dwiane is the center of yours and Kirk’s life now – not Jesus!  Which is it?  And what about our families and children?  Aren’t they supposed to be the priority?”

It is true that our families are among the greatest gifts given to us by God.  And we are to take care of one another, certainly.  However, remember what Jesus says in Luke: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate mother and father, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26, NRSV).  And what about the time that Jesus’ mother and brothers came to drag him away for saying crazy stuff?  And Jesus, when made aware that his mother and brothers were outside, responded that it was not the folks at the door who were his mother and brothers, but those who did the will of God (Matthew 12:46-50).

So while my son, Dwiane, is the focal point around which Kirk and I arrange our schedules and our work, our mealtimes and our daily lives (even date night!); it is all for nothing if Jesus is not the center of Kirk’s and my lives.  Dwiane is a gift from God, a blessing we cannot begin to measure.  And yet, our love for Dwiane flows out of our love for God.  So that if we do not love God truly, we cannot love Dwiane truly.

You have often heard me talk about the greatest commandment, and the second which is like it: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.”  And “love your neighbor as yourself.”  These two are inseparable, and they are essential to one another.  If you are not loving God properly, you cannot love others.  If you are not loving others properly – not feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, caring for family, neighbor, and stranger alike – you are not truly loving God.

This year, Hickory Hills Presbyterian Church is thankful for sixty years in the same place, privileged to love and serve those around us in Jesus’ name through our ministries and programs.  As fall begins, we begin once again our ministries of education, continuing to learn more and more about our Lord and Savior, the center of our lives.  May we continue to strive more and more to make Jesus Christ our center.  See you in church!

 

In Joyful Anticipation,
Pastor Lara

Unworthy

Today we read about John the Baptist as an adult, when he begins his ministry.  And we learn that John’s ministry was to introduce Jesus to the world, to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry.  I would urge you to read beyond what was assigned, reading Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:1-8, and Luke 3:1-18.  John’s main purpose was to introduce Jesus’ ministry, which would have seemed a comfort to some, a threat or danger to others.  It would depend on which side of the line between oppressed and oppressor, poor and rich, slave and free, the listener found herself.

John’s other purpose was to make sure that everyone listening to him knew his primary purpose – to prepare the way for the Messiah.  John was not himself the Messiah.  But those who came out to see him in the desert were beginning to wonder.  They had, after all, been waiting for a long time for a Messiah.  So he made sure they understood.  He made sure they heard clearly his claim that he was not the Messiah, and he made sure they understood the enormity of who the Messiah was.  ”I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” (Mark 1:7).

This is why it is so important to understand the whole of John the Baptist’s message.  Because in his message you get a preview of Jesus’ message, and God’s kingdom.  Read especially Luke 3:1-18.  Now, here’s the thing.  I’ve never given much thought, to tell you the truth, to who exactly came out to see John in the desert.  Which side of the line did they stand on?  Where were they in society?  Oppressed or oppressor?  Poor or rich?  Lowly or powerful?  But you might be able to tell a little bit by the urgency and color of John’s message, especially the way it starts: “You brood of vipers!”  Way to win a crowd over, John.  But keep listening through your indignation, and you will hear that the way to repent and escape judgment is to help those who need help; to give to those who have less than you do; and to not be so greedy for money that you would act unjustly.  This would seem to imply that the majority of those who came out to listen to John were people in need of repentance.  Those who came out to see John, who had heard of this one who was talking about the Messiah and who might actually be the Messiah, thought that this Messiah had come to vindicate them.  But it turned out to be the opposite.  Jesus came to vindicate those who were oppressed, not their oppressors.  Those who were poor, not those who grew rich preying on the poor.  Those who were lowly, not the mighty who kept their positions by keeping the lowly down.

What’s more, as we continue to read about Jesus’ ministry, about this man whose sandal thong John was not worthy to untie, we find something very telling.  This Messiah, this Savior, would eat with prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners.  He would allow a sinful woman to wash his feet with her tears.  And this man – whose sandal John the Baptist was not worthy to stoop down and untie – would stoop down and wash the feet of his disciples.  And then he would call them to go and do likewise, washing feet, being servants.

No wonder John couldn’t untie his sandals.  He couldn’t get low enough.

Four’s a Crowd?

Today we read the stories in Luke and Matthew that give us all we know about Jesus’ early childhood, before his ministry began as an adult.  We know enough to know that Jesus was not like other children, that his relationship with God was quite different, although he was a fully human boy.  So it may not seem odd that the longest childhood vignette we are given highlights the relationship between God and the boy Jesus.  However, it may seem odd that this same slice of life shows us a boy who, by today’s standards, would have been thought of as disobedient and disrespectful.  Sure, Luke 2:51 says, “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.”  But this is after Jesus sneaked out of his family’s caravan and stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents’ knowledge, much less their permission.  This was after he answered their worried rebuke of his actions by questioning why they were even looking for him in the first place, because they should have known he would be “in my Father’s house.”  What did that even mean?  Wasn’t Joseph the boy’s father?

It wasn’t just that the standards of today are different than the standards of Jesus’ time.  Surely, Jesus’ actions would have been seen as disrespectful and disobedient by his parents, and the rest of their family and traveling party.  But Jesus knew who his Father was.  Jesus knew where he truly belonged.  Jesus understood his unique relationship with God.  And Jesus was obedient to God.

Our relationship to and obedience of God can even change our relationships with our family.  That is something that is often hard to accept.  ”‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”  (Matthew 12:48-50)

Our mothers and our fathers are given to us by God, as are all the people in our lives.  They are precious gifts.  And when we are children, our parents (or guardians) generally know much better than we do how to care for us.  (I’m not speaking of circumstances of abuse or neglect, or where father or mother are absent – although keep reading to see why Jesus’ words about family are very important even in those situations.)  I’m willing to bet that there are very few people who did not, at some point, as children or teenagers, feel as if their parents didn’t understand them.  Very few who, at some point, were not rebellious or disobedient in some way.

But our obedience is due, first and foremost, to God.  And what a comfort it must be to people who have been abandoned, or neglected, or abused, or rejected, by their own father or mother or brothers or sisters, to know that they are not left alone!  That they are not left without family.  That they are part of the family of God.

Frankly, Joseph and Mary had an unusual road to travel as far as parenting was concerned.  ”Unusual” to say the least.  Difficult, certainly.  And we will see, as we continue to study, that Jesus’ care for his mother never stopped.  But surely, that question, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?”, stayed with Mary and Joseph.  Surely it must stay with us as we continue to explore Jesus’ ministry.  He was not like other boys.  No wonder Simeon was able to say, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Mother Mary

It was only a few years ago that the full implication of Mary’s story truly hit me.  ”There was no room for them in the inn.”  This was about much more than just not making a reservation in a timely manner.  This was a profound statement about the situation that Mary and Joseph found themselves in, and a profound statement of what their obedience to God actually cost them.

Think about it.  Mary and Joseph were going to his hometown, to the place of his ancestry.  A place swarming with Joseph’s family.  And there was no room for them.  Even family shut their doors.  Do you really think that it was because every house in Bethlehem was full to overflowing?  Well, okay, maybe, since everyone of that particular lineage, with ancestral ties to that city, was there to be registered.  Maybe there was a temporary population boom.  Maybe it was even like trying to find a hotel room in Urbana, Illinois, on the weekend of an Illini home football game.  But still.  Family shut their doors.  Family.

Mary was pregnant.  Before being married to Joseph.  Before they had “been together” – before they were even allowed to.  And to top it all off, he had married her anyway!  He married someone who, to the world’s eyes, anyway – was not a virgin and had not been faithful.  It’s almost hard to imagine which was the worse shame in society’s eyes.  But there was shame enough between the two of them to cause even their family to desert them.

And yet, Jesus came to be the savior of such as these.  The pregnant teenagers and the men who married them anyway.  And the prostitutes.  And the tax collectors.  Shameful people.  Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.  Jesus also came to knock people off of the pedestals they had constructed for themselves, and to gently (and often not-so-gently!) correct their understanding of what righteousness truly is.

And ours.  If Jesus is the savior of “people like this”, how are we called to treat them?

A Star is Born

In yesterday’s devotion, we looked at the Lukan birth narrative.  This was the savior of the world.  How big was his debut?  The press, the paparazzi, the headlines.

It might seem kind of weird that there was not more fanfare surrounding Jesus’ birth.  (Although, heavens full of singing angels would make for some pretty sweet entrance music if you ask me.)  But by this time we have already seen a glimpse of God’s plan of salvation through the birth of Jesus.  Remember the song of Mary: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.” (Luke 1:52-53, NRSV)  This news is for all those who have been waiting – and they have been waiting.  This was a community of people under foreign domination.  They were waiting for a savior, a savior who had been promised for a very long time.

Even so, when the angels swarmed the heavens, they came, not to the rulers of the land, not to the most rich and powerful civic leaders, but to shepherds.  To people who were the epitome of poor and lowly – despised, even.  The angels came to those who waited most fervently for the promised Messiah to rescue them – and the angels told them the exact news they had been waiting for – that the Messiah had been born, and that this was their Messiah!  Salvation was for them.  No wonder they rushed to the manger.

When you have been praying for years for something – romance, a life partner, security, safety, peace, whatever it is – what keeps you going is the source of the prayer.  Why are you hoping for this one thing?  Has it been promised?  By whom?  Is it a reliable promise, from someone who is trustworthy, and able to deliver on that promise?  That is what kept Simeon and Anna (and all of Israel!) praying for so long, even when discouraged, even when it seemed like the promise wwoul never be fulfilled.  Because it was God who had promised.  God had always been faithful to deliver, and God would be faithful still.

Ashes and Dust

Once again, Lent is upon us, starting tomorrow with Ash Wednesday.  I hope that you will join me as we enter a time of reflection on the life and ministry of Jesus, and what Jesus has done for us.  I hope that you will join me in a time of pointed obedience, seeking to emulate Jesus’ obedience to God, as Jesus traveled toward Jerusalem and the cross.  I hope that you will join me as we undertake new disciplines, either of giving up something we enjoy, or of study, or of prayer.  I hope that our disciplines, not just during Lent but always, will enhance our love of God and of neighbor.

Once again, I am taking as one of my Lenten disciplines, the commitment to enter something here in this space every day.  I have started a day early, because this year, this discipline dovetails nicely with a devotional undertaking “sponsored”, if you will, by those who plan and lead our evening REV services.  It’s called “Dust”, a name inspired by a Jewish saying, “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi”.  In other words, as we are seeking to follow Jesus, closely and obediently, we are seeking to be more and more like Jesus, doing what Jesus does and has called us to do.  ”Dust” is a six week devotional series which leads us back to Scripture and through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is a six-week devotional, which will take us through most of Lent, preparing us truly to rejoice at the miracle of Easter morning, perhaps in a deeper way than we have before.  Each week at the REV service, we will take a look back at what we have learned the previous week, while looking forward to what we will study in the week ahead.

You don’t have to be a regular attender of the REV services in order to participate in this devotional series.  You don’t even have to come at all, though I would encourage you to join in the conversation, for we learn so much when we study together.  If you would like to join us on this journey, see me, or see one of the leaders of the REV service, and we will make sure that you get a devotional booklet.  The devotionals started yesterday, Monday, but don’t worry if you’ve missed a couple of days.  Join us.

Yesterday, we read from Luke, learning about the birth of John the Baptist, and about John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth.  We explored what it means to be obedient to God, even in the face of uncertainty and disappointment.  Today, we read about the announcement of Jesus’ birth to Jesus’ mother, Mary.  Another picture of obedience was painted for us, and we considered Mary’s situation – a young, unmarried but engaged woman, finding herself in a life-changing situation that left her physically and socially vulnerable.

So this is what I will be writing about for the next forty-two days.  Sharing some reflections.  And as always, inviting more conversation.  Happy Lent!

The Cat in the Fireplace

We have a new cat.  We didn’t plan for this.  We really didn’t even want it.  Most days, two cats are more than enough.  But we have a new cat.

It’s okay, really.  This cat is so easy.  She doesn’t need the vet.  (I guess it’s a she.)  She doesn’t eat.  She doesn’t make any noise.  She doesn’t dirty up the litterbox, but she doesn’t dirty up anywhere else, either.  In fact, we hardly ever even see her.  Never even touched her.  Haven’t even named her.  She lives in the fireplace.

Halley, our smaller and (mostly) smarter cat, has the most interaction with this new feline member of our household.  Every day, usually several times a day, Halley will walk up to the fireplace to check out this new cat.  She never comes out of the fireplace, and never lets herself be seen, except when Halley comes.  Then she comes up close to her side of the fireplace, to greet Halley.  She looks just like Halley.  It’s uncanny.  She meows (soundlessly) whenever Halley meows.  She moves whenever Halley moves.  Just like a mirror image.  Every time Halley looks at those reflective glass fireplace doors, there is that other cat, staring back at her.

I think this other cat’s presence bothers Halley, or she would have forgotten about her by now.  But I guess as long as our third cat doesn’t eat the food of the other two, we’ll be fine.  And Kirk and I don’t mind at all.  Easiest.  Pet.  Ever.

Sigh.  Halley was our smart one.

Minor Ministerial Musings (February 2013)

Don’t tell Kirk, but I’ve been dating for the last two and a half years….

 

Well, okay, you can tell Kirk – because he’s who I’ve been dating!

 

Something odd happened in our marriage when I became your pastor in August 2010.  I was a married pastor – a combination that hadn’t ever applied to me before.  All of a sudden, it felt weird to work late, to be away from the house a lot – because I had someone (other than the cats) at the house waiting for me.  Even when Kirk began teaching again – it started to feel like a bit of a balancing act.  I didn’t want to neglect my obligations at the church and with my new congregation.  But I didn’t want to neglect my husband, and the obligations and responsibilities of being married, either.  Having never been married before, I wasn’t sure I would even recognize this neglect if it did happen.

Then I remembered Date Night.  It was a lesson I actually picked up from a friend of mine in seminary.  From dating, through relationship, and into marriage, she and her husband had always taken one night a week to spend time with one another and shut out all other distractions – no chores, no phone calls, no meetings.  Whether it was a movie, bowling, a special dinner out or pizza delivery, or even a needed trip to the grocery store – it was one night a week they spent together, no matter what.

When I started feeling a bit unbalanced, not sure how to give proper attention to all of the different areas – both familiar and new – in my life, Kirk and I talked, and we decided to apply this “date night” concept to our marriage.  We found a day of the week that was consistently free for me – no meetings, and consistently free for Kirk – no classes.  I let the staff, the Session, and the Deacons know, and planned my office hours accordingly.  Once in a while, something in the church schedule or in Kirk’s schedule will necessitate a little creativity on our parts.  But Wednesday night has officially gotten a new name – Date Night.  And bingo!  We’re dating again.

Our relationships are so important.  Family, marriage, friendships.  Whatever the responsibilities and priorities that fill our daily lives, whatever “balancing acts” we may find ourselves performing, our relationships with one another are at the foundation.  Because our relationship with God is the foundation of all of our relationships with one another.  God gives us one another so that we may live in loving and peaceful relationship, a love and peace and relationship modeled by God’s love for us and the community of the Trinitarian God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This is the month when everything seems to be draped in pink and red, and punctuated with hearts.  On Valentine’s Day, we celebrate love by celebrating our relationships with each other – friendship, romance, marriage, and family.  As we celebrate Valentine’s Day in this, our sixtieth year in ministry together as Hickory Hills Presbyterian Church, let us celebrate these relationships – our love of God and our love of one another.  Our relationships with our family and friends, and our relationship with our neighbors and the wider community.  All the ways we are called to be in right relationship with one another.  With God as our foundation, these relationships will be well-balanced with everything else we do, because these relationships will be the foundation on which everything else we do is built.  Beloved, let us love one another.  See you in church Sunday!

 

In Joyful Anticipation,

Pastor Lara

 

Minor Ministerial Musings (January, 2013)

This article first appeared in the January 2013 issue of HHPC’s The Connecting Link.

“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
~Ephesians 4:15

For Hickory Hills Presbyterian Church, the year 2013 is one of celebration. We are celebrating 60 years as a Presbyterian congregation! Do you remember the celebration a couple of years ago? We began in the fall of 1951 as a Sunday School, in the school building that used to be across the street from where our current building stands. So in the fall of 2011, we celebrated 60 years as a Sunday School in this community. In January of 1953, a year and a half after our beginning as a Sunday School, we were chartered as a Presbyterian congregation of the Presbytery of Chicago.

I hope that you will all join us for an extra (and extra special!) worship service on January 20. We will gather here at HHPC on that Sunday afternoon at 3:00 for an ecumenical community worship service, where we will give God praise and thanksgiving for the blessings we have been given, the charge we have been given for ministry in this place for 60 years, and the possibilities and blessings for the next 60 years.

A lot happens – and a lot changes – in 60 years. New programs, new ministries, new people. We have a larger building and a bigger staff. We’ve seen pastors come and go, and we merged with two other congregations – Trinity Presbyterian Church of Oak Lawn, and First Presbyterian Church of Chicago Ridge. There’s grief as well as celebration. Programs and ministries that no longer exist. Family and friends who are no longer with us. We are not the congregation we were sixty years ago. And sixty years from now, we will look completely different than we do now.

But some things – the most important things – do not change. The faithfulness of God. The blessings of God. The call of God on our lives to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The purpose of this congregation as a community of followers of Christ, dedicated to furthering God’s kingdom and care for others. The fact that we are here to glorify God, and not ourselves, that we are called to follow Jesus’ example – coming not to be served but to serve.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” As we look back on sixty years of ministry, and look forward to another sixty years and more, may we continue to follow the Way. May we continue to hear the Truth, and to speak the Truth in love to one another. And may we continue to enjoy the Life that we are given, growing up together into Jesus Christ, who is our head. There are different ways to express what we are called to do and be. We have said it in our mission statement: “We are called to SEEK God’s Word, to SHARE and CELEBRATE God’s love, and to SERVE Jesus Christ in the world.” Let us continue to do that together, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as together we move into the next sixty years.

In Joyful Anticipation,
Pastor Lara

Minor Ministerial Musings (December, 2012)

This article first appeared in the Decemeber 2012 issue of HHPC’s The Connecting Link.

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” ~(Isaiah 40:3-4)

I saw a cartoon a few years ago, hanging in a church office, which is a perfect illustration of this verse, calling us to “prepare a way in the wilderness”. The panel was divided into two parts. On the left side, someone stands alone, on a featureless ground, hand to mouth, calling out. This person is calling out to those on the other side of the picture. And are these people on the other side of the picture listening? Not really. You see, the right half of the cartoon pictures crowds and mobs of people, rushing back and forth in the middle of the holiday rush hour, arms full of packages, making their way through crowds, lights, and sales of the century. The caption reads, “A voice crying out in the holiday wilderness.”

The picture on the left is meant to portray perhaps the prophet Isaiah, carrying the message from God that we hear in the Old Testament. Or perhaps it is John the Baptist, whom the writer of the gospel of Mark names as the voice crying in the wilderness. But whoever this lone figure is, there is a larger point being made in this cartoon; for there are two wildernesses portrayed here.

Webster’s dictionary gives several definitions of “wilderness”. One definition is “an area essentially undisturbed by human activity.” Another is “a confusing multitude or mass.” Both are shown in this cartoon. The first wilderness is the one where the lone figure stands in an empty wasteland, calling out. He is in the “area essentially undisturbed by human activity.” He is calling out to be heard by those on the other side, but to no avail. They are in a wilderness of their own, a “confusing multitude or mass”, and they cannot hear the messenger. They have not invited the messenger in. They are too busy jostling through the tangle of presents and decorations, advertisements, and holiday marketing. The messenger’s voice is drowned out by the ringing of bells and the blaring of Christmas music, the ch-ching of cash registers and the hurried parade of feet through mazes of malls.

Advent is the season of joyful preparation. We are not only preparing to celebrate once again the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we are preparing our hearts and lives for the day when Christ will return. We are celebrating the advent of a new heavens and a new earth. We are preparing the way so that Christ will find a home in our hearts and our lives.

Advent is the time to prepare. To prepare a way in the wilderness. But what does this wilderness look like? And what does it mean to prepare the way?

There is so much to prepare during the Christmas season – concerts and cookies, presents and parties, dinners and decorations. It can wear us out rather than energize us with the joy of Christ’s coming. This chaotic and crowded wilderness can threaten to drown out the message of the prophet, and the tiny cry of the baby whose birth we celebrate. These are the mountains of human invention which must be brought low.

And although Advent is a time of celebration for many, for others it is a difficult time of year to make it through one more time. For the sick, for the poor, for those who are alone, for those who are grieving loss, Advent – a time of warmth and of coming together for so many – can be a time of feeling stranded in a barren wilderness, separated from community by, of all things, the birth of our Lord. These are the valleys of despair which must be lifted up.

The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line. Twists and turns only lengthen the distance we must travel on any path. And mountains and valleys are only curves that go up and down instead of side to side. For a highway to be made through the wilderness, every valley must be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low in order for the path to be smooth and easily traveled. For a highway to be made through the wildernesses of life – in order to prepare the way to our hearts for the coming of the Lord – the obstacles must be removed, so that there is no distance remaining between us and the Lord. There are valleys to fill and mountains to bring down. Let’s get to work and prepare the way. See you in church on Sunday!

In Joyful Anticipation,
Pastor Lara