Prepare the Way

December 6, 2015, based on the Collect for Advent 2

Father Benjamin Thomas

In our church, we use four main liturgical colors: purple, red, green and white. Because we are in the season of Advent, you may have noticed bits of purple here and there–the vestments, the triptychs behind the altar, the Advent candles are all purple in honor of the season. But why do we change colors at all. Plenty of churches get along just fine without robes and candles and colored panels behind the altar. So why do we bother with liturgical colors?

The answer is that these colors are a reminder that our time should be devoted to God. These colors are a way of marking the seasons of God’s kingdom rather than simply turning the pages on the calendar of this life.

Green is the color we use for ordinary time, the time between Epiphany and Lent and after Pentecost, often, people think of the green season as the season of growth. Red is the color of blood and fire, both of which are associated with the Holy Spirit so we use it on Pentecost and at ordinations, for martyrs and during Holy Week. These times are all linked to the Holy Spirit’s power exercised through Christ and his Church. In the ancient world, people wore white to festive occasions; in the book of Revelation, the saints in heaven are depicted as wearing white, and so on those festive occasions when we celebrate the nearness of heaven and earth in the Church—the feast days of Christmas and Easter, and more solemnly for All Saints’ Day and even funerals—we too put on our best white robes.

Which leaves us with purple. Purple has for many people been associated with penitence because we use it in Lent, but there is a deeper purpose to purple, and that is preparation. Just as we prepare for Easter in Lent through acts of penitence and fasting, we prepare for Christmas during Advent. We mark this season with the greenery symbolizing the perpetual and unending life of Christ, we slow down the tempo of our worship to build anticipation that something big is about to happen.

Today I would like for us to consider another preparation that fits perfectly with Advent. the preparation is the preparation for salvation, known as evangelism. In today’s collect we are reminded of the prophets who “preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation.” The collect doesn’t tells us which prophets do this, but if you made it as far as the prophets in our collective effort to read through the entire Bible last year, you know that pretty much any prophet will do.

Every prophet from Moses to John the Baptist looked at his world and found that something was terribly wrong. Moses saw that the people needed leave Egypt. Samuel saw that politicians served themselves as often as they served the people. Hosea and Amos saw that a robust economy was almost always built on the skulls of the poor. Read the words of any prophet, and what you will find is someone who could clearly see that his world was not the way God intended for it to be and challenged people to repent, to turn away from the status quo and to find a better and holier way of living.

In this sense, repentance is simply recognizing that many things in life could be done better. Just as the Old Testament prophets looked a their world and saw that greed and violence and corruption had no place in God’s kingdom, we can also look at our own world and say the same things. Christians are people who should look not only at our own lives and the world around us and be prepared to speak out against evil. It is pretty clear from the news that human beings are a troubled lot and that the prophets’ message is still one that people need to hear. When we have a biblical faith, we can say with confidence that someday, somehow God will transform the fouled up world of drought and bad leaders, of terrorism and greed, into a peaceable and just kingdom where people are valued more than things, and God is truly worshipped as the author and giver of life.

In this purple season, with its focus on the return of Christ, it is good for us to preach the prophets’ message. But as I mentioned, purple is about more than repentance, it is about preparation for salvation, our own and that of others. When we are asked to prepare the way, that does not mean that God expects us to fix the world, but to act in a way that allows people to believe that Jesus has the world under control. Christians are never called to be saviors, but we are always called to be evangelists.

The definition of evangelism is quite simple: evangelism is sharing the good news of Jesus with others. The good news is that we have been freed from sin and death. Because of this we are free to live our lives differently. I am sure that there are as many methods of evangelism as there are people, but I’d like to suggest a method that has a great track record.

A couple of summers ago, I saw a pair of Mormons missionaries walking through our parking lot on a hot afternoon. I flagged them down and invited them in for a glass of water. They were grateful to get out of the heat. While they were cooling off in my office, I asked them a simple question: how do Mormons recruit so many people?

Their answer was pretty simple. They knock on people’s doors and ask them how they can help. You need your leaves raked? No problem. We’ll be back tomorrow with rakes. You need someone to move your piano? We can roll up our sleeves and get right to that. Most people have some need that they cannot meet on their own, and the Mormons have discovered that by meeting people’s needs, they have a great opening for their message. These two young guys explained that while they help the person, they ask a lot of open questions and by the end of the job, they have a pretty good idea of the person’s needs and worries. Then the tell them how the Mormon religion can address those concerns.

I wonder if preparing the way for salvation for our friends might be as simple as copying what the Mormons do? What if during this season of preparation, we took time to examine our lives and find a margin of time for meeting the needs of others? What if we began preparing our friends and relatives for the message of Christ by finding out what they really need? This kind of evangelism requires very little formal training, but it does require that we be willing and able to spend time with people.

If we make time to spend an afternoon or a weekend helping a neighbor we would very soon find out about much more than the leaves in his yard. All over the world, people are scared. People worry about their health, people worry about their children, people worry about terrorism and the stock market and everything else. When your neighbors start talking about those kind of issues over a shovel or a broom, you have prepared the way of salvation, and it is time to start talking to them about how Jesus can meet their needs.

In this season of preparation, I would ask you to seriously consider doing your best to prepare the way of salvation for someone in your life. Pick someone and really talk to the person. Go out of your way to be a good listener. Be alert for opportunities to serve, and when the talk turns from raking leaves to mending souls, take that as an opportunity to tell them about Jesus.

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