Message from Our Pastor
Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman's December 9th homily. Relevant text: Luke 3:1-6
OK, it’s confession time.
When you see a picture that is hanging crooked, do you have a need to straighten it?
How about the urge to remove that loose hair, or fuzzy, from the sweater of the person sitting in front of you?
How natural is it for you to pick up lint from the carpet, your own, and everyone else’s?
Do you have an uncontrollable need to straighten up the magazines in the doctor’s office, the messy pile of mail at your son or daughter’s house, or the items around the sink in your best friend’s guest bathroom?
I knew it. Most people are closet compulsive tidy uppers. We prefer order over chaos, clean over dirty, neat over messy, straight over crooked, and smooth over rough. Well, my fellow tidying perfectionists, today is YOUR day.
Today we are interrupted by the itinerant, prophetic preacher, John the Baptist. His message? Straighten up. Now, John’s message to straighten up is two-fold. First, it is a message TO us. Second, it is a message is FOR us.
The message that John speaks TO us is basically: the messiah is coming, you better straighten up. This is more than a moral call to be a better person. This is a call to level out our relationships, straighten up our priorities, and fill in the gaping potholes sin has made in our lives. It’s a call to prepare to meet the coming Messiah, face to face.
Think about this call to straighten up and prepare for a moment. When you have extended family coming for a visit, I bet you do some straightening up, like, maybe, vacuuming and dusting? If your in-laws come for a visit, I bet you do a little bit more. If you were asked to host foreign guests for a week? And, what they were a foreign government leader, a king, queen or premier?
I assume you get the point. When we know that we are going to host visitors, we prepare for them, and whom we host often determines the extent of our preparations. The more grand or special the guest, the more extensive the preparations.
All of this we do for our human guests. How much more then shall we straighten up for a heavenly guest, God in the flesh, the Son of God made man.
Of course, it’s not our house, our car, or our hair that we need to straighten up when preparing to host the Messiah; it is our hearts, our minds, our words, our deeds, our spirits, and our souls. This is a far more daunting task than preparing for a human visit. This involves repentance, forgiveness, love, justice, patience, kindness, self-control, gentleness, faith, and courage. You can’t just shake these out like a dusty rug, or polish them up like silver, or go out and purchase them new. Preparing for the Messiah takes time, prayer, persistence, a lot of humility, and some painful honesty. And, like housework, it is never done, never achieved. But, it’s essential and necessary just the same.
John the Baptist’s message TO us is: the Messiah is coming; straighten up.
That leaves John’s message FOR us. At the time that John the Baptist walked the earth things were a askew. All was not right with the world, the world was a mess. Sound familiar?
The rich hoard and flaunt their wealth. The poor do what they can, but only get poorer. The sick are taunted by inadequate health care. The needs of children and elderly go unnoticed. The self-righteous deny human rights of others. Rules are manipulated to benefit the powerful.
Some of our Jewish brothers and sisters have a tradition that visually expresses this truth, a mezuzah. A piece of parchment upon which is written the shema, the Jewish prayer from Deuteronomy 6, beginning, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. . ." and ending, "And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates." This piece of parchment is rolled up and placed in a case, then attached to doorposts in obedience to the command contained in prayer.
For some Jewish communities, especially those of Eastern European descent, the mezuzah case is hung at a slant with the top pointed in toward the room being entered.
The mezuzah hangs crooked is because the world without the messiah is crooked, but when the Messiah comes, all things will be set straight. The lame shall walk, the blind shall see, the first shall be last, the hungry filled, the lowly lifted up, and justice will reign over the earth.
When the world is righted by the Messiah, then the mezuzah will point straight up to God. It is for this moment that we wait. It is this moment to which John points. It was for this moment that Jesus was born, died, and was resurrected.
The time is near, declares John the Baptist. The messiah is coming to set all things straight and new. Order will be restored and God will again declare that all is very good. With this in mind, let us be about preparing ourselves for the coming of this day, the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, our Lord. Amen.