Monday, December 17, 2012

Preparing for Sharon, PA

Santa Descends at Sharon's Night of Lights
This post is from a "From the Pulpit" column that appeared in the Sharon Herald on Friday, December 14.

A few weeks ago, Santa came to downtown Sharon.  People lined the streets.  They celebrated with Christmas carols and dancing, with hot cocoa and kettle corn, and with the lighting of the Christmas tree.  Parents and grandparents were sharing their children’s wonder while reconnecting with friends and neighbors. Local businesses and community groups offered what they could to make the evening special.  Everyone knew where to wait for Santa – they read it in the Herald.  The right preparations were made, the crowd was gathered and, as he descended from rooftop to State Street, Santa was smiling.   

December is a time when we await someone bringing greater gifts than Santa Claus.  Jesus is coming.  While we celebrate Jesus’s first coming as a baby in Bethlehem, we also wait for Jesus to come again.  Our challenge is to figure out how to wait well.  Twiddling our thumbs and hoping he shows up during a commercial is probably not the best approach.

Scripture says to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight.  These instructions are not easy, even if we have a bulldozer at our disposal.  Two questions immediately come to mind.  Where do we make these straight paths, and how do we do it.

The easy answer to where the Lord is coming is in our hearts, and we need to prepare them.  But that is not the only answer.  We should also wrestle with the question of where we could expect Jesus to be coming if we read his Facebook post that said, “On my way to see my peeps in Sharon, PA.”  Would our first impulse to run to church and get all the lights on?  Do we honestly think that would be Jesus first stop, especially if it wasn’t 10:00am on Sunday morning? (And which church would he go to, anyway?)  Jesus certainly came and spoke in the synagogues of his day, but he also spent much of his time outside of them. 

Judging by the folks he liked to visit, we might expect to see him any number of places.  Maybe at a school Christmas concert (where we know Jesus would be smiling).  Maybe at Joshua’s Haven, or West Hill Ministries, or Community Counseling Center, or a local food pantry.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see him at Artie Gras or Bike Night at the Lube.  Jesus seemed to go where people were – even to places that religious folk tended to avoid.  He was called a drunkard and a glutton, after all.

To make a straight path for Jesus, we start where we think he might be coming.  We spend time on the same roads we expect him to travel.  In those places, we prepare the way of the Lord.

Isaiah talks about filling in every valley and making every hill low, yet I don’t think our primary task is to take all the dirt from the East and West Hills and fill in downtown Sharon.  Our real work of preparing the way is to do what Jesus did when he was with people.  We talk to people.  We listen to their stories.  We pray for them and do what we can to meet their needs.  We love them and live alongside of them until we see each other as part of one extended family.  These steps help us bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, release the captives, give sight to the blind, let the lame run, and renew ruined cities (see Isaiah 61:1-4).  

When the way is prepared, we can expect Jesus to show up.  When he comes, people will be ready to celebrate his coming. No one will think he is a stranger or someone who doesn’t belong.  They won’t avoid him.  Where he goes, excited people will celebrate his coming just like little children waiting for Santa.  They will have experienced the beginnings of his love in the love we have shown, and they will be ready to have Jesus love them more completely than they have ever been loved before.

Jesus is on the move.  Determine where he might show up and prepare his way! 

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