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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2011-12-04 Second Sunday of Advent - Peace

2011-12-04 Second Sunday of Advent
"The Voices of Christmas: Isaiah"
Dr. James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Isaiah 40:3-5
3 A voice cries out:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 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.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together...."

Matthew 3:1-12
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.' " 4 Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

I am the voice of Isaiah, the voice of all who encourage others.
I am the voice of the volunteer in the soup kitchen satisfying another's hunger.
I am the voice of the therapist restoring someone's peace of mind.
I am the voice of the pastor visiting the homebound.
I am the voice of the counselor listening to those bound by addiction.
For all who encourage others, I am the voice of Isaiah.
I am the voice that answers your cries, "Prepare your hearts. The One you have longed for is near!"


We're doing a series of messages in Advent built around the text of the choir's Cantata they're going to be singing next Sunday, called, "The Voices of Christmas." These are built around the text of the Cantata, not the music. You really don't want me singing.

Last Sunday we talked about the voice of the biblical nation, Israel. We talked about how Israel cried out to God for help and over the course of calling out, learned to wait, and to wait with hope.

Today, Barry & Kathy lit the candle of Peace. The voice we hear today is the voice of Isaiah. The text of the Cantata tells us that Isaiah is the voice of all who encourage others.

You speak in Isaiah's voice when you help restore someone's PEACE of mind. You speak in Isaiah's voice when you serve food to the hungry. You speak in the voice of Isaiah when you visit the homebound and the sick. You speak in the voice of Isaiah when you listen and care for people with addictions.

Isaiah brings PEACE because his voice answers your cries for help, saying, "Prepare your hearts. The one you have WAITED for is near!" Prepare your hearts with PEACE.


Did you know, Christmas is, like, 21 days away?

Did my saying that raise everyone's blood pressure 10 points? "21 days? What are we doing here?" There's a house to decorate! There's a tree to trim! There are presents to buy and I'm low on pepper spray!

You know, every year at this time, preachers all around the world stand up and say things like, "Advent is the time of PEACE. Advent is the time of WAITING, waiting with hope and joy."

No it's not. I don't know anyone who's extra meditative this month. I know people who are extra medicated this month. But that's not the same thing.

Christmas makes a lot of people very anxious. Christmas makes a fair number of people clinically depressed. Even if you're neither extreme, it's hard to separate yourself from people who are. You're going to run into them if you go to Wal-Mart, or if you go to work, or if you attend school, or if you have relatives.

So, then the preacher stands up during Advent and says, "God wants you to be PEACEFUL, God wants you to WAIT with hope." Really? It's amazing preachers don't get pepper sprayed more than we do.

The last thing in the world I want to do is to make you feel guilty about feeling anxious. The last thing I want to do is make you feel guilty because you're wound up kinda tight, or wound down to where you're too overwhelmed to move. That doesn't help any of us. If you leave today, feeling more anxious, feeling more depressed, and on top of that feeling guilty because you're anxious or depressed because you're not as PEACEFUL as God says you ought to be, I've messed up.

I really wish I had a magic bucket. I wish I had a magic, bottomless bucket where you could empty out and throw in it all the stuff that makes you anxious, or depressed, or stressed, or messed up. We could pass the magic bucket around and whatever is making you worried, or unhappy, or freaked out, you could dump it in the bucket and hear it go, "Clank." And then we'd take the bucket and pour it in the lake, with all the other toxic stuff. And it would wash downstream to Chattanooga. Let them have it. I wish there were some magic bucket or quick way to help you get all that junk out of your heads and out of your hearts and off your chests so we could all really enjoy Advent season and Christmas the way God intended. Stress-free. Worry-free. Singing carols and holding hands. Full of nothing but HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE, world without end, amen.

I wish I could do that. I wish I could just hand out that kind of PEACE. I wish I had a magic bucket, or a magic wand, or a magic scripture verse that would just get us all straightened out, and all cleaned up, and all just ready, for Christmas.

You know what? I think God wishes that, too.


So, John the Baptist appears in the wilderness of Judea, along the banks of the River Jordan. John appears and says, "Make straight the pathway of the Lord." He says, "Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near." And people from all over come to him. People from all over come to him because they know they need their twisted-up hearts to be straightened out. People form all over come to John down by the river, because they know they need to get themselves cleaned up. They want to wash off all their anxiety, all their depression, all the junk that's weighing them down. Wash it off and let it flow down the river, away.

You know, one of the words we don't talk about much these days is the word, REPENT. If someone's having troubles, we tell them, "You need to go talk to a therapist." Which is good. Or we say, "You need to take a vacation." Which is good. Or we say, "You need to get away from those people, or from that person, who's messing you up." Which again, is good. But rarely do we tell anyone, "You need to REPENT."

Ironically, though, when God wanted people to get ready for Jesus, when God wanted people ready for Christmas, God sent John the Baptist, and that's exactly what John said to do. To REPENT.

I think we preachers, as much fun and as profitable as it can be to make people feel guilty and anxious and depressed (all at the same time, if you're really good)... I think we preachers have abused the word, REPENT. Because, in the Bible, when people like Isaiah or John the Baptist said to repent, they didn't mean it like that. They didn't mean it to make people feel bad. How you FELT wasn't really that important.

In the Bible, repentance isn't something you FEEL as much as something you DO.

In the Bible, repentance works like this. First, you go public. If you're repenting in your mind, you're not really repenting. You're just thinking about repenting. If you want to repent the way God intended, you've got to go public. In the Gospel According to Matthew, you went down to the river with John the Baptist, and you publicly confessed. You publicly said,
I've wronged someone.
I've cheated someone.
I've cheated ON someone.
I've lied to someone.
I've stolen from someone.
I've gossiped about someone behind his back, or behind her back.
I've sat and stewed for hours, days, months about how I'm going to get revenge on someone.
I've wasted so much time rehearsing what I wish I had said to someone.
I've ignored my own someones.
I've hidden dark stuff from someone.

In the Bible, that's the first step in repentance. Public confession. But that's just the start.

In the Bible, repentance is a two-step process. First, you publicly confess what you've done. Second, you right your wrong. And more, you right your wrong with interest.

Something we probably don't think too much about when we say the Lord's Prayer every week is, "Forgive us our debts... as we forgive our debtors." You see, when you wrong someone, you're in their debt. You've taken something from them, whether they know it or not. Maybe you've taken the chance for a full relationship. Maybe you've taken real money. Maybe you've taken something else, but you are confessing and accepting the fact that you are in debt.

So, to do repentance like it is in the Bible, after you've done the first half, which is confessing the debt you've gotten yourself into, the second half is paying it back. With interest.

Now, think about this. In Bible terms, what you FEEL really ISN'T as important as what you DO to try to pay back your debt. You might feel guilty, you might feel anxious, you might feel sorry, you might feel ashamed, but that's not the point. That's a by-product that means your conscience hasn't withered up completely. The point of repentance isn't what you FEEL, it's what you DO - what you DO - to try, try, to make things right.

You say it publicly. You work to pay off what you've taken, with interest. And then you let the water wash the bucket full of junk away. Repentance is not magic. Not by a long shot. Repentance will probably cause you some short-term complications.

But after you've emptied that bucket out, and the waters of your baptism have washed away the mess, suddenly you've got some room for something else.


If you had a magic bucket, what would you put in it? If you could dump thing that's causing you anxiety, or causing you depression, or causing you guilt, causing you problems, what would it look like, as it clanked into the hole?

What scares you the most about letting it go? You don't want it. So why are you holding onto it so tightly? Why have you held onto it for so long? Isn't it time to dump it? Isn't it time to confess it? Isn't it time to repay the debt it's brought you? Isn't it time to repent?

Do you know what the penalty is for not getting everything just perfect at Christmas? Do you know what the penalty for that is?

Absolutely nothing.

Take that anxiety. Take that worry. Take that guilt. And throw it in the bucket.

Oh, and, if we're going by the Bible, which we should be, it won't clank when it hits the bottom.

It'll splash.

With the waters of baptism. With the waters of repentance.


The voice of Isaiah that we read from the Cantata text talks about encouragement. Isaiah sings of encouraging those who volunteer in food kitchens to encourage people who are hungry. Isaiah sings of therapists who encourage people's minds and hearts. Isaiah sings of people who visit the sick, the homebound. Isaiah sings of people who listen to those with addictions.

If you've ever done any of those, you know they're not easy. They're often very, very hard. Encouragement isn't magic. Peace is hard work. That's why we light candles for PEACE.

Before the angels sing. Before the shepherds kneel. Before the kings bring gifts. Before the Prince of Peace is born, his cousin calls us to repent. To let the waters wash away the things that keep us from PEACE.


Will you pray with me?

King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace, we begin our confession before you. Give us the strength, the courage, the hope, to continue our confession before the people and the places who really deserve it. Help us to pay off the debts we owe them, with interest. Make us models of your peace, examples of those who repent, not just in mind, but in action. It is in your name, we pray. Amen.