We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon summary, Rev. Tom Hughes, Advent 2, Dec. 10, 2023

Prepare the way of the Lord – What does it mean for us?  These lessons chart a course for us, what is expected of us, understanding how life works. “The wilderness inside takes a whole lifetime to cross.” This is what Isaiah is talking about preparing the way of the Lord in the desert. Where is that desert? Those that live in the Middle East is what comes to your mind – barren land, dryness. It also has to do with our life course – walking across this life span we are given. Sometimes it is not easy –  sometimes things happen along the way we would never have wanted to happen or anticipated. However, if you are on a course with a particular destination, things don’t trip us up as much.

It’s just the idea of a container. Say you have a bucket with paint in it. It’s not the bucket what is important, it’s what’s in the bucket. It is the paint, not the container. That’s the way it is in our lives. We live in these containers. It is what’s inside what God looks at that’s important. We need to be mindful of what’s inside of us.

We have markers of where we are in Kronos time, such as the calendar date and lectionary date. But where do you think you are on the road? That’s a rhetorical question, we all would do well to ponder.  Where are we in our path through the Wilderness because the wilderness is the perfect metaphor for life in that we don’t know exactly where we’re going, we don’t know what the terrain is going to look like and we don’t really have much of an idea about where we’re going to wind up.  But we’re given some help with that in understanding our path and where we’re going to wind up too because that’s what the Gospel our Lord Jesus Christ proclaims unto us.

We need not be afraid of the wilderness even though it’s an unknown.  We need not live in fear of the place of our souls in creation – that’s already taken  care of.  The way that’s taken care of is very interesting too because we have that presented to us in the Gospel where it talks about John’s baptizing in the wilderness. He baptized people and what happened was that in  those days the understanding of baptism was an ancient Jewish custom which wasn’t new The idea was that he bathed in the River Jordan and your sins were washed away. It was a physical thing – your bodies became clean. What Jesus did was take that beautiful Jewish tradition that John embraced and what Jesus did was embellish it , transform it, elevate it to something brand new which is it is the revival of our souls.

At Christmas time we sing songs about the birth of Christ. But I want to tell you that I believe this that every time one of us makes the decision to seek a deeper life, to search more aggressively for that which is internal in our lives, the child is born again in us and we are born again. 

You wonder what that that saying means – to be born again in the spirit. To be given a spirit of baptism is to come to understand at a deeper level the  meaning of the Gospel and that to which  God calls us. It doesn’t happen by accident; we have to make a decision to do that.

You have to say “all right I’m committing myself today that I’m going to make a place inside of me,  I’m going to prepare a place for the Lord.  I’m  going to make a decision to do that and by that I mean that I’m going to internally focus on, first of all, where am I in my life so far as the Wilderness Road is concerned and  how do I make a place for Jesus to be born in you inside of me  because that’s the birth that Jesus  longs for and that’s the birth that  we’re singing about.” That’s what we’re  celebrating this Christmas. it’s wonderful to look  back over what happened there in  Bethlehem. It’s wonderful to imagine the glory of the skies as the Angels sang but I’ll tell you what the Angels sing again and again and again every time we decide to make a commitment to following Christ, to making a new and deeper place inside of us for that birth to take place.

The Angels sing again and again for us ,with us. That’s how personal  this is. It is not some abstract idea that only exists in a book or in some people’s minds. This is the plan of God as revealed in scripture for all of humankind, for all of us. We would be born anew in water in the spirit, the baptism that Jesus brought to us. Born anew internally within us when we make a new commandment as we follow our way along in the Wilderness Road to follow Christ  because he’s the one by the way who knows the way out of here. No one else does.

This road of which we speak, it’s a two-way road which interestingly enough, now this is not advertised, but it’s something  you discover yourself when you follow it. When we make a place in our hearts and prepare a way for God inside of us, we are also preparing the way for our road through life. It’s a two-way street – it happens both ways. The more deeply that we invite Christ into our hearts and prepare that way through the Wilderness,   the more open is the road for us as we walk through this life and into the next life.  It works both ways at the same time so that that’s a two-way street and it’s very important to know that for our own life and for our own destiny for trying to get a sense of where we’re going.

So if we ask ourselves the question, “where am I here at the end of 2023 headed for the Christmas holidays  and the new year and whatever all that means?” Well, let it mean because I’m aware of the passage of time for scads of other reasons too but I’m going to make a point this year, this Christmas of preparing a place inside of me to move more deeply into the dwelling of the Holy Spirit within me because that’s what’s been given to us.

John baptized with water to wash away sins.  Jesus has baptized us in the Holy Spirit. To be baptized in the Holy Spirit is to have put within us the very creative juices of Life. The very formative creative power of life is what the holy spirit is. When you think about the Holy  Spirit, think about the rejuvenating enabling, empowering loving power of God inside of you. That’s the  Holy Spirit and that’s the power that is given to us to make this wilderness walk.

We don’t do it by ourselves because we’re on the same road as is the holy spirit as is our Lord Jesus in coming for us. As we march towards Him, He’s coming for us. That’s the way it works on  that road.

So rather than letting it be a scary road through life, rather than letting be a thing that’s foreboding and  worrisome, let it be a thing of joy. All the troubles of this life, notwithstanding, all of the things which would distract us, are set aside. Not that they don’t matter they matter they matter a lot but they  cannot dim our way towards the oneness which God has given us in Jesus Christ because that’s what it’s all about.

We are here together because somehow, somehow inside of us something has happened. We’ve have been brought to our attention the power of God that is in us.

It calls on us too. Once you have a sense of the power of God that is in you, you can’t help yourself. You want more you want more, and when you meet somebody who has more, you want more like they’ve got. That’s why it’s important for us to witness by the way we live. It inspires others.

But that’s the whole story of the Wilderness Road. It’s the way through this world and it’s the way home. That process, that walk had got to start somewhere. Let it be for us a renewed commitment this holy season,  this  Christmas season.  Let it be a renewed commitment on our part to go deeper into ourselves and understand why I am the person God created to me, who am I deep inside, why do I make the decisions I make, why do I do the things that I do, why do I think the way that I do. All the answers to those questions are inside. But you know the answer is not what’s important. What’s important is the experience of a deeper consciousness of ourselves and awareness of the presence of God. Once those things get established inside of us, there’s no holding us back.

I challenge you this afternoon to go back and re-read the lessons. Before you do ask God, “please Lord reveal to me the deeper meaning of what you got here for me. Help me understand given the context of my life and where I am on the Wilderness  Road. Help me to read these scriptures of yours with a new insight with a new understanding of that to which you call me. “

I guarantee you that something will happen if you do that. If you do that empowered by the Holy Spirit which you’ve asked to guide you, you will be changed by that and it will give you a new beginning. it will give you a new sense of what it means to have Christ born in Christmas because it’s going to happen inside of you and it will lead you on to a new place in your wilderness walk a place where you begin to see the light down there somewhere because Christ is on that road with us. That my brothers and sisters in Christ is the good news of the Gospel this day. Amen.