Into the Sea of God
I. A chance for adventure and fame!
April 24, 1848, Sir John Franklin and his crew boarded their ships and sailed off to the artic. They were cheered on with shouting and waving, utterly confident that they would be the first men to navigate the Northwest Passage. But how did they prepare? Each ship carried a 12-day supply of coal for a likely 2 to 3 year voyage. A minor overlook. Instead of extra coal, the ships made room for fine china, wine goblets, sterling silver, a 1,200-volume library and a baroque hand-organ. They sailed north sporting the finest uniforms of the British navy. Yet not one man brought the extra clothing needed for the bitter climates. No one came back. All 129 sailors sunk into the frozen sea.
II. How are we preparing for the Coming of our Lord?
Our gospel reading today brings us to the desert. People from all over Judea and Jordan were coming out to see the prophet, John the Baptist. He called men to confess their sins and be baptized, and he preached with urgency. The crowds marvelled and asked, “Who are you?” In response, he said, “I am not the Christ.” So they insisted, “What then? Are you Elijah?” “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” “Then who are you?” Finally, John replied, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. ‘Make straight the Way of the Lord’” (John 1:19-23).
In those days, in the bustling streets of a city, a servant would always walk in front of an important person shouting, “Make way for the Lord! Move aside for his majesty!” The crowds stepped aside immediately and opened a path for the VIP. This was John the Baptist’s job. He was the voice of God crying, “Prepare the way for the Lord” (Matthew 3:3).
The Jews and Levites knew exactly what he meant. He was quoting their scriptures. Isaiah chapter 40, verse 3: “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” The Church gives us these readings precisely because she knows this is exactly what we need to hear today.
III. Are we preparing?
Advent is the start of our year. We’re given a fresh chance. We get to make our New Year resolutions 30 days before the rest of the world. But our resolutions aren’t just about being more productive or losing weight. Our focus is to prepare our hearts for God.
Today is one of two days in the year, when the ministers and altar are vested in rose. The practice goes far back in history, to a time when rose was associated with new life, the birth of a prince, or the dawn in early morning promising a sunrise. The Church is urging us to wake up. Someone is coming. He is bringing light.
Today, we also celebrate the feast of Santa Lucia. St. Lucy was a young girl who had fallen in love with Jesus Christ. It was winter, and the pagans had locked away hundreds of Christians. So, little Lucy snuck down into the dungeons, wearing a wreath of candles for light and carrying bread for the hungry. She is a little sample, an icon, of the Light of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day.
IV. Today whispers: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you" (Ephesians 5:14).
What are the excuses that we’ve made in the past to avoid prayer, confession or repentance?
What is the noise in our lives that keeps us from meditating on God?
What are the obsessions, distractions, and grudges that keep us from being joyful people, men and women steeped in trust and love?
So John the Baptist calls to each us: “Clear the clutter. The King may enter.”
V. In the 6th century, St. Maximus the Confessor urged people to use Advent to prepare.
He taught, “If women who have the care of a home will on certain days wash with water the garments that are soiled, should we not also make ready our souls for the Birth Day of the Lord, cleansing with our tears the stains of our conscience…And they, should they find the garments so soiled and stained, that they cannot be made clean with water alone, add to the water the softening of oil and the acrimony of soap. We likewise, should we have committed sins that are not washed away by repentance alone, let us add the oil of almsgiving and the bitterness of fasting.”
VI. But let’s bring this down even closer to home.
In his Epistle, St. James wrote: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials (1:2)…Do not grumble…brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold the Judge is standing at the door” (5:9). What is he saying, and what does this have to do with us?
The other day, I was struck when I read this. Why tell us to not grumble? Moreover, why immediately follow it by saying the Judge is standing at the door?
A commentary answered my question: “The Judge is standing at the door. The Day of the Lord is approaching. Now is not a time for revenge and condemning others, but a time for salvation and helping those who do not know the truth, by praying for them and loving them to save them and not to judge them. It is a moment where we hide in God’s love and the love of our neighbor, so we may be saved and save others too.”
Something convicted me about this passage. Why do we grumble after all? Why do we get all wrapped up with the little things in life?
We cannot forget, today is the day for salvation. We must hide in God’s love and love for our neighbor.
VII. Sir John and his crew weren’t prepared, so they sunk into the icy sea.
We don’t have to make the same mistake. We have everything we need, if we’re willing. The Church has all the tools: the Sacraments, confession, prayer, scriptures and the calendar. The year ahead is the sea God sends us out to sail. May we find a new start, this year, and venture deeper into love for God.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.