Scripture: Isaiah 40:3-5
While I did not grow up in Nebraska, I have come to love her rolling hills, rivers, and varied landscapes. But one landscape that I have yet to encounter in my Nebraska life, is this: thick, dense jungle like I saw a couple weeks ago while in Georgia. While walking a trail on an island off the coast of Georgia, my friends and I commented on how solid the foliage was right up to the trail and we imagined what that must have been like for the British settlers in that area. Today, all those historic islands are filled with paved roads and bridges. There are seafood restaurants and movie theaters. But then? I know it wasn’t all that thick everywhere but it took time, it took work, it took effort and energy to chop back the forest, to make even the simplest path let alone clear out an area for a fort, village, to make a home and a life. It took intention and care to prepare a way then and it takes intention, time, work, and care for us to prepare a way today.
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
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.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Those words from the prophet Isaiah are perhaps most familiar in the upcoming seasons of Advent and Christmas, where this scripture makes its home in John the Baptist. John the Baptist, the one preparing the way for Christ. Baptizing and calling people to repentance were how he straightened highways in the desert, raised valleys and lowered mountains, leveled uneven ground, and prepared a smooth way for Christ’s love, presence, and teaching to take root. In fact, for the Gospel of Mark, the good news of Jesus Christ begins with John the Baptist. In Mark there is no long genealogy connecting Christ back to David like in Matthew. There is no Mary singing a hymn of praise like in Luke. The good news begins with John the Baptist preparing the way for Christ’s adulthood ministry here on earth. The good news began with John preparing the way and it begins again every day with us. Here and now, we are the ones called to prepare the way. We help prepare the way for God’s grace, forgiveness, presence, comfort, hope, peace, strength, joy, and love. God’s going to work and move in this world no matter what but God calls us, God invites us, wants us, to help make God’s movement in this word easier, smoother. And, we do that in big ways and small ways all the time.
Praying for someone or for a situation. Even simply praying the Lord’s Prayer can redirect our heart and mind, open us up recognizing, feeling, God’s love and grace.
We prepare the way with our presence. Bringing our full, authentic, selves to our families, our friends, our church. You never know when a kind word or just sitting next to someone and being with them can make a difference. Our financial gifts help raise valleys and lower mountains. We prepare the way for God’s love with our unique talents and passions, serving others, helping in church in town in one of the many ways our world needs healing and care. Ground becomes level and plain for God’s movement when we share our stories, the stories of how we have felt God’s love and hope, the stories of God’s movement in our lives. And I know one thing for sure, you, Hanscom Park has been a part of preparing the way for God’s movement for over 130 years.
Back in 1886, this church started in a home with 22 people back when there were no church organizations or church buildings west of 21st street or south of Leavenworth. In 1922 our church made the first religious on air broadcast ever in Omaha with our choir and the pastor at the time. This chest, our Joash chest named after a King of Judah, has received your faithful and generous offerings since 1934, offerings which helped build, remodel, and add extensions onto our church and the multiple locations it has existed in over the years. In 1986, several of y’all literally prepared the way for the parade that helped celebrate our hundredth year of ministry. In children’s ministry, candlelight Christmas Eve, and youth programs. Through pastors reaching out during your roughest moments and friends in the pews celebrating with you in your most joyful moments. In being a church that openly welcome’s all people, you have felt loved, accepted, and celebrated and offered those things to this town. Through providing food and honoring the unique cultures of over 1,000 individuals. In all those ways and so many more Hanscom Park, you, have prepared a way for God’s love, grace, justice, and transformation.
Today is the culminating Sunday of our God is on the Move! Campaign, timed intentionally with last Sunday of our Christian year. Before Advent starts and a new church year begins, we reflect on the past and set our intentions for the future. God has been on the move in you, in our church, and in our town and we ask that you consider how you can be a part of that movement in 2023 and commit to a couple of different opportunities. That will look differently for each of you and the pledge cards still available in the narthex have a range of ways you can commit your prayers, presence, financial gifts, service, and witness in the coming year. God has done great things with and through this church and this church, the ministries that mean so much to you and the new ministries that maybe you are dreaming of right now, none of it happens with out you.
Back in 1986, the district superintendent at the time, and former Hanscom Park pastor Donald Bredthauer, wrote these closing words in a letter to Hanscom Park in honor of our centennial: “But God isn’t done with you yet! So, as you celebrate the past, claim the future as a gift from God and as an opportunity to plant more seeds so that those who come after you can also celebrate as you are doing know.”
Together, claim God’s movement, claim your role in that movement, and help prepare the way for the Lord and a vibrant 2023 at Hanscom Park.