Sermon for December 5th, 2021
It is a cook’s nightmare and sooner or later it happens to all of us: you are in the middle of a recipe; you are cooking up something fabulous; you go to your pantry for that one essential ingredient that you know you have, only it’s not there! That thing you have to have to make this recipe is gone! Failure. Now, I have to get dressed and drive to the store, and hope that they have it, so that I can finish this.
There is a French cooking technique called mis en place that is meant to help you avoid this embarrassing situation. It means “put in place,” and basically all it is, is that you assemble and measure all your ingredients BEFORE you start cooking. It is an essential part of preparation and good chefs know how to do this. I know how to do this, I do it all the time, but every now and then I get a little sure of myself, I get confident that I have what it takes, only to start something and discover halfway into it that I don’t have what it takes and am missing something essential.
It happened to me just this summer. I was making jerk chicken, only to discover (with raw chicken sitting on my countertop) that I didn’t have any allspice. This isn’t one of those situations when you can just substitute something else. You can’t make Jerk chicken without allspice, that’s the flavor! So of course, I had to put everything away, and go off in search of allspice.
I discovered, a little too late, that I didn’t have what it takes. Consider this your holiday warning, my fellow cooks and chefs, examine your pantries closely. You may think you have what it takes, and you might be wrong. You might be missing something essential. You might think you are prepared, but are you really?
Today is the Second Sunday of Advent, and although the entire season of Advent is about preparation, on the Second Sunday we hear the word “prepare” over and over again as the Prophet John the Baptist walks onto the scene:
“You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
For you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.”
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make his paths straight.”
Along with the word ‘prepare’ we hear some other words today: repentance, forgiveness, sins. Before the Lord comes the people must be prepared and that preparation, according to the story of our faith, is a repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That is the message that John the Baptist must proclaim: repent! Poor John. His life’s mission is selling something that nobody wants to buy: the idea of repentance. The notion of sin. Not other people’s sin, that is easy to believe in; no, our own sin, my own sin, your own sin. That is a much harder sell.
A couple years ago, when talking to our children in the parish, I explained to them that sin can be like carrying around this extra burden that you don’t want. I got a backpack and I loaded it with bricks and they got to put it on and feel how heavy it was. And then we took the bricks out and they could feel, literally feel, how it felt to be unburdened; to not be carrying around all that extra weight. I explained to them that we confess our sins in order to let go of all that stuff that we have been picking up along the way. We confess to make our souls lighter. I still stand by that example. I still believe that sin burdens us, and weighs us down and that confession can help us release that, but I also think now that that is only one side of the story.
Because repentance isn’t just about realizing that you are carrying around something you don’t want; it is also about the realization that you don’t have something that you really need.
Sin isn’t just about something you have; it is about something that you are missing. An essential ingredient. That is the other side of the story. Sin is realizing that there is something in you that is missing.
Righteousness; Goodness. We all like to imagine that we have it. We all like to think that we have it in abundant supply, just sitting in our pantries waiting to be used. But what if it’s not actually there? If righteousness or goodness are the essential ingredient to a life lived with the Lord, what if the Lord comes and you discover that you don’t actually have it. You thought that you had it, but what is sitting on the shelf is just an empty bottle or a cheap imitation. Will there be time to run out and get it? What if nobody else has it either? What if you can’t buy it anywhere?
Sin isn’t just about having something you don’t want; it is about lacking something that you need. Now in our self-help, independent society, where everyone is always told that they are good enough and smart enough, and where everyone always gets a trophy, and nobody ever has to change, it is counter-cultural and maybe even downright offensive to tell people that they don’t have what it takes. Nobody wants to hear that they don’t have what it takes. We all like to imagine that we are doing just fine. But what if that’s not actually true? What if we really are missing something that is essential. What if you are not as good as you think you are?
It seems to me that “you don’t have what it takes” actually is an important and key part of the church’s proclamation and message, not just this time of year, throughout the year, but especially this time of year. Especially when we are preparing to meet Jesus. Because if you don’t understand that “you don’t have what it takes,” then you will never fully appreciate the fact that he does. If you can’t accept that something in your life is missing, then how will you ever know what Jesus has to offer you?
If you desire to live a life with God, then righteousness or goodness is going to be an essential part of the recipe, the essential ingredient, only it can’t be bought and you can’t borrow it from your neighbors. The good news is that it is being given away for free, as a gift, only in order to receive it, you have to know that you need it. So be prepared before the great feast approaches.
You may think you have what it takes, and you might be wrong.