In his final run of the contest, Mike did the unimaginable. With enough speed under his wheels, he shot up into the heavens. And hung in the air as if gravity no longer existed. Grabbing his board under his feet, he flipped his body upside down. As he was turning, Mike added a 540-degree rotation before landing on his wheels with effortless perfection.
With that one move, Mike easily won the contest. Today, he is considered a pioneer in modern skateboarding. His signature trick, the McTwist, changed the world of skateboarding - moving us into what we now know as extreme sports.
That’s what pioneers do. They change the world. And move us forward into those spaces we have only dreamed about. The world needs pioneers because they push our boundaries outward, which transforms the world as they move.
The Bible is filled with stories of people who we could call pioneers. For example, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” Today’s reading from Luke, tells us this about him.
John the Baptist was a pioneer who broke the mold. Part rebel, part unpredictable wild man, John defied the status quo. He shattered the barriers of religion and ritual, paving the way for the coming of the Christ. With wild eyes and tangled hair, John the Baptist is, as the late Rachel Held Evens described as “The guy you’d avoid bumping into in the Walmart parking lot.”
The son of a temple priest, John was a good Jewish boy who followed his father’s footsteps. But eventually he would abandon the temple for the wilderness; living only on what God provided, wild honey and locusts. He also gave up the ceremonial purification pools in exchange for the wild, flowing waters of the Jordan.
According to the bible, it was in those waters, John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He moved us forward by reorienting our hearts back to God. More than a voice crying out in the wilderness, John the Baptist was a pioneer, ushering in the advent of a new relationship between God and humanity.
Like a skater launching into the air, John knew the walls and rituals of the Temple could no longer contain God’s movement. He knew everything was about to change. God was on the move. And is coming to us with such an intense and relentless love that nothing, no mountain, or ritual, requirement, or law, could obstruct the way. No matter when or where we are, “Everyone will see the salvation of the Lord.”
As we wait, we light the second Advent candle, the love candle, which reminds us that God’s love is not only coming to us, but that it is always with us, and all arounds us.
I know I talk about God’s love a lot. But I do so because we need to hear it repeatedly.
We need to be reminded every day that God loves us no matter what. I always say this because some of us have never heard that before. And many of us still believe we are not worthy enough or good enough for God to love. Some of us have been hurt by love in the past and don’t trust it enough to open their hearts to God.
So let me paraphrase another guy named John, who reminds us that God loves you and me and the whole world so much that God was willing to become one of us, to live among us, and to even shed blood and die for us. The only reason we’re given for this action is so the world, and everything in it, would know God’s salvation.
This candle reminds us that Christmas is like Easter in that it is the same groundbreaking and earth-shattering action of God who is constantly moving to redeem and restore us.
Just the same, Advent and Lent are similar in that they are both times of waiting and purification, a time of renewal and preparation to receive God’s love. Repent, return to God’s heart where you belong. No matter who you are or where you are, because of what God has done through Christ Jesus, “Everyone will see the salvation of the Lord.”
We need to hear this every day. And we need to believe it if we are going to be it, live it, and share it in every way. As followers of Christ, this is what we are called to do - to be the visible presence of God’s love.
But before we can do that, before we can truly share God’s love with others, we must first explore those places within ourselves to see if there are mountains, crooked paths, or other obstacles in the way of accepting God’s great gift. I know how hard this can be.
Introspection of one’s heart is dangerous work. There might be things we don’t want to face, things we’ve buried deep within for one reason or another. Or you might find something that you’ve been holding onto or relying on, instead of holding onto or relying on God.
The word repent also comes with its own set of baggage, it can bring up old pains and cause us to feel ashamed. I used to runaway from it because it was always used on me in a negative way. But as Henri Nouwen wrote, “the more I come in touch with my past, the more I come in touch with what is to come.”
I think John calls us to repent…not to shame us or make us feel bad about what we’ve done. But to show us what God is doing. John is calling us to take inventory of our wrongdoings and let go of our sinful ways so that we can be prepared to move with God and do things God’s way. And that way is love. A love, that through Christ, has broken into the world and pierced our hardened hearts.
Through the incarnate Christ, God’s love welcomes us, and cares for us. It saves us and sets us free. And the Spirit of this love empowers us and moves us forward into the great unknown to those spaces between where love is so desperately needed.
When we love like Jesus loved, we are able to love the way God first loved us. Fearlessly. Relentlessly. And boldly.
As the Advent candles flicker, we are reminded that God is with us, always moving, always present. We have hope and love because God is not someone who was or will be. But God is the One who is, and who will always be here with us, always loving us whether we know it or not.
Now here’s one last thing that bears repeating. While Advent is a time of waiting it’s not a time to be sitting idly by. God has given us unconditional love so we can go out into that sacred space of life, and give our love way, unconditionally. As you move with God in the space between today and tomorrow, may you go with the confidence of knowing God’s love is in you.
This is how we become more trusting, more loving, more faithful to one another. This is how we can forgive without shame, because we have been forgiven too. This is how we can care for the needs of others without needing anything in return because God gives us all that we need. This is how we can do what seems like the impossible or foolish to the world because, like Mother Theresa once said, “It is not I loving them, but God through me.”
When God moves and loves through us, nothing can stop us from soaring to new heights or blazing new trails. Through Christ, we have already been given all that we need to live godly lives; to be pioneers who change the way others act and react in the world.
Advent is not just a time to wait for Christ to come again, it’s a time to actively participate in the reason he came in the first place. So “Everyone will see the salvation of the Lord.”
As we move in this space of time between today and tomorrow, what will people see from us? Will we be the presence of God’s love to the voices crying out in the wilderness? Will we be a people who live with a faith that can move mountains and straighten crooked paths?
Will we be the ones who prepare the way for Christ to come again through us in the same manner he has prepare a way for us to come back to where we belong? Into the loving arms of God’s faithful heart.
The only way we will find out, is to try it out by moving together in that space between in love as love.
This has elements from a previous message posted around this time in 2015.
Anderson, T. Denise. "Living by the Word." Christian Century 132, no. 24 (Nov 2015).
Charles, Gary. Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion. Edited by David Barlett and Kimberly Bracken Long Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.
Evens, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. (Nashville: Nelson, 2015).
Nouwen, Henri J.M. You Are The Beloved. (San Francisco: Convergent, 2017).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”