Sermon: Isaiah 40:3-5 (story taken from Tipping Point)

3A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every 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. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

A study at Princeton Theological Seminary asked seminarians to prepare a short, extemporaneous talk on a given biblical theme, and then walk over to a nearby building to present it. The students’ anxiety was palpable. Many of the students feverishly prepared images and stories on the parable they were assigned, while others frantically attempted to recall all the information they could from their New Testament classes and made lists of relevant information. Some were so nervous and stressed they found a place of quite and took deep breaths, while others coped with the stress by hanging out with friends cracking jokes. Some of the students prepared a lengthy talk, while others thought a community conversation would be the best approach. Others were concerned that their approach to the task was inferior to the approach of their classmates, and some became so stressed by the idea of talking off the cuff; they rejected the assignment and went home. Along the way to the presentation, each student ran into a man slumped in an alley, head down, eyes closed, coughing and groaning. The question was, “who would stop and help?”

Every year during December I am so busy preparing for what is to come. I line out my schedule, RSVP to parties my family is invited to, run from store to store during my lunch break to buy gifts for my family so they do not suspect what I am buying. This December there is a lot of talk about consumer confidence and the effects of the credit crisis in the economy. The demon of consumerism had taken over so much so that a man was tramped to death at a Wal-Mart when he could not get out of the way of a stamped of people in time. I am stressed to get projects, assignments and obligations completed so that I can take time off from work and not feel too overwhelmed once I return. The conversations dealing with where our family will spend Christmas this year are only complicated even more now that Estee and I have a son who happens to be the first grandchild on both sides of our families. December is a month of being rushed.

The researchers in the Princeton Theological Seminary study included three variables: (1) the background of the subject - whether they had entered seminary as a way of helping people or not, (2) which parable they were to prepare - several were given the Good Samaritan parable as their subject, and (3) a time context, saying either that they were running several minutes late and should hurry up, or that they were early and had some time to spare. The results were interesting. The first two variables had no effect. Whether somebody had devoted their life in service to their fellow man, or even whether they had just been reminded of the value of altruism by preparing a speech on the Good Samaritan, had no effect on whether they stopped and helped. "The only thing that really mattered was whether the student was in a rush. Of the group that was rushed, 10% stopped to help. Of the group who knew they had a few minutes to spare, 63% stopped." In other words, all of one's attitudes and feelings are over-ridden by subtle clues in the environment, they were rushed and in a hurry.

If December is a month of being rushed from one event to the next; if December is a month of constantly being in a hurry in order to get the best deal on a gift, will I also be overcome and rush past strangers coughing and groaning in an alley? Or will I overcome being rushed and prepare the way of the Lord so the glory of the Lord shall be revealed so all people shall see it together?