The preacher for this Sunday – 10th of December 2017 is Margaret Trim, academic records.
Today is the 2nd Sunday in Advent. Next to the candle of Hope, the candle of Peace now burns brightly. We recognize that our world still longs for Peace. We recognize that our own hearts, minds, and tongues are often not peace-bearers. And we know that peace can be such a fragile thing, a fleeting thing, and even a thing that having never known it before can be a fearful thing. So despite our best intentions we often fight against it rather than for it. And so we enter into this time of waiting for the Peace that passes all understanding.
And as we wait, a voice is heard. A voice that is an echo of the prophecy spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “See I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” And the voice we hear is being heard as if off-stage regarding the arrival that is about to transpire. We hear the voice, but who is the voice speaking to? The lead actor is being let in on the secret of what is happening on stage before its his turn to go on. And so he waits.
The curtain opens and the setting is in the wilderness. And John the Baptizer appears. Did you catch that? John the Baptizer – not called by his more familiar name John the Baptist. This is significant I think because it puts a greater focus on the role that he is to play in the divine story.
After these verses, John disappears fairly quickly from the story so we don’t learn too much about him but in Luke’s Gospel we learn he is the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah. In Matthew’s Gospel, as in Mark’s, we learn his clothes were made of camel’s hair, he had a leather belt around his waist. And his food was locusts and wild honey. Definitely not a man of the establishment.
The most important thing we learn, however, is he is the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness, “make straight the way for the Lord.”
When you think of the wilderness what image comes to mind? Isolation and loneliness, ravenous beasts, tree stumps that look like bears at dusk? Yep i know that wilderness too. But what if we remember another story that took place in the wilderness. A story where the wilderness meant expectation, new beginnings, freedom.
Well, let me give you a hint of that wilderness as told through a quote that I during the last’s week Advent waiting for Hope. Hope,” writes W. Paul Jones, “is the simple trust that God has not forgotten the recipe for manna.”
Does that remind you of a different story in the wilderness? A story of the journey, through the wilderness, to the promised land. This new story in the wilderness is actually a lot closer to that one. There is expectation so much so that we read that all of Judea has shown up. Probably not so quiet of a place anymore. People are coming to the wilderness to hear and to even be a follower of John the Baptist. In the Gospel John we learn that the people thought John the Baptist might be the prophet Elijah, or even the long awaited messiah but John says no, I am not the one you seek and in fact not even worthy to tie the laces on the shoes of the One whom you actually seek. This is even more of a stark contrast between the two for historically it was the servants role to remove the shoes of their master or guests. John places himself even below that to say that he is not even worthy enough to be a servant to the one who is coming. And yet paradoxically without John’s role as the baptizer even Jesus’ role could not begin. We read in the gospel account of Matthew that John is saying he should be baptized by Jesus not the one to baptize Jesus. But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” And so John the Baptizer exercised his ministry of baptism and repentance. Repentance is an act of turning back, of returning. And the Israelites understand this language very well. But this message isn’t for John’s sake or to encourage the people to become his disciples. But to help them to prepare the way. To help them make straight the path. Because what if the path isn’t straight? What if the path we have walked feels rather bumpy? Or what of the path that our lives have that taken that could make you feel dizzy just thinking about it. Or what if we have gotten so tangled up in our work or in the needs of those around us that its hard to see in front of us or even behind us. We might need more than just a straight path. We need a way, and more importantly, The Way.
And so we must remember that John is the one crying out, but he is not the one who answers the cry. When we read this passage we can read it knowing who the main character is that is waiting in the wings to come after John. In our waiting, we must also read it in the reality that Jesus has already come. We are both remembering Jesus’ coming and we are waiting for him to come again.
But we also must remember that this was not the case for the characters that were in this story – John the Baptist and the first hearers of his message. Jesus hadn’t come yet but He was on the way. We know it. But the original hearers of John’s message didn’t.
Can we imagine what that would have been like to live with only the promise and none of the proof? Hearts were aching for the Messiah to come. Expectations were high for what the Messiah might look like and what might be accomplished.
And the image was probably not of one coming in the way of vulnerability of a tiny baby, who continues to invite us to follow Him along the path of servanthood, of suffering, and of the way of the Cross. The message of repentence is, however, still one we need to hear and one we need to open our hearts to. We are still called to turn back. We are still called to return, to clean house as Fr James suggested last week. Not because we are afraid but because we are expectant. We are longing. We are wanting to be ready. Maybe at this exact moment that feels a little overwhelming or maybe the fog that we were covered with this past week seem apropos to what its been feeling like internally too. John baptized with water but the one who came and is to come again baptizes with the Holy Spirit. We long for the Spirit that not only brings hope but also promise .We long for the fire that burns through the fog, that warms chilly hearts and hands, and that illumines the way so that we can see again. We long for the way again who is both our direction and our Prince of Peace. We long for Jesus to return. We long for peace in a world that knows so much unrest. We long for peace in minds and bodies that know so much suffering. And we long for peace in our spirits so we can feel the fire again. And so we pray, Come Lord Jesus Come. Amen.