2nd Sunday of Advent, year C, 2015 (preached 12/6/15)
first reading: Malachi 3:1-4
Psalmody – Luke 1:68-79
second reading: Philippians 1:3-11
gospel reading: Luke 3:1-6
Today is John the Baptist’s day. Every reading except Philippians points us right to him.
As Christians we immediately think of John when we read from Malachi about the messenger who will come to prepare the way. Our normal psalm from the book of psalms is replaced today by Zechariah’s song – a song he sang about his newborn son John. And of course, the gospel reading is ALL about John, placing him in a particular time and place of human history. It’s practically a history lesson.
Of course it’s appropriate for us to spend a bit of time with John in Advent. He preached about the one who was coming, and we wait for the celebration of that coming on Christmas Day.
Except today we don’t hear John preach his message. We hear about the message, but not the message itself – we mostly read a description of John. And it’s not even the graphic description of his looks we’re so familiar with – this is a description that Luke pulled out of Isaiah chapter 40.
After reading these passages I’m left wanting more – more MEAT, if you will. Preach to us. Give us something to do. Rebuke us, forgive us – anything!
But these readings won’t do that for us, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s the point to leave us hanging a little. To leave us thinking, “Now what?”
Faith often does that. We experience it all the time in life – wondering or worrying about what comes next.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been doing probably more wondering and worrying than usual lately. Our world and our country has seen more than its usual dose of violence in the last month. It’s left me with anxiety about the future, wondering what kind of world we are leaving for our children and our children’s children.
And unlike some people who might point the finger “out there” and blame others for the course of events, I tend to look at myself and ask, “How have I contributed to this mess, either by my action or inaction?”
I certainly don’t have the power or voice to speak to or act towards a global audience, say, like the Presiding Bishop or the Pope, or the President – but I DO have the power and voice to speak and act LOCALLY – to do and say what I can, that will either speak the love Christ – or “something else” – to those around me.
So I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on myself. This fits in perfectly with the preaching of John the Baptist, and with the season of Advent.
John the Baptist calls us to repent. To look at our lives, to face clearly where we have fallen short – that we are always falling short.
John the Baptist says – stop pointing your finger out, and start pointing it IN. Ouch. That hurts.
But no one promised that a life of faith would be easy. Even Luke’s referencing of Isaiah to speak of John isn’t easy. Luke’s and Isaiah’s words describe John’s ministry AND OUR LIVES as constantly being remolded, remodeled, reshaped and changed.
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.”
This is a rich picture placed before us. It’s some serious roadwork. Hard physical labor – and dirty – when you look at it from a purely literal point of view.
But of course, Luke and Isaiah aren’t literally talking about highways and byways; the paths and valleys and mountains and crooked and rough ways are metaphors for our LIVES, as individuals and as a community.
OUR paths need to be made straight. OUR holes need to be filled in, and our mountains need to be made low. What is crooked in US needs to be straightened out, and OUR rough spots need to be made smooth.
The truth is that none of us are perfect, and there are parts of ourselves that need work. And even when we get one part of it “made smooth,” there’s still more to do. And sometimes in making one part straight, other parts get crooked, so we’ve got to work on them then!
Right about now, when I’m doing all this self-reflection and realizing just how “not perfect” I am, I get the urge to say, “Bring on the baby already! Why all this John the Baptist uncomfortable self-reflection stuff? Let’s just skip to Christmas!”
But reflecting is a part of the Advent season. Waiting is certainly a theme, and is probably more popular because it’s easier – but so are reflection and repentance.
If you think about it, what better way can there be to prepare ourselves to receive the Christ child than to confront how very much we NEED him.
Jesus came to be with us – Emmanuel – not as a statement of cuteness or cordiality, but because we need a SAVIOR. Jesus came to be with us because we have crooked part of our souls that WE can NEVER make straight – rough ways WE can NEVER smooth out. We cannot do it.
As much as we can do little things, as much as we can do some work on the roads of our souls, they’ll never be pothole free. We need a savior.
We need God to come to us and save us from ourselves.
We NEED that baby, because that baby will go to the cross to make sure we see the “salvation of God.”
John the Baptist preached repentance because we need it, as uncomfortable as it is for us to admit that.
In order to come CLOSE to appreciating who Christ is, and the gift of Christmas, we need to stop making excuses – and confront in ourselves how much we need him.
If we do only that this Advent, then we have done it well.