3Advent Year B: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Ps 126; I Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
December 14, 2014
There is a voice crying out in the wilderness. We hear it everyday and because we hear it everyday we have begun to ignore it”it has become part of the cacophonous landscape of sound that is too heavily invested in modern consumer society than in hearing our need to prepare the way for God. I know that voice exists because so many work so hard to suppress it or at least twist its words and make us think it is saying something different. Every time we are told to think of our own needs, to realize our own desires, to place ourselves above the roar of life, we are falling prey to that which would destroy the voice, that which would try to distract us from any preparation for the coming Christ”be it his first coming or his second.
John is baptizing at the river Jordan when Temple officials approach him and begin to grill him on who he is and what he is doing. They want John to get focused on himself, describe himself so that they might pigeon hole him into fitting a particular category and in that way they might understand him”because to understand someone is to be able to control them.
Control for us is about domination and the anthropology of domination, our human need to dominate, is what original sin is all about”controlling that which is around you. But John refuses to be pigeon holed. He refuses to tell them who he is, instead he tells them who he is not”he is not the Messiah, he is not Elijah, he is not the prophet. But they must have an answer and so they press him further, Who are you?
I am a voice.
I think about all the voices in the world. So many. So loud. Voices saturate the airwaves around us. There are so many voices that we have stopped listening to them. Voices on the television telling us which products to buy or how we really need something to look younger, slimmer, happier¦Voices on the news telling us the faults of the world¦Voices in the streets judging and condemning”protesting cops or grand juries or torture, or defending cops or grand juries or torture. So many voices with so many messages, all desiring to gain some sort of control on the world they are engaged in”John seems like just another voice.
But John’s voice preaches a different message, a message of humility not self-righteousness, a message of preparation not completion, a message of letting go not taking control, a message about God not the world.
In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul tells us to test everything”this is one way to test”is the message about God or the world? Believe you me, first century Palestine was as sinful and violent a world as the one we live in today and John is not on a soapbox pointing fingers at any one other than himself.
And that is what he is calling us to do”to prepare the way for the Lord is not to solve the world’s problems, it is not about looking around and pointing fingers”those are methods of control. To prepare the way of the Lord is to name and claim the world’s problems recognizing your own participation in those problems and convicting yourself in the sufferings of individual and corporate sin.
When we allow ourselves to be drawn into the divisiveness of issues and ideologies that humans spout forth, we fall prey to distraction, we lose our focus, we allow ourselves to get bogged down in the muck of this world instead of reaching to the heavens above for the world to come. We are drawn into the divisiveness because of our own anxieties, or own fears.
When are own anxiety is provoked, instead of sitting down and listening, we grow louder as if our brazenness can somehow make a situation go away and return our lives to status quo. We become a cacophony of voices, each finding their own soapbox to preach from on their own corner of the street”each with our own belief of what is right and what is wrong and how our way can solve the world’s problems.
We allow our divisiveness to do just that”draw us apart”so that we spend more time pointing at one another and crying foul than pointing at God and asking now what? If we did, we would hear John’s answer to us today”prepare the way of the Lord, repent and be baptized.
Because that is the answer, falling to our knees and begging forgiveness, recognizing that we are not worthy, that we are not the light. In a few minutes we will baptize Britton Davis Schremser and in so doing we will reaffirm our own Baptismal Covenant. The second question of that covenant asks us, Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Falling, repenting and returning”that is who we are”we are fallen people”notice the question does not ask us, If you fall into sin, but whenever you fall into sin”
God knows that we will fall, we will come up short over and over again in our sinful nature and because of that sinful nature because we will fall over and over again, to repent and return to the Lord becomes the way and that is how we prepare the way of the Lord. It is a continuous process, one we will be engaged in until our own death or Christ’s second coming whichever happens first.
As we enter into this third week of Advent, how are you preparing for Christ’s coming? Is it simply gifts, decorations, and gatherings? Or a detached concern for the world and the many problems and difficulties it faces? Or an entrenched concern regarding your own personal priorities? None of these prepare the world for Christ”that preparation happens through our own examination, our recognition of where we have fallen short because then we can begin to understand why we need God. Prepare the way of the Lord”give God a reason to burn within you, to return for your salvation, for the world’s salvation.
I wonder how disappointed the priests and Levites from Jerusalem were after they finished talking to John. He doesn’t give them any of the answers they are looking for. They are of the mentality, The Messiah is coming, look busy but John is of the mentality, The Messiah is coming, be repentant.
It’s easy to look busy. It’s hard to see the world in all of its brokenness and understand our own role in that brokenness, much less repent.
To understand our own role means we can no longer point the finger or buy into the distraction of all the voices who are telling us someone else is at fault. To understand our own role means that we must understand how we participate in the anthropology of domination”the way we set about trying to control the people and events around us. We must declare our own fault in all the small and big ways that we allow sin to exist in this world, not simply in ourselves but in the systems and institutions that corporate sin thrives upon.
This is really what Advent is about. That is why the color of penance, the color purple hangs upon our altar. We’ve gotten distracted by the colors red and green, the focus of the world. But the focus of the church is less about putting lights on a tree and more about testifying to the light of the world.
Witness and voice”that is what John the Baptist was and that is what John the Baptist reminds us to do as we prepare for the coming Messiah.