Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Dec. 5, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Dec 5, 2021 in Advent, Sermons

The Second Sunday of Advent

Dec. 5, 2021

From a catalogue of all of the centers of might and wealth with their rulers of import, authority, and fame, it is John, son of Zechariah to whom God’s word is spoken. Spoken not in the temple or great mountaintop, but in the wilderness. God’s word calls him to go out among people to tell them about the one who is to come. Our Advent creche finds us looking at the empty manger awaiting the infant Messiah, though John’s call to prepare the way for the adult Jesus about to begin his ministry is not so different from our preparation for the birth of Christ. 

At the time of Jesus’ birth, John was also a baby. His birth begins fulfillment of what the Archangel Gabriel told the aged Zechariah when foretelling Elizabeth’s late-in-life pregnancy; “He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.” And “He will go before him…to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” The adult John chooses familiar and beloved words of hope from the prophet Isaiah to convey God’s message, words echoed by Baruch, words which have survived two millennia, and are still the message we turn to year after year. Can any of us can quote the Emperor Tiberius, Philip of Ituraea, or Lysanias of Abilene? Would we even recognize their words? John, the son of an elderly priest who lives in the wilderness, came out spoke so those around him could hear and understand. His quoting Isaiah’s urging to “prepare the way” engages us even in this 21st century Adventide. It is our time to prepare our hearts and turn to God, to hear the wisdom that will guide us well.  

The landscape John speaks of is easy for us to relate to in our own time. We could use straighter paths through this pandemic, I’d like valleys and mountains less drastic in terms of economic extremes, and in our political climate I’d love to see the crooked made straight and for ‘all flesh’ to see anything together! Students and parents alike wish they saw their way through school as smooth safe trajectory instead of the rough dangers of gun violence, social media trolling, and personal attacks. It is hardly a list of preparations we can accomplish in the four weeks of Advent, though we can see the terrain so to speak. John didn’t do it all himself nor was he called to, even God’s prophet saying it doesn’t make it so. It is up to those who listen and turn and find faith to act in hope. To become those who hear and heed we must hold open the way of God into our lives—that is Advent, and that is possible. 

It is active and visible in our Advent liturgies, as with focused intention we make our way to each week’s Advent lamp in turn. We pause there for a call to gather and orient ourselves once again to God’s way, and to acknowledge we are God’s children. We light the wreath’s lamp, finding each connected by the reach of rich blue swaths, drawing us all into the circle of evergreens, a symbol of eternal life. Our worship is always about us ‘preparing the way of the Lord’ in fact. In it we listen to God in words and in silence, in bells, music and shared voices, in touch, taste and in a glance. God finds us ready recipients as we set aside this holy time, as we pray for others, when we greet both friends and strangers with peace and encouragement. In the breaking of bread and in the wine we are nourished to be the Body of Christ, and in the end of the rite, God’s blessing is received and we are sent to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Only that’s is not really the end, it is another beginning. We are mending and refilling our buckets, to update the image maybe it’s our hydro-flasks, knowing we are called upon to pour out the love we’ve received.

John comes “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” His exhorting people to a baptism of repentance is about a change in one from the inside, a choice marked by ritual of new direction. Forgiveness changes us further, a pardon lets one go, releases us from those wrongs we acknowledge and bring forth. Even this is not the end game though. John calls us out of that which binds us and once freed we are on that ‘way.’ We are part of straightening the crooked paths, smoothing rough roads so that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  How? In next week’s gospel reading John will get more specific when they ask him what how to do this (and Mother Ann will explain it!). Today we linger where we can see the bigger picture, where we are stirred to hope for the salvation of God, and imprinted with it.

Why did people listen to John’s crazy exhortations? I doubt it was social magnetism, they more likely stepped back from him at first, this wild looking man wearing camel’s hair and a leather belt, who has long lived apart and rough. I think his words rang true and deep in people who were desperate for a way they could trust, who were listening and ready to hear—and I hope we still are. Yet the message itself was not John’s, nor Isaiah’s or Baruch’s. They were messengers, but not the source, and it is the source whom they point to and call us to, for all they’re worth. The word of God came to the prophets, and they faithfully carried it to those who might hear, so to turn people back to God. Prophets show us the way when we get lost or divagate, or even have turned turned away entirely. They hold up what is important when we are too distracted, busy, worried or apathetic to notice we’re missing the mark entirely. It is as if they hold up both a mirror and a map.

Through prophets and messengers God calls us to action, to right relationship with each other and with Christ, and to all the ways we can serve him by loving and serving each other. Enjoy taking this time to pause, listen and reflect, as we ready ourselves for the Christ Child we await.  And maybe if we are quiet enough we will hear that wilderness voice calling to us, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.