One of the many reasons I'm glad to be an Episcopalian is that we take Advent seriously. Sure, there's lots to do these days and many plans to make and buying and selling...and we will decorate our trees this weekend rather than waiting until Christmas Eve, but I love Advent--the counter-cultureness of it, the silence and the darkness, the waiting and the anticipation.
And Advent, for us Episcopalians, isn't a 'little Lent'. It isn't about penitence in any way. It is a sweet season in the darkest time of the year when snow brings an eerie silence over the land.
The horrendous weather cancelled all the three Cluster services last Sunday. We missed Advent III and I mean 'really missed it'. There's an incompleteness not to have 'Rose Sunday'. I wrote a sermon I'll never preach for the Sunday that wasn't...and it made sense, roads don't get plowed as early on Sunday as they would be on a Tuesday and since these or rural churches many people live down gravel roads that have to wait to be cleared. But I missed it.
And I missed preaching this sermon. I already sent it to the Cluster email list, but I'll share it with you as well.
Advent iii, 2013
John Baptist was out of control.
He lived in the desert for years—eating only what he found in the wilderness. He did not participate in society—instead he railed out dire warnings to the sand and the rocks. He wore strange clothing he had fashioned from animal skins and never cut his hair. Little wonder then that when he appeared from the wilderness, proclaiming that the Kingdom was near, people were both frightened of him and yet almost irresistibly drawn to his strangeness.
And one thing John never forgot—he was a ‘prophet’ of the One Who Was To Come. His whole life and everything he did pointed, not to himself, but to another. He was to make the Way straight—to clear the ground for the Coming One of God. He was not ‘the One’—he was the forerunner, the harbinger, the messenger of One greater than him.
Little wonder then, when John found himself in prison, soon to lose his head for daring to condemn the royal family, that he suddenly wondered if his life-work had been in vain. Had he made the rough ground smooth or had he wasted his time and energy…had he failed to fulfill his only mission in life?
John sent disciples to Jesus. “Are you the One?” they asked him.
“Are you the One, or are we to wait for another?”
In all the gospels, Jesus almost never gives a direct response to a question. He either asks a question in return or tells a story or gives what seems like a non sequitor in reply.
His response to John’s disciples is no different. Instead of answering their question—instead of claiming to be The One all Israel was awaiting—he tells them to go back and tell John what they see and hear.
“…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them…..” Jesus tells the disciples of John that what he “does” should answer the question of who he “is”.
Jesus’ words echoed the description of the “holy one” from the prophecy of Isaiah. His identity is found, not in who he ‘says’ he is, but in the works he does.
When John heard the message he must have realized that he had fulfilled his mission. John must have known that Jesus was “the one”.
It is really no different for any of us. The proof is in the pudding. By the fruits we will know who someone truly IS.
The Kingdom is near—the Kingdom is always near, always ‘at hand’, always just out of the sight of our periphery vision. Close, but ‘not yet’.
So the question is not, ‘who do we say that we are?” The question that matters is how do we live into the coming Kingdom? How do we lean into the reign of God? How are we part of the in-breaking of Light into the Darkness?
We are the children of the Kingdom that was and is and is to come. We are God-bearers, Light bringers, the vehicles of healing in this tragic and suffering world.
It is not who we ‘say’ we are that draws the Kingdom nearer. The Kingdom is unveiled in our midst by what we ‘do’.
Advent is not simply a time of ‘waiting’ for the Coming One. It is a time to ‘prepare’ to welcome the Kingdom just at hand.
Make straight the road of Kindness.
Smooth out the way of Compassion and Generosity.
Tear down the mountains on Indifference and Judgment and build highways of Love and Inclusion and Acceptance.
Through the Wilderness make a path for Forgiveness and Mercy to walk on.
We too must ‘prepare’ the way of the Lord.
We are the ones for whom the Kingdom waits.
We are the ones God is expecting to welcome the Child.
(Wisdom from the Hopi Elders)
There is a River flowing now, very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know this: the River has its destination. The Elders say we must let go of the shore, push out into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open and our heads above the water.
At this time of history, we are to take nothing 'personally'. Least of all, outselves. The moment that we do that, our spritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word 'struggle' from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we've been waiting for! Amen and amen.