St. John's, Centreville
December 9, 2018
2 Advent C
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We are now in the Second Sunday of Advent and we know that we are in Advent because we have just heard about John the Baptist. There is no way to get around John the Baptist. He is here every Advent. John prepares the way for Jesus to come. John talks about preparation and repentance and forgiveness.
John the Baptist lives in the wilderness, not an easy place to get to. He has removed himself from Jerusalem and the temple with all its religious trappings and particular laws of who can come in and who cannot. People have to travel a long way to hear this strange man dressed in camel hair and eating locusts and wild honey. Obviously, he is saying things that people want to hear, that they need to hear. So they come in search of him.
The gospel of Luke tells of the ministry of John the Baptist within the historical context by identifying the political and religious leaders of the time. He is careful to place these events on the stage of world history. But why do we care who the ruler of Abilene was? Because by giving us these kinds of details that we can trace to their historical roots, we know that this is not just some myth, set in an unknown time in an unknown location.
Maybe if we put Luke's introduction into a more contemporary setting, it would make more sense to us. How about something like this. "In the second year of the reign of Donald Trump, Ralph Northum being governor of Virginia and Tim Kaine being senator, after having been defeated in his run for Vice President, and Pope Francis sitting on the throne at the Vatican, and Michael Curry being the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Word of God appeared to a dishwasher in a tenement in inner-city Chicago." Or something like that. You get the idea.
But why would the Word of God not come to one of the military or political rulers of the day? Why did it come to this strange man who lives in the wilderness? The Word of God overlooked ruling powers, both secular and religious and went to someone who was hardly considered acceptable.
And that's the whole point. John the Baptist is ushering a new age, an age where the last will be first and the first last., where people are taught to love their neighbor, where the kind of person you are is not judged by how much money you have. A new age is dawning. Things are not going to be the same.
John the Baptist came to prepare us for the coming of Jesus Christ. He calls us out of our complacency. He shakes us up. He wants us to take a good look at our lives and see what needs to be changed before the coming of God.
Before we can celebrate the joy of Christmas, sing the wonderful Christmas carols, enjoy the decorations and the parties, before we receive the gift of God's son, we have to prepare ourselves through a time of self-examination and penitence. We need to set aside time to examine our spiritual lives, to look honestly at all the ways our lives are out of balance, to look at all the ways we are involved in self-destructive behaviors, and to try to clean out the spiritual trash, to try to bring about some peace and harmony within ourselves and in our world. And that is not an easy task. It takes time and patience and prayer. It takes honesty to look within ourselves and see, really see, what needs to be changed. Perhaps we are holding a grudge against someone, perhaps we have committed a particular sin, perhaps we have not treated others as we want to be treated. Perhaps we are not fully living into our baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being. It takes time and effort to look within ourselves and see what needs to be changed. And it takes even more time and effort to make those changes within us.
If you are like me, you have great resources of rationalization - a whole list of reasons why we did or did not do something we know deep down we should, or should not, have done. We rationalize with excuses like, "Well, he hit me first", or "I was just taking back what was rightfully mine", or "He is rich so he won't mind if I take something of his." It is often easy for us to justify our actions, even if they are wrong.
But then into our Advent season comes John the Baptist, telling it like it is, telling us to repent of our sins and get ourselves ready to receive God's greatest gift - the gift of his Son Jesus Christ. To repent is to turn our lives around, to transform the way we live, the way we treat other people, to say "no" to the ways of the world and "yes" to the ways of Christ.
Advent is an important opportunity to begin to open ourselves more and more to the love of God, through repentance and faith. We are called through John the Baptist and the movement of the Holy Spirit in this season of waiting and expectation to seek forgiveness and redemption.
Because we believe that Jesus came into this world as a child and that he will come again, we must continue to be ready to receive him, not just at Christmas, but at the time that he will come again. None of us knows when that will be. So we must continue to clean out our spiritual trash, look within ourselves and repent of our sins, turn and go in a new direction, always being ready to receive Christ when he comes again.
John the Baptist stirs up our awareness of our need for forgiveness, the need that we have to be set free from our sins, the need that we have to call on God's love and mercy and grace. John calls us to repent as we prepare for the coming of Christ. John wants us to be set free in order to fully hear and realize God's love for us. And we cannot be free if we are shackled by our sins.
Advent is the season in which we prepare our hearts and minds to receive the Christ child, to receive God's most precious gift to us, to receive God into our lives. Advent is a good time to do a spiritual housecleaning, to take a good look at our spiritual lives, to identify what imprisons us and allow God to set us free. Advent is a good time to repent and seek God's forgiveness so we are no longer burdened by our sins.
John the Baptist is shaking us out of our complacency. May we open our hearts to God's call, listen, repent and be ready. For the kingdom of God is here. Amen.