a Sermon for Advent 2C
Text: Luke 3:1-6
If GOD wants to change the physical world…
The evangelist we call Luke compares John the Baptizer to what was written in the scroll of Isaiah, saying that his “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” is like “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” John, like other Biblical prophets before him, was announcing a change in today and the promise of a better tomorrow.
That promise is for the low parts to be raised up and the mountain peaks brought down. The crooked paths to be straightened and the rough ways smooth. For many of us, these are welcome words. If you’ve ever driven through the mountains, you know how treacherous they are. A flattened path would connect the people on both sides of the range.
A good portion of the north end of Arizona is separated from Utah by the Grand Canyon. Connecting the people would be much easier if the canyon were no longer there. People could see one another work, play, and live as neighbors.
But if the Grand Canyon or the Rockies were to go away, where then is our natural beauty? Without these dramatic examples of the extremes of the created world, how might we witness the very awesomeness of creation?
If GOD is promising such a transformation of the world as this, what place does the St. Clair river and the Great Lakes have? Or the turning leaves, the draping snow, and the budding flowers of our environment? Is the promise of tomorrow a dull and lifeless flat earth: as the Rev. Russell Rathbun calls the coming of a Prozac Jesus? What of the uniqueness of creation?
…then maybe there’s something different in mind….
Perhaps this idea isn’t about the literal world. Maybe the mountains and valleys are people and the mighty are brought low and the weak are raised up. The crooked people are made straight and the rough are smoothed out. Perhaps GOD isn’t about changing the physical world, just the personal one. Not the external, but the internal.
Perhaps John’s proclamation of “repentance for the forgivness of sins” is to deal with our minds and hearts, so blackened by a callous and selfish world. Perhaps the baptism he offers brings not a physical rebirth to our personal lives, but a spiritual rebirth to our internal lives, ignorant to the shallowness of the Latinized world. Perhaps that is the antidote we need now in this Advent season more than any other.
What then of our personal mountains and valleys—those quirks of personality that are so purely “us”? Is this not the elimination of those same beauties as in the physical world?
So we turn instead to a different equation. Perhaps it isn’t an external or internal problem, but a metaphorical one: an expression of GOD’s displeasure toward inequality. That the mountains and valleys are the rich and the poor. That we are awaiting a leveling and even a civilizing: between our economics and social pasts. But that doesn’t sit well either.
Transforming is saving
Like our vision the last few weeks, John, Isaiah, and Luke are all bearing witness to an apocalyptic vision that must unsettle us and confuse us. But one we dare not ignore.
The message plays on our human insecurities. It plays on that sense of division between our external selves and our internal selves. Our unease with change and with stasis. Our fear of a hoped-for future and dissatisfaction with a realized present. In each case, we are pushed toward these tensions that unnerve us, these senses that GOD is up to something and I sure hope (to GOD) it is good.
The traditional understanding of apocalyptic literature is that it is intended to be heard, with dissatisfaction with how things are, in mind. That much of it was written under oppressive circumstances. This quote from Isaiah come from the part of the book we refer to as 2nd Isaiah, written during the Babylonian Exile. Luke, like most of the Greek writers, is writing from under Roman occupation. This literature was born out of oppression and has been heard by those suffering oppression as not only a healing balm, but as a lifeline for the future. Whether that is today’s LGBT community or other minority groups in North America, the base communities of Latin America, the impoverished villages of Central Africa, or the war-ravaged peoples in the Middle East, the message that GOD is going to change things where we are at, even if it is only about changing hearts and minds, is a powerful message. Much more powerful than a message of support for a local sports team to defeat a neighboring sports team. Or whether or not our loved ones will give us the right presents this year.
Why we want to change
This message is more powerful still if we come to see those tensions as both true.
- That GOD will transform the world itself and the hearts and minds of people
- That we will be changed and we will know stability
- That our unsatisfactory present will yield a better future
I know that many in this room break out in hives when they hear the word change. Like the Black Death visiting upon us from without and with such confusion and fear at what creates it. But it is GOD’s promise to us that through repentance, we will be forgiven. Through baptism, we will be redeemed. Through commitment, we will come to know GOD. Through eating from this table, we will be empowered. Through receiving the very love of GOD, we will know what love is. And through all of these things, we will become something entirely better than we are: a new creation. And if we do all these things together, we become a new creation. And if all people do these things, the whole world would be made new.
This is good! And this isn’t changing some altar hangings or using a slightly different prayer. This is total transformation of the world. And this is GOD’s promise to us. A promise begun in creation, given new life in the incarnate Jesus, and made manifest in us.
This is what is promised us when we repent. When we turn away from selfishness and ego. When we turn ourselves to GOD and we confess that we don’t always make GOD number one. We get to be in on the greatest blessing GOD can give us: to become a new creation.