The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Sermon – Advent II
8 December 2013
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord make his paths straight.”
Once again we hear about John the Baptist out in the wilderness. However, to truly know John, we would do well to encounter him anew. To “meet him again, for the first time.” Of course this can be difficult as these stories of John come around each year, and we might be tempted to forget just how strange he must have seemed to the good people, and the not so good people, of “all Judea.” There he was out in the wilderness, somewhere out among the Judean hills, where the Jordan River flowed amidst that arid and seemingly barren place. And who was this John. To know John, we may need to remember the dominant groups of Jews who existed in Jerusalem and the countryside in the time of John. You may remember Heather’s wonderful sermon in which she outlined the Sadducees, those wealthy Jews who did not believe in resurrection and who tried to trap Jesus. Also, there were the Pharisees, the Temple elite, who …. The zealots …. The essenes …
May have looked to many like the Essenes, and looked threatening to the temple elite, and to the socioeconomically elite. John had left aside any claim to be the 1% in order to proclaim repentance to the entire 99%.
Out in the wilderness, eating strange food, wearing strange clothes – food and clothing that just seem weird to us. However the strangeness of John’s food and clothing had a powerful connotation for those who heard of him, who went to him, and who were baptized by him. For them, this food and clothing were powerful reminders of Elijah (?)…that Old Testament prophet, who went outside of the territory of the Jews in order to minister to a poor woman with a child who seemed about to die. And here, we have a kind of a first century prophet, who is proclaiming the coming of the savior of the world, the healer of existence,, and this one was born to a poor woman, and would be at risk of death.
This stranger, encountering the stranger. Not a person of a faction alone, not a Pharisee, though abiding the ancient code, not a Sadducee, not a Zealot, not even, most likely an Essene. Here, we have a prophet that looks like Elijah, and who is not only proclaiming God’s Kingdom, but also enacting God’s Kingdom by proclaiming repentance, and offering forgiveness through the waters of the Jordan, not through the rituals of the temple. Through the giving of God’s grace, not through the purchasing of sacrificial animals. Proclaiming the day of the Lord’s favor (as Mary will remind us in two weeks.)
And so here we are, we may exist in one of the factions of our day. Are we in a particular party, are we members of a particular club, are we members, even, of a particular denomination, or a particular church within that denomination, are we dedicated to a particular ministry in this church.
What could John be preaching to us today, through his words, his clothes, his food, his location, and through his actions.
Cherished patterns can become ruts in the road, that we travel over and over, and become our set ways, rather than finding new ways to encounter God in our midst. Changes of pattern. Change needed, and with change not only does it involve stress, but also loss, as Bishop Goff reminded the clergy last month at Shrine Mont.
If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s deadly. Paulo Coehlo
However, to traverse through the arid hills of Judea, to find a pathway off the ruts of our normal patterns may offer us essential gifts for our journey. For, it is in meeting God in this stranger, John at the Jordan, dressed like Elijah, and dunking us into waters, proclaiming that we are forgiven. We are forgiven! What joy! What delight! How wonderful! What wonder! It should strike fear (holy awe), into our hearts.
This God, of nature, of sky, of land, of mountains, of water.
We need to go nowhere to encounter God. God is with us, this is the promise of Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us. However, our ruts can get in our way. Just think if Moses stayed in the ruts of his life and did not turn aside to take a gander at that burning bush!
“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” ~Joseph Campbell
And what about you? What about me? Do we take time not only to see God’s grandeur breaking into our world all around us? Do we take time to hop over the ruts of our lives, and seek to meet the stranger. Perhaps the stranger in our midst here, even here, at church. Perhaps we can do more to welcome the stranger. Remember when you were a stranger, in church, in school, at work, in a new town, in a new city, in a new country, in a new family. But not only that, in the meeting of a stranger, we may find ways to encounter God in the interaction. Just as John was offering a new way of blessing, a new way of being, a new way of being forgiven, we too might find that we are blessed if we break out of our patterns, and if we seek to break out of our factions.