The Rev. Linda Taupier, December 9, 2018
I am moving. I have lived in my house for 42 years and the process of packing and leaving all the memories, good & bad is, at times, overwhelming. Before you wonder where I’m going and stop listening let me assure you, I’m only moving about 1 mile into senior housing. Hard to believe I am THAT old. About 6 months ago I applied for senior housing and was told it would be 2–5 years for an apartment to be available. I figured that would be fine. Now, a short 6 months later the call came, and an apartment has opened up and a new chapter will soon begin. I love my house so the original 2-5 years would have been fine. I’d have had lots & lots of time to clean out and get ready. I have lived more than ½ my life in the home I am now preparing to leave. How does one prepare for something totally different?
Advent is a time to ponder and reflect and a time to prepare. I am fully in the spirit of Advent as I prepare for a move from what I know to something new.
How did Mary feel when she learned that she was going to have a child? We have the beautiful Magnificat in which she gives God the go-ahead for this dramatic change in her life. Did she do that without any reservation? No, she pondered and asked how this could be. What do we know about Mary other than she was young, unmarried and engaged? We don’t have a lot of background, yet we do know that she put her absolute faith in God.
Our Bishop says the 1st sentence of today’s Gospel is the most important in the Bible as it gives historical context to Jesus’s birth. Luke gives a litany of secular rulers. He gives us an historical context within Roman and Jewish history. It’s not in a galaxy far, far away, this is not a fairy tale. John is the final step, the last prophet before Jesus himself begins active ministry.
Luke’s list of the proud and those in power contrasts sharply with his introduction of John, son of Zechariah, who was simply “in the wilderness.” Here we have God’s prophet in inhospitable terrain, much like human life can be. It is often when we are in our desert places, we hear God the best. This is when we focus our attention on God. When the “word of God comes” to John, he is empowered by that word.
There is such an urgency in the way John preaches. Every year he’s here, like clockwork, the second Sunday in Advent. Same message, every year, His message: Repent and prepare.
John was very specific in telling those who would hear him what they must do to prepare. The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. This expression is reminiscent of how God called the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures and are the same as the words from Jerimiah 1:1–2 (“the word of God came to Jeremiah son of Hilkiah”). Luke singles John out as a prophet in succession to the Old Testament prophets. John has been given a unique ministry. He speaks to those around him with authority. He tells people, including us, to change, to turn around, to be transformed.
The event Luke is placing into its historical context is the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry. John’s ministry is conducted in the desert near the Jordan River. Water is a common theme throughout the Bible. Here we see John at the Jordan River just as the Israelites wandering desert years came to an end as they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. John preaches “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. This was not merely ritual washing but involved a definite break with sin. A turning around. Luke sees John’s ministry as a fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3–5. Just as Isaiah predicted, Israel needed a “new exodus” to enter the land of promise. Spiritually Israel, once again, needed to come out of the wilderness, pass through the Jordan, and enter the land of promise.
This baptism in the Jordan, in an area far from recognized places of worship, was different from routine washings before worship in the temple. It was not about the usual ritual cleanness, but about moral and spiritual renewal. The Gospel indicates that it was a once-for-all experience, indicating a complete change in a person’s relation to God. This is Good News.
There were so many prophets in the Hebrew Scripture and now John in the New Testament – who are the prophets who came after John?
Do we need still need prophets today? They have an annoying habit of pointing out how and where we have gone wrong. They call us out when we go our own way, away from God and have lost sight of the truth of the Gospel. Do we need these messengers to tell us what to do? To point out where we are going wrong?
It is hard enough trying to be a good without one of these annoying prophets calling us to care for the poor, the disenfranchised, to seek justice. We do that, already don’t we?
Why don’t prophets just go to the powerful people who can actually change things?
OH, perhaps we have some bit of control over who those elected officials are…
John sounds like that old prophet Isaiah who talked about the preparations needed to welcome a king, He preached about paths being made straight, and valleys and mountains being filled and made flat
In verse 4, “make his paths straight” means to eliminate treacherous curves, not to make a smooth surface. All the other images are of contrasting pairs being brought into agreement. Valleys, or low spots, are filled; mountains, or high spots, are made low; crooked paths are straightened; rough roads are smoothed out. Obviously “preparing the way” is no easy task.
These words promise the path is to be open and accessible to all God’s creation.
The thing about straightening crooked places and valleys being filled and mountains being brought low is that we like things the way they are and the way they have always been. Do we need prophets today?
I say yes, we do. We need prophets. There are so many people living in the shadow, in darkness, in deep despair, they need prophets. The people who look around and see the imbalance of power, they need prophets. The people who have no voice, no rights, no hope—they need prophets, because prophets lead the way to better life. Prophets are truth-tellers to a world longing and praying and looking for glimpses of hope.
Our world needs prophets. Prophets bring hope and we know that hope is found in the one whose coming we await.
We need prophets. We need those annoying, nagging nuisances that call us to be better followers of Jesus.
We need the voice of John crying out in the wilderness because in the wilderness, the needs are real, and hollow sentiments are not enough. We need prophets who help us see the orphan, the poor, the refugees, the migrants, the widows, those who have food insecurities, and the homeless. We need prophets to call us back to living a life God chose for us-a place where everyone recognizes the life God means for them, – in our interaction with strangers, realizing the wonders in our differences, and in the radicalness of love. As Michael Curry says, “If it isn’t about love, it isn’t about God.”
Like Jesus and John, we are asked to give up things that do not matter, in order to be open to a hope-filled future to which God calls us. Now more than ever, our communities, our nation, and our world are in desperate need of the glimmer of hope found in Jesus Christ. Now more than ever, we need to hear the cries of the prophets.
We, as the church, the people of God, the followers of Jesus, are called to claim our prophetic voices and be the voice of the voiceless, the hope of the hopeless, the love of the loveless.
God’s prophetic grace so often falls on ordinary people who turn the world right-side-up. We are called to look at our modern-day prophets like Martin Luther King, Jr. We here today believe , in the power of Jesus, the prophetic nature of John; we are a group of people caught up in God’s plan of redemption and salvation with Jesus as the center.
The question facing us today, those of us who seek to follow where Jesus leads and to heed the call of John, isn’t “Do we need prophets?” The question we must answer is “Are we willing to be prophets?” Are we willing to see the injustices around us? Are we willing to see those hidden in the shadows, afraid, that need our voices to speak for them? Are we willing to let God’s light shine through us so much so that we can show the world a new and better way? Are we willing to be prophetic enough to walk out in faith and break bread with people who may not look like us, or talk like us, or vote like us or speak like us? Because that is the Good News that we have to share; that is the prophetic vision that has the power to transform our world.
There are prophets in our midst. There may be one sitting next to you right now. Look around. Listen. Keep awake. There is still darkness and despair and shattered dreams. In Jesus Christ, love has already won. The light of love and the glimmer of hope has broken through the gloom. The crooked places have been made straight, the valleys and mountains made smooth, the rough places made plain. Look and you will see the salvation of our God breaking through.
Let’s look for a moment at the Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Paul writes, “My prayer is that your love may abound.” That’s where he starts. That your love may abound, that it grow and grow.
That’s one thing we can all do. Then he says this. “Have knowledge and discernment, knowing what is excellent.”
Get rid of anything in our lives that doesn’t show God’s light. We must exercise discernment. I love the word, “discernment.” It means making choices based on the standards by which you wish to live your life.
We live in this wonderful country. We enjoy so many freedoms. We must choose wisely. So what is needed in this age of our freedoms is discernment.
Paul is telling the Christians to use discernment in their lives. Hold on only to that which leads to God and discern what is best left in the past so we can move into the awe and wonder that is God.
This Advent may we take the time to realize we are today’s prophets. We can work to make changes in people’s lives if we look toward the light of Christ that is to come among us. This is not an easy task, yet it is the one that we, as Christians are called to.
As I prepare to move my prayer is that God’s light is before me. My prayer for all of us is that together we will move through Advent, taking time to look daily into moving more and more toward the repentance John calls us to. May we turn around together.