The text of the sermon, based on Luke 3.1-6 with a reference to Philippians 1.3-11, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 5, 2021
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
Today, we continue our Advent preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus by giving attention on the person and proclamation of John the baptizer.
Of the four canonical biblical gospel evangelists, only Luke places John’s life and career within a chronological context. Thus, confirming that John was no fictional character. Around the year thirty of the Common Era, John stepped onto the stage of human history.
Sometimes, I wonder: How did John look and sound?
The actor Michael York comes to mind. In the 1977 Jesus of Nazareth, one of my all-time favorite movies, York’s John the baptizer was pale with smooth skin on a fleshy, muscular frame. His face, red from fevered energy as he ran from bank to bank of the River Jordan. His voice, raspy and shrill, shouting (with a distinctly English accent): “I am a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’!”
Another image. A man with skin, exposed to the wretched wilderness sun, dark and wrinkled, stretched across a bony frame. His camel hair clothing crawling with vermin. His hair, tangled and filthy. His brow furrowed, his mouth twisted grotesquely as he screams: “I am a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’!”
John cried, calling the people to repent. From the Greek, metanoia, literally, “change of mind” or, perhaps, more evocatively, “to think again.” To repent meant turning away from the sin of defiance and denial of God’s will and returning to God’s way. To repent, John declared, was to take part in God’s fulfillment of Isaiah’s ancient prophecy of valleys filled, mountains levelled, crooked paths straightened, rough places smoothed.
Whatever John’s appearance and voice, his vision is disturbing and comforting.
Disturbing because it portends the upsetting, the overturning of things as they are. All is not good and right with the world and our lives. Yes, there is beauty in this life and joy in our lives. Yet the litany of worldly woes, no matter the historical era, is largely changeless; save for the degrees in scope and in the number of those affected, afflicted: hunger and homelessness, prejudice, wars and rumors of wars, sickness, suffering, and death.
And most of us, most of the time, striving to cope with life’s tribulation, especially everything beyond our power to change, are forced to accept that things are as they are.
However, John resoundingly declares that the way things are is neither as it should be nor as it will be. Therefore, John’s vision is comforting. For he calls us to hope. Not wishful thinking of our desires in the face of all we cannot control. But rather trust in God. Trust that Isaiah’s prophecy will be fulfilled.
And let’s be clear! John, channeling Isaiah, isn’t talking about highway maintenance. (Although it would be heavenly to drive on Interstates 26 and 85 without potholes and death-defying detours!) John is talking about human maintenance. About the coming kingdom of God’s righteousness. When valleys, mountains, crooked paths, rough places of the world, our lives and circumstances, our relationships and our selves will be filled, levelled, straightened, smoothed. When all things will be made good and right in relationship with God, everyone, and everything.
When does this happen? Only God knows! Yet, even now, we, as children of God, therefore, collaborators with God, have a part to play.
John declares “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” This, “the salvation of God,” is what I call “kingdom work.” Our labor to bring to life, this life the kingdom of God.
And this is my vision! Love and justice, unconditional and impartial kindness and fairness for all people at all times is who God is and what God does. Therefore, whenever we strive to be and to do love and justice, we answer John’s cry to repent. We help to answer our prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We disturb, if but for an instant, things as they are, bringing comfort to those who suffer because of the way things are.
In this, we produce a foretaste of what Paul calls “the harvest of righteousness,” which shall be reaped on what Paul calls “the day of Jesus Christ”; his second coming. When all valleys, all mountains, all crooked paths, all rough places will be filled, brought low, made straight and smooth. And when all flesh will see it together!
© 2021 PRA
#repent #repentancethefulfillmentofprophecy #kingdomwork #thelaborofloveandjustice #hope
 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40.3-5).