Advent 2: December 5, 2021
The Second Sunday in Advent
Year C: Baruch 5:1-9; Canticle 16; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
“Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins ….”
Give us grace to heed their warnings …
That was our opening collect today, which is the first prayer of our service, right before the readings. The collects vary from week to week and often point us to a theme for the day.
It’s safe to say a theme for today centers around prophets, their warnings, and the grace we need to hear their message and act on what we hear.
And to act on what we hear means to prepare.
That’s what the season of Advent is all about – a time of preparation and expectation.
Advent has been described as a time of “devout and expectant delight.” It is a time of hope and expectation.
Hope is certainly needed during an ongoing pandemic and the new variants of COVID and difficult and dark times in our social and political landscapes. Therefore, staying focused on the hope of Advent and preparing for the coming of the Christ child is as important as ever.
So, how do we prepare for the coming of the Christ child?
That’s a big question – there is no simple answer; in fact, there are many different answers to how each of us is called to prepare. But, to be sure, we are called to be ready,
One way to be ready is to love others, serve our neighbors and share our faith with one another. We must also invest in our relationship with Christ through prayer, worship, and scriptural reflection.
The lessons and Gospel for today all reflect the unique character of our faith. They point us to some specific times and places in history, yet they are as relevant today as in times past.
We have not only Baruch’s prophecy of a very concrete return to Jerusalem, but there is Paul’s opening of his letter to the community at Philippi, with its prayer that their love may overflow with knowledge and insight. Luke’s Gospel begins rather curiously: with a list of names and places that may seem irrelevant in today’s world. Twenty-one centuries later, we are not much interested in the names and places listed unless we can directly tie them to today’s world.
It’s especially curious as well because we hear about a rather eccentric man, John the Baptist, on the fringes of society, living out in the wilderness, preaching this baptism of repentance. John, much like Jesus after him, was making demanding claims on people’s lives.
He called people to prepare for the coming of Christ and his mission was to prepare the way for Jesus. To prepare the way of the Lord – to open people’s hearts, and turn them back to God, so they would then be ready to hear what Jesus had to say.
We get this story in two parts – this week, we’re introduced to John, and next week, we’ll hear some of the details of the message he was preaching.
I mentioned that John’s story begins with Luke putting it into context. Luke’s list of authorities starts with the Roman empire and Emperor Tiberius. Then, he mentions the local political leaders, concluding with the religious authorities.
Luke’s purpose is to put John the Baptist in a bigger context, to show that his message is not just local, but universal; but the interesting thing, if you think about it, is what it says about who speaks God’s truth. Not the political authorities. Not Tiberius, the Roman emperor, or Herod, the emperor’s local representatives. Not the religious leaders.
God’s messenger is a voice crying out in the wilderness, an unlikely voice, perhaps. A voice crying out in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord.
God’s prophetic grace is coming not through the high and powerful, but through someone who might almost have been a nobody except that God chose him to speak God’s truth. Just as God’s grace today comes through extraordinarily ordinary people who turn the world right side-up. We are called to remember that we are not a group of people who believe all the same things; we are a group of people caught up in God’s plan of redemption and salvation with Jesus in the center.
There are some interesting questions for us about where we find God’s truth, God’s redemption, and God’s salvation, and how we are to recognize it when we hear it, and how to prepare for God coming into our lives.
We hear so many different voices in our society. Which ones should we be listening to and paying attention to?
The job of the Biblical prophets was not just to make predictions about the future. Indeed, the prophets were the ones who spoke God’s truth – the hard truth about what was happening in the present. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy, either in biblical times or now, to distinguish the false prophets from those who speak the truth about the word of God.
Recognizing the difference between a popular message – and a message that resonates with the truth of God – still poses a challenge for us today. How do we know which voices to reject as true and which as false?
I propose a couple of ways to think about who are true prophets in today’s world.
First, I would say that prophets speak to our deepest yearning; our deepest true yearning must always be a desire for God.
So, if the thing inside of us that we feel responding to the message is a desire for power – then we have to stop and ask ourselves if this message is really in line with God’s truth.
Next, true prophets call on us to be our best selves.
John’s message was a message of repentance and turning away from sin and toward God. When we hear a message that’s all about the sins of others, and pointing those out, a message that calls on us to be mean-spirited, selfish, or even self-righteous, we can take that as a warning and ask ourselves, is that a voice speaking God’s truth? Is that a voice calling on us to be our best selves?
We can also ask ourselves whether the message that we’re hearing is consistent with the picture of God’s redeeming love.
The love of God is the overarching truth of the story that we are to hear and tell. It is all-inclusive and unconditional.
God does love us unconditionally. God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by God’s grace, God does not leave us where we are. We’re called to repentance and renewal. God’s love was transforming in biblical times and is today.
So, we should heed the message of John the Baptist and seek to change direction, make amends, and be ready for Jesus to come into the world.
Jesus never gave us easy answers. His action and presence were a part of people’s day to day lives in the first century, just as his action and presence are a part of people’s day to day lives now. Jesus comes to us in our own lives, and he always give us a chance at a new beginning.
Advent is the build up to one of the greatest new beginnings of all time (Lent and Easter are of course another). So, it is with some urgency that we hear John’s invitation to repent: to turn away from personal choices that impede God’s coming and collectively turn toward God’s mercy.
It’s easy to get sucked into anger, fear, and chaos. But that’s the opposite of the message of the prophets.
Advent is not the time for fear, for hiding, for arming oneself against some foe. Advent is the time to open up to the future of God, a future defined by righteousness, by aid for those in need, by care for those in search of the light of freedom and peace.
So, tune your ears to the voices crying from the wilderness, pay attention to those who speak of Good News, forgiveness, repentance, and hope. Be the prophet who points to Jesus coming once more into our world.
 General Norms of the Liturgical Year
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.