12/5/2010 -- Anne-Marie Jeffery -- The First Sunday of Advent

posted Dec 5, 2010, 1:50 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Dec 5, 2010, 1:53 PM by Terry Brady ]

How far would you go?   

Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 3:1-12  

How far would you go? Before you answer that question, you might want to know what you  were going for? So here are a few scenarios.  How far would you go if you heard you could get a 32 inch flat screen TV for 129.99? Potomac Mills in Virginia? The Costco at Beltsville Maryland? The Target in Martinsburg, West Virginia? Would you find a way to go if you didn’t have a car?  And if anyone is thinking about slipping out during the Peace, I need to tell you I made up that price.   But continuing in this way of thinking, how far would you go if you were looking for one of those hard to get Christmas gifts that would mean the world to your child, niece or nephew, or godchild?   Baltimore? Richmond?  New York City?  How far would you go if it was to get medicine that you or a family member desperately needed to make them well? Chicago? San Francisco? India? What you are going for makes a difference doesn’t it?    

            In our gospel reading, we have people from Jerusalem and all of Judea going out to the wilderness to see John the Baptist.  Now John is a strange guy.  He is wears clothing of camel’s hair and eats locusts and wild honey. He hangs out in the desert. I would have to know a little more about such a character before I took a long trip to see him. So I wondered how far these people were going to see John.   The wilderness of Judea could have potentially involved a trip of 10 to 20 miles from Jerusalem and the terrain was difficult. First of all, it is the desert. Secondly, it is described as being terraced with many deep canyons.  This was not an easy walk. Walking miles and miles in that sort of terrain meant that something was very special and attractive about John the Baptist. The people who made the journey were looking for something they felt was very important.  

            We know that John was preaching of one who was to come. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah – saying to prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.  The people must have wondered if he was talking about their longed for messiah – the one who is described in our Old Testament reading: the shoot that grows out of the stump of Jesse.   The one on whom the spirit of the Lord will rest. This was the righteous king who was to come and restore Israel   from their domination by the Romans and other conquerors.  This is the one who under his reign the world shall be a place where

            The wolf shall live with the lamb, 

            the leopard shall lie down with the kid, 

            the calf and the lion and the fatling together, 

            and a little child shall lead them.  

Let’s take a moment and imagine a world in which in which that would be true.  What else would it mean?     Would people be good to one another?   Would no one steal from or hurt another?   Would we treat each other with respect? Would we care for the poor and find shelter for all?  What would it be like, as it says later in the reading, if the earth were full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea? 

It is an amazing vision and one that we can barely wrap our minds around, but how wonderful if there was someone coming who could bring that about.  Perhaps that would be worth journeying out into the desert to hear more about. And so the people went.   They went out to hear what John the Baptist had to say and indeed John was talking about someone who would change the world, but  the way it worked was not how some people thought.  The one who is to come will not just hand over this new world in a pretty package.   You don’t just stand back and watch it happen.  To be a part of this new world and new time that is coming, one must repent - that is turn around, see things differently.   We can’t be part of this new world unless we ourselves are changed.   That change happens when we open ourselves up to the power of the Christ.   “Repentance is God’s desire to realign the world in accordance with  Christ’s life.  Repentance is about God’s power transforming us into God’s image.”[1]  

Perhaps that was why John was yelling at some of the people who  came out to hear him, saying “You brood of vipers! Do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our ancestor':”  Perhaps John knew that these ones expected to show up and be a part of this new world because of their ancestors and without being changed.  It is just not possible.

John the Baptist is also speaking to us and while we may not have physically walked through the desert to get here, the wilderness manifests itself in many other ways.  We too are waiting for the one who will baptize us with the Spirit and fire and we too must be open to be changed by the power of God. We are called to repent, to turn around and to see this new world that God is bringing about. The time is not of our making or understanding, but I know that again  and again we are called to repent and look at all the ways we have fallen into that lead us away from Christ’s reign.  I keep going back to what I heard Karen Armstrong, Founder of Charter for Compassion, say several weeks ago. For those that don’t know, the Charter is a movement to bring us back to what  is at the heart of all religions which is to treat each other with absolute  justice, equity and respect. Armstrong said that often when she talks about the charter to religious folk, she feels as if she is preaching to the choir, but at the    same time notes that the choir isn’t singing.   I think she is right. We are humming, doing a little singing here and there with a solo  thrown in now and again. Until the choir sings strongly, that choir of human beings, we have work to do.  

This week Emily, our assistant priest, and I met with the organization in the building next door, the Polaris Project whose purpose is to stop human trafficking.  We hope to have them come and talk about modern slavery to raise awareness of this issue and that this will evolve into an event with other churches in the area.   The stories they tell are shocking – stories of women who are forced to work against their will and that are happening right here in DC, on Connecticut Avenue.   The organizers spoke about the idea that once you are aware of the  human trafficking issues, it changes how you view any situation you  encounter – you have a different lens of the world.    I thought that in many ways, this is repentance, this turning around and seeing things a new way - not just with the issue of human trafficking but in all those other ways in which the people in our world cry out.   This is the transformation that God invites us into which makes us aware of all the ways our world in not yet the place where the wolf lies down with the lamb and helps us to work for that future.   

This is what Advent calls us to – to be open to God’s power, to think about our need to repent, to turn around and to see what we are not seeing in our lives and all around us.  Until the world becomes a place which is full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, we are called again and again to  repentance.   God is working to change and inviting us to participate in that change.   Ask yourself how far will you go?  

[1] Feasting on the Word, Yr A, Advent 2, John P. Burgress.