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The 2nd Sunday of Advent; Luke 3:1–6

It took a while for that Gospel to get to “what happened” from “when it happened”! The timing is to within a year; in 26 or 27 CE John the Baptist preached at the Jordan river. Luke makes sure we know that John is not a myth; he is a real person, firmly located in history. And yet, relating to John is difficult; living in the desert, dressed in camel skins, eating locust beans and honey; wild-eyed, shouting “Repent!” He’s not exactly my kind of guy! Probably not yours either.

In a Peanuts cartoon (yes, here I go again, with Peanuts theology) Snoopy has a similar problem. He is on his doghouse with his typewriter. Lucy comes by; “Write a biblical novel, they sell well.” Snoopy doesn’t know where to start. “How about John the Baptist,” she goes on, “there’s lots of material”. Snoopy types furiously; the title appears; “John the Beagle!”.

Snoopy knows that to understand John the Baptist, that wild, undisciplined, charismatic figure, he has to bring him into his own time and space, his own context, that of beagles. To hear John speak to us, we have to bring him to our place, time, and context; western people, about 2 decades into the 21st century.

His actual name was Yochanan Bar Zachariah, John the son of Zechariah. Born to very old Elizabeth, his father prophesied about him in words very familiar to Anglicans of a certain age;

And thou, child, shall be called the Prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his way; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people for the remission of their sins.1

Perhaps thirty years later he became convinced that he was at a very significant moment in history. His people, Israel, were going to be held accountable for their actions, personal and corporate. Without profound changes, all that the people of John’s time held dear would be brought down, condemned, destroyed! But if fundamental and difficult changes were made in personal life and society, a future of fulfilment, creativity, and hope would come. Summarized, John called for a baptism of repentance!

But that was then, 2000 years ago; problems then are not our problems now. So what?

We have no lack of prophets in our time! We call them climate scientists, oceanographers, population growth experts, economists, political scientists. Yes, and some of them, politicians. They don’t speak with one voice, but out of their many voices comes one consistent message. Keep living the way we are, keep consuming the way we are, keep populations increasing, keeping polluting our lands and waters, and the overall effect will be catastrophic for our way of life, for humanity, and for our planet. But we are also also offered hope; make changes, not easy changes, but changes that are possible, and a better life, a livable world for all of us on this planet will emerge. Re-think the way we live – repent!

John used picturesque language to tell his time the same thing that our modern prophets are telling us in scientific language – Re-think the way you live – repent – prepare the way of the Lord!

But all that can become terribly abstract and remote. Yes, we might admit, all is not right with us, our society, our world. Wars over religious and tribal differences are not right. People starving when others are wasting food is not right. Twenty percent of the world’s population using 80% of the world’s resources is not right. 1% of the world’s people owning 99% of the world’s wealth is not right. Continuing and even increasing fossil fuel use when the destructive effects are known through undisputable science is not right. And yes, using the methods of war and terrorism to force a particular vision of the future on an unwilling world is totally not right! Yet all that injustice, all that un-right-ness, is seemingly build into our world, it is systems, and we are powerless against systems, we complain. Much as the people of John’s time probably complained; while they might not have called it “systems”, they probably muttered that they were powerless against rulers, oppressors, things just were as they were!

But, systems-are-us! The world is us! Maybe systems themselves cannot be reformed, but I insist that people in systems can be. The way to change the world is the conversion of individuals, one at a time, to new ways of living. And, I would also argue that conversion of others begins with conversion of ourselves. But how?

We could begin with taking the faith we profess seriously! For us … [Jesus] came down from heaven … for our sake he was crucified … he will come again to judge … we recite every Sunday. He comes to us in bread and wine to feed us, the eucharistic prayer implies. He comes to us in our brothers and sisters, especially the poor and the needy, all loved by him and made in his image, our theology teaches us. Safeguarding creation, being good stewards of our planet is one part of the mission given us. The Lord Jesus is here, in front of us, among us – he has come! Preparing the way of the Lord begins with taking all the implications of our faith seriously.

I suggest the crucial question for us all is; How aware am I of Christ’s presence in my life and in the life of my world? Christ came into the world some 2000 years ago as a baby, lived to a young adult life, was crucified, died, was buried, rose again, and returned to God. But also Christ continued to be present in the world through his Body, individual Christians formed into the Church; us. Christ will come again at the end of time as judge and ruler of all. Wonderful theology, poetry even, but really, how has it changed my life?

There is an old story of a monk or a nun going to their superior to ask if they could smoke while praying. Absolutely not, prayer is sacred, was the answer. Another, somewhat craftier, went to the same superior, and asked if they could pray while smoking. Certainly, of course, we must pray without ceasing, was the answer.

There is great truth buried in that story. Our relationship with God is not something we work on in the fringes of our life, our relationship with God is our life. John the Baptist speaks directly to us across twenty centuries, calling us to repent, to re-think how we live our lives. We(!) are to be the preparers of the way of the Lord, so that all flesh shall see the salvation of God. And lest you think that task too difficult, or specialized, or not part of your daily life, or for holy folks like John only, listen up:

Jesus found his friends among tax gatherers, fisher folk, women of the streets, and simple householders, as well as among people of wealth and position. His talk is full of illustrations of the work of vinedressers, woodworkers, shepherds, stewards, magistrates, and harvest hands. In the life of Jesus there is no hint of alienation from everyday living and daily toil. His life was a life of service, witness, and prayer – the day to day process. …

The New Testament is filled with ordinary individuals whose lives were touched by Jesus, and after that time, this relationship made all of the difference. Their witness and variety of ministries are revealed in what we would call ordinary lives …

Numerous others in the early Christian community – men and women, rich and poor, high and low, understood what it meant to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and the leaven within the loaf. They gave of themselves as salt and light and leaven do, for the sake of faith. They sensed what it meant to be a minister, a servant, and most remain[ed] in the same occupations or return[ed] to them after Jesus’ death [and resurrection]. Their service to Christ was in and through daily living. They continued to live out their daily lives. There was no hit-and-run dropping of care packages. They were minsters in who they were, and they lived and stayed where they were.2

Not my words, but that lengthy quotation says it very well; we are called to live our faith right were we live, work, and play. The Christian faith is not something that occupies an hour or so on Sunday, it is what defines how we live all of life. We are called to be prophets, like our brother John, to proclaim the coming of the Lord. We are called to prepare the way for his coming. And we are called to that ministry exactly were we live. We all have power, small as it may be, to work for the kingdom of God, for justice and love in our own life space, and God gives us the responsibility to exercise that power! That’s our mission!

Perhaps because of my fondness for alternate history, I enjoy “what-if?” questions. What if Napoleon had won the Battle of Waterloo? What if Winston Churchill had died at birth (a real possibility). What if the assassin had missed, and John Kennedy had finished a second term as President of the USA?

Well, let’s all play this “what-if?” game. What if you knew for certain that Jesus Christ was returning to earth tomorrow, how would that change your plans for the rest of the day? What if you knew it was next week, next month, next year, next decade, but you knew for sure that Jesus Christ was coming back on a certain date? How would that change the way you live? Finally, you know we confess a belief in a return of Jesus Christ – it is fundamental to our faith. So then, whatever you answered to yourself, why aren’t you doing that, today, now?

He will come again – so, prepare the way of the Lord!

Amen! Come Lord Jesus! Amen!

   1   Benedictus, Morning Prayer; Book of Common Prayer
   2   Nelvin Vos, Monday’s Ministries, Parish Life Press, 1979

Copyright ©2018 by Gerry Mueller.