The 2nd Sunday of Advent at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
December 8, 2002
Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11 + 2 Peter 3:8-14 + Mark 1: 1-8
Our guide Isaiah takes us to Babylon today. The glory of David’s Kingdom and its mighty capital with palace and temple are no more. The once proud and mighty Israel broken into two Kingdoms first by its own internal conflicts over religious right and privilege both are finally reduced to dim memories as the able bodied are marched away from home as slaves of the victors. There in Babylon, some scholars suggest, many were forced to work on the building of a Persian road through the desert east of the Jordan. This one whose words still have the power to inspire great music, lift the discouraged, and restore broken dreams speaks in this place today.
The one who speaks is not off in some distant place of security and comfort. He has worked the long day shoulder to shoulder with those whose struggle he shares. They are building a road in the desert with their bare hands. Rocks, sand, and boulders move when they push. Hills flatten only when they dig. The gift he shares with them is a way of seeing what they do as a way of preparing for God. The Babylonians were building a “Sacred Way” for the procession of their god “Marduk”. Isaiah’s suggestion is that Israel could find its present condition to be a way of preparing for God rather than leading them away from God. Some might consider the road to be for them; their way out. Others could look at this road as God’s route to them.
I suppose the first option assumes that they know where they are going. Knowing the direction, they think they know which way to build. The second option fits a bit more into truth of the matter. These people are lost. If they knew how to get out of the mess they were in, they wouldn’t be there. A long time ago, in Boy Scout Survival wilderness training, I learned that if lost, the best thing to do was to stay put and wait to be found. If not, the one lost would be in greater danger from injury and exhaustion, likely wandering in circles. It seems like sound advise that has some scriptural parallels. It seems to fit this season when we listen to the wisdom of our guide. We are not going to get ourselves out of this life, out of the slavery we find ourselves in because we have chased after other gods, or out of the lonely isolation of our polarized church and society by insisting we are right and others are wrong.
The words of Advent remind us firmly that we are not preparing to welcome “the baby Jesus” but rather the One who comes with Justice and whose power is for the oppressed. We may not use the Word of God to validate our way of life. We run a terrible risk here of hearing the Word of God as victors and achievers. The Word has nothing to say to them. Until we find in ourselves our sin, the things that enslave us, our helplessness, our alienation from one another, and how far we have come from Justice; this season has no meaning, and the Word has no power. The power of Isaiah’s words came from his identity with his own. The good news is not so much a message as it is a people whose glorious redemption manifests the divine. The glad tidings of this season are more than “Merry Christmas.”
The glad tidings of this season is a people who find hope, purpose, and a way to God in what they do. The glad tidings of this season can only be heard by those who know what it is to be lost by those who have been waiting for the Lord, and for those who long for Justice. There is no good news for those who think they have earned their place, their privilege and their rights. The mission of a prophetic people in Advent is to proclaim in word and deed that having been found by God, we are going home. It will best be done by gathering together, going back for, and looking around for any who have fallen or been left behind. These are the days when anything that separates or scatters us, when anything that lets us think we are different or better than another must go.
Nothing short of total transformation in the landscape of our lives will do. We build a road for Justice these days. On that road, Kindness and Truth shall meet. Justice and Peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring from the earth, while Justice will look down from heaven. This road will be best built by tenderness and compassion and faithfulness to the vision.