Baruch 5, 1-9 – Psalm 126 – Philemon 1, 4-5, 8-11 – Luke 3, 1-6 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL.
The context in which we live our lives these days is one I like to call, “Hyper-Individualism. This individualism and the privatization that results from this kind of living and thinking boarders on idolatry. A concern for the common good, is always secondary to my needs and my wants, never mind what this might mean to anyone else. This has led to the collapse of neighborhood life, and it is the source of constant conflict in every kind of community from work to home. Even in churches and in the exercise of faith, the individualistic behavior wears away at community life, communal celebrations, and the unity and communion of the church Gospel life expects. It is a challenge courageously accepted here at St Peter with the bold efforts of our “Tri-Lingual” celebrations. Even though it may be sometimes inconvenient and difficult, there is a bold effort to stop thinking that it’s “my Mass” or “my language”, or “my customs.” The problem is the possessive pronoun that reveals individualistic possession. Not only is it possessive, it is “singular”, and therein lies the issue. I think a failure to understand this is why people leave early or come late. “What difference does it make to them?” is the thinking. If I want to leave, it’s my business. Again, the idolatry of the ego flares up.
In today’s Gospel, it is important to realize that John the Baptist is presenting a task for the People of God. It is a corporate demand that he makes, not an individual command. In the original language, he uses a verb in the second person plural. Southerners would get it right away if the translator was from the south because John would be saying: “Yuall!” So what he demands is not the work of someone chosen for a specific task, but a task for us all together, and by our response we, together as a church, can witness to the glory of God’s presence among us.
This is good news for those of us who do not feel particularly holy, perfect, or prophetic. It takes some of the pressure off of us individually, but also reminds us that only together, only in communion in a holy and prophetic church seeking to purify itself by repentance can we fulfill what is asked of us in preparation for a new world, a new order, a new and glorious way of living in God’s creation. We don’t have to do this alone, but we have to do it, and John suggests that we do it together. We are not saved so much from something as we are saved for something. With this understanding a different way of living and experiencing “church” comes into focus that shapes our identity and draws us into covenant as God’s People. This is why the Eucharist is the center of our lives: a Eucharist that is not my private communion experience, but my bonding and my fellowship with everyone around me. The communion we experience here is not just between me and Jesus, but a communion of saints as we profess in the creed with most of those saints all around us in here.
The truth and the reality of this covenant lived by us as church is what levels hills and fill in valleys. The biggest hill and deepest valley right now is the idolatry of the individual, and the ugly fact of racism. The truth of our communion through and with and in Christ is what we celebrate and become as a church, for in the unity of our lives together there is no longer a “them” and an “us”. There can no longer be “those people”. There are no “foreigners” in Christ or in his Church. We are, all of us, pilgrims, and without one another we will be lost.
The truth of this reality lived in unity as a church will have profound impact upon this world which seems more and more to separate and divide us to isolate and demonize people who only seem different. Those sorcerers of fear whose strident voices are amplified everywhere these days would have us divided and suspicious, walled up and distrustful of the goodness of human nature as God made us. The place where we first taste the Kingdom of God is here as church. The model of how we must live in the Kingdom of God is here in the unity we find in faith. The hope by which we live together is sustained by increasing our love for one another so that the good work God has begun in us will be completed on the day of Jesus Christ. Perhaps then Advent is not so much about the coming of Christ as it is about what we are becoming because of Christ.