December 17, 2023 at Saint William and Saint Elizabeth Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11 + Psalm Lk 46-48, + 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24 + John 1: 6-8, 19-28
For hundreds of years and for generations they were waiting. Parents taught their children to wait and watch sure that the Messiah they were promised would come. There were bad times of oppression from a cruel occupying army sent by a dangerous tyrant in far off Rome. The Priests and Levites did their best to keep that hope alive, and among all those people who listened to their teaching and prayed with them in the synagogues and the temple, they bore the responsibility of sorting out the claims and the deeds of many who came along and stirred up the hope they held deep in their hearts.
It is no surprise then that they come to John near Bethany. They need to know who he is. They cannot risk missing the Messiah and all that they had hoped for. From all their questions, all they can discover is that he is not the Christ. He is not Elijah. He is not the prophet. He quotes them some verses from Isaiah, a passage that comes from their past days of their Babylonian exile. Those who have come out to John know these words and that old prophet who spoke them ages ago.
This message both stirs their hope and ignites their fear. For those Priests and Levites, this is not the way it is supposed to happen. This wild man in the wilderness cannot possibly know the Messiah. That is their job, their right, and their privilege. After all, they came from Jerusalem, that place where it’s all happening. That place under their control.
Power and privilege become a serious obstacle when it comes to the Messiah and the Kingdom of God not just then, but today as well. We are people much like those Priests and Levites from Jerusalem. We resist change. We have our own ideas about how and when God should act. Forgetting or ignoring how God has already acted makes matters worse. Instead of some great astounding divine action, a baby is born, a man sets out on an unlikely journey proclaiming a Kingdom, and then ends up executed along with other criminals.
And so, we look around at this world and keep thinking, “Why doesn’t God do something?” while not much happens because we have failed to grasp what God has already done by taking on human flesh. We feel uncomfortable in the face of things gone wrong. We think of hunger in the world, war, division, or discrimination against others for their orientation, ethnicity, age, gender and ask, “But what can I do?” While all the while the truth is that Holy Spirit never calls us to something we cannot do. If anything important is ever going to happen in the face of all that has gone wrong, it will be because people did something about it, people, human beings. That’s how God works.
Ultimately, John the Baptist reminds us that the coming of God’s reign is a gift and a grace. We cannot make it happen any more than the rooster makes the sun rise. Yet, like John, we can live like prophets, helping other catch the hint that there is something going on, something deeper and more meaningful than our society and culture has to offer. That’s what it means to prepare the way of the Lord.
Today, the Spirit of the Lord urges us to rejoice because we know that the hungry can be fed and the brokenhearted healed. Because something unimaginably wonderful has happened to us in Christ Jesus. Peace comes from forgiveness not from military might. We know how to feed the hungry by sharing what we have. We know how to heal the broken by lifting them up, listening to their pain and sorrow, and never leave them feel alone or abandoned. There is real joy to be found in this.