Prepare the Way of the Lord!
Second Sunday of Advent
Advent IIC: Baruch: 5:1-9; Psalm 126; Philippians 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-6
December 10, 2006
Pastor Mary Blessing,
Vicar, St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA
John the Baptist, that wild and crazy evangelist came out of the wilderness to proclaim the impossible: “all flesh shall see the salvation of God”. What? All flesh? You mean the greedy tax collectors, and the Roman soldiers, and the heathen Greeks and the prostitutes and the blind beggars and the oppressive landlord? You mean ALL FLESH? How in the world will ALL FLESH see the salvation of God? John the Baptist did not know just HOW this would happen; John the Baptist just knew that it WOULD happen, and that all must get ready—repent (that is “turn around”) Turn your life around tax collector, Roman soldier, heathen Greek, prostitute, blind beggar, and oppressive landlord! Stop focusing on yourself. Stop hurting yourself and others with your selfish greed. Repent, cleanse yourself, get ready.
Just as the world 2000 years ago needed to hear John the Baptist rail on them to “prepare the way of the Lord,” so many of us today need to hear this message. Life is not really any easier today than it was when John the Baptist came out of the wilderness: we still have greedy people taking what is not theirs, we still have police brutality, we still have plenty of people who think about God in ways that are different than our ways, beggars can be found on street corners throughout the land, and we continue to find the oppressive landlord who won’t cut any slack. The difference is we have the possibility to seek another attitude: rather than claiming the role of victim of our circumstances, we have the option to recognize our own shortcomings, to take our deficient ways and bring ourselves back to God for forgiveness. You see, we know better. We know that when Jesus lived he showed us another way. We know that it is possible to remove all obstacles of greed, hate, misguidedness, resentment and oppression that block us from “The way of the Lord”.
No mountain is too high, no valley too low, no path too crooked, no way is too rough to keep us from receiving the pure and simple gift of grace that brings us directly to the gentle, hopeful arms of our God, known to us in Christ Jesus, who loves all flesh.
Last week I told you that I am very aware there is a lot of difficult theology wrapped up in this idea of the coming of Christ. I don’t expect us to all hold the same theological understanding of what it means to experience the coming of Christ. Frankly, I believe God is much too big to be confined to one interpretation. The moment we try to pin God down to meaning just one thing, or pointing us to just one way to experience any aspect of God’s way of working in the world, then I think we have confined God to our human limitations. I welcome different perspectives on how we experience the coming of Christ, because as these differences are shared, I get to experience even more of who God is than if I limit the discussion simply to my own experience.
So, today, I want to consider a particular aspect of what the coming of Christ means in terms of how we see the actions of those who do something in the name of Christ, which brings about the saving grace of God, as opposed to those who do what they believe is a true and just action, whether or not they do it in the name of Christ. Is salvation brought into the world either way? That is, are people brought closer to God through these actions whether or not Christ is “named” in the doing of the deed?
Swiss theologian, Emil Brunner believed that the work of Christ should be treated before the person of Christ, because we know who Christ is through what Christ does in bringing salvation into the world. Brunner says, “Christ is what he does and does what he is.” (Brunner, found in Owen Thomas, Intro. To Theology, p.158)
In other words, Brunner says, we know Christ by what is done. We live in a world that is broken by human sin, as John the Baptist pointed out to those in his time. When we see a person or a group in action that is life-giving, it brings about a sense of mending that which is broken. In that moment of reconnecting the broken we get a glimpse of Christ, whether or not Christ is named. Conversely, we sometimes see actions that are done in the name of Christ which seem to bring about more brokenness. It is therefore the action itself that reveals the hope of the coming of Christ, not the naming of Christ.
And so, for me this week, as I have attempted to look for where I have seen the coming of Christ in the world, I have seen actions that reveal Christ’s presence without naming him, and I have seen actions that name him but without the appearance of bringing salvation. You may have seen some of these yourself. And you may not agree with my observations, and that’s ok.
Here are some examples: the story of family that was stranded in the wilderness of Oregon, Katie and James Kim, is a story that had aspects that revealed the presence of Christ, even though I have not heard anyone “name” Christ. A father who tries desperately to do whatever he can to get help for his endangered family, even to the point of losing his life trying, is a story of Christ’s salvation. There is hope for the Kim family that God will prevail in the lives of the mother and young children because James Kim gave his life for them. By his actions Christ was present, whether or not Christ was named.
The new Bishop of California was arrested this week, on Pearl Harbor day, as he protested the continuance of the War in Iraq. It was an act of civil disobedience, as he lay on the steps of the Federal Building in San Francisco, in what they call a “die-in”. Quakers have been protesting through a silent presence of civil disobedience since the beginning of the war, but on Thursday Bishop Andrus and 11 others pushed the point by intentionally blocking the doors to the Federal building by lying down right in front of it. First he celebrated Holy Communion, an action which is done specifically to bring the presence of Christ, and then he lay down to block the doors. Through his actions some believe Christ was present—in name and in action. If his actions bring about a mending of what is broken in our war-torn world, then this is a place where we can see the coming of Christ.
Also this past week, another Episcopal Bishop, in San Joaquin, began the official political process of leading his diocese to make a decision to split from the Episcopal Church of the United States, while remaining aligned with the Anglican Communion. He did this in the name of Christ. I believe our Lord grieves over the continual breaking up of the Body of Christ. I question whether this action done in the name of Christ can be a genuine sign of the coming Christ.
On a happier, closer to home, note. I want to share with you an action that occurred right here in Scotts Valley that was not done “in the name of Christ”, but which I believe shows all the signs of bringing about salvation in the name of Christ. Remember how last week I told you our church office had been burglarized, and $187.00 of cash that the Youth Group collected for the Red Cross to use in Africa was stolen? Remember how I said I wish we could open this gift box and find that the thief had returned all the cash? Well, on Weds. morning I went to the Kiwanis Club prayer breakfast, and in the middle of their auction fund-raiser, the President of Kiwanis stopped everything and very randomly introduced me to the group. He also said, “I understand St. Philip’s suffered a burglary the other day. Can you tell us about it?” YIKES! What was I to say? Well, I did tell them that “not much was taken, less than $200.00 that the youth had collected to send to the Red Cross for Africa, and the Youth Mentor’s laptop.” The Treasurer said, “Let’s pass this bucket around and help St. Philip’s replace that money, and I’ll replace the laptop.” At the end of the breakfast someone said, “How much money did we collect for St. Philip’s?” $187.00! What? I had not told them the amount, and there it was, exactly! [show photo]
This is a sign of the coming of Christ, even though no one named Christ in the action taken.
John the Baptist went around the countryside proclaiming the imminent coming of the Lord. I ask you to go around the countryside noticing those places where the coming of Christ is evident in the actions of those who seek justice and salvation for “all flesh.”