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Attributed to Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina – Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John – Painting – Samuel H. Kress Collection – 1939.1.305

Sermon on Advent 2 by The Reverend Jodi Baron

Isaiah 40:1-11Psalm 85:1-2, 8-132 Peter 3:8-15aMark 1:1-8

Good News. That seems something of a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Especially this week.

From Ferguson to Denver, Staten Island, to Cleveland. We have people’s lives being talked about in every corner of the nation; the reality of oppression and racism in our face…there’s a whole lot of fear going on these days. And it is dark. The sky is dark and the mood is dark.

This week in review has met our hearts and minds and eyes with more pain and suffering than we’ve seen collectively in a very, very, very long time. We have divisions along political lines, race lines, police lines, international lines…

I’m holding the news in one hand and the readings from our sacred scriptures in the other and I’m wondering about what to do. What can I do? What can any of us really do?

Everytime you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today…Everyone standing here will tell you I didn’t do nothing. I did not sell nothing…Because every time you see me, you want to harass me…I’m minding my business, officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone. please, please, don’t touch me. do not touch me. I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe… (found from here)

Those were Eric Garner’s final words. The black man who was killed by a white police office through a choke hold gone terribly wrong, for both of them and our whole society, last July. The last 30 words were the phrase “I can’t breathe” 9 times.

“Compassion fatigue” that’s what Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein has been calling what we “white intellectual liberals” have been experiencing as caskets of black men and boys, women and girls are going by. As we wring our hands and click on more information to try and understand what is going on.

When really… maybe it’s not something that can be understood. That’s what makes it so evil. It is casting chaos and confusion, and that’s what the evil one does.

God created humans. That’s it. Humans. Not whites and blacks, police and civilians, residents and aliens. Humans.

And God created the things that bring us together as a human family.

But why?

Why in the world did we come here this morning?

I know it wasn’t for the sermon.

Really. Why did we come here this morning? What was it?

I don’t know about you, but when I walk into this space, time seems to be suspended, just for a few moments.

We light a candle, take a deep breath and move into words that breathed hope and anticipation into God’s people for centuries and is supposed to breathe hope and anticipation into us, as well.

And here we are, at our annual return to the beginning of why we, as Christians, assembled together in some sort of unified gathering lifting our voices in prayer and song, come to listen to God’s word and respond in Grace to others when we leave; to be fed through spiritual food in word and sacrament; to look at our neighbor and pass the Peace of Christ…

 

Here’s what struck me about today’s readings:

The Psalmist says: I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for his is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him. Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

 

Mark says: Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

So we have Virtues and Sacraments, Hopes & Anticipation.

We have, my friends, Advent. Coming Home.

I think that’s why I like Mark’s gospel so much. It’s all about the years Jesus walked the earth from the time he was announced by John to his empty tomb. That’s it. No birth story, no theology about Jesus being with God before time… no resurrection….

 

This morning’s reading begins with the radical, bug-eatin’, camel-hair-wearing, wilderness man… John the Baptizer… Jesus’ cousin.

A man born into a privileged priestly class who left that world (as a teenager) and occupied a different path than that of his family business.

We can piece together much to know about John’s life through reading the other gospel accounts, but Mark has a particular image he wants to cast about the man John.

the paver of the way.

The prophet.

John the Baptizer, paving the way so that the people could be receptive to the ministry of Jesus.

John the Baptizer the animal-hair wearing, grasshopper masticating, rebel with a cause.

The beheaded prophet, cousin to our Lord.

 

John the Baptist spoke the truth. John the Baptist was killed for questioning the authority of his day. John was not only paving the way for Jesus by destructing the temple structure of his day…he was making it possible for Jesus to have a chance at making any difference in humanity…period.

John the Baptizer went against every convention set for him. He didn’t become a priest, like his father.

He ate honey straight from the combs of bees, not observing Kosher laws.

He lived in the wilderness.

He preached repentance.

He baptized GOD!

 

He Paved the way for Jesus so we could have room in our hearts to hear and respond to God’s grace.

 

So for us today, in the face of all these problems, all this division…those of us born into privilege we didn’t ask for and long for systems in our society where everyone can be who they are and have what they need without fear…might we receive some sort of courage from the path that John the Baptizer cleared for Jesus…for our sake?

 

do we dare believe that we are called, in fact, to a higher unity given to us by God’s Grace? That unity that has the power to overcome the evil that we witness…or at least to stun it enough to catch our attention again and create the space where we, as a community, as believers and citizens of this world, can begin to do the hard work of imagining a place where parents of black children don’t have to have “the talk” with their children about the “microaggressions” that take place (mostly subconsciously) by white society, everyday.

If you’re like me, this confession we say together every week…it’s pretty timely and keeps me humble. That really I don’t ever get to stand on a soap box and point my finger at someone else without, then, needing to ask God to forgive me. For the things I’ve said and not said, for the things I’ve done and not done…it’s all in there waiting to get be redeemed. Including those acts of privileged condescension, microaggression, and racist feelings that are submerged beneath the surface of our individual icebergs.

If we truly expect God to be with us, to experience God With Us, Immanuel, we have to see God in the Eric Garners and police officers of our communities. We have to see baby Jesus in our black brothers and sisters and underdocumented neighbors, and LBGT friends*. We have to connect the manger scene with feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and going to the borders and margins of our society where God is present.

How will you respond to God’s grace this week? How will you be “good news” in a world so desperate to find it? How will you sit and be present with those who suffer? How will you feed those who are hungry? how will you make justice kiss righteousness?

 

Prepare the Way of the LORD. Make his paths straight.

If you want to be a part of God’s work in the world, it begins by being agents of peace and reconciliation, with being mountain-levelers and Advent-proclaimers.

In hope and anticipation, Lord God, we pray to you. Amen.

 

*Lots of bloggers this week have said similar things about ways to think about the relationship between the Gospel and current events. Check out:

http://www.peacebang.com/2014/12/04/the-intellectual-condescension-of-white-liberals/ or

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/lectionary-advent-2-uneven-ground