Dis-comfort Ye My People
The Rev.Jennifer Adams- December 9, 2012 – Advent 2, Year C: Luke 3:1-6
It’s a time of the year when the readings are as probably about as familiar as they get. These are characters from Scripture that no matter what our faith background happens to be we’ve probably at least heard of and maybe even sung about or read about them. For two weeks now we’ll hear from John the Baptist and then we’ll get Mary and Elizabeth and – so we are honing in on the people who were closest to Jesus as he was born and then as he began his public ministry. These are the people who very intimately prepared the way for Christ to come into this world. So beginning this week we’ll be hearing a little more about what that preparation looked like and again we begin with John.
He was out in the wilderness shouting to the world ‘Prepare the Way of the Lord!’ and giving them a vision for what was going to happen: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked paths shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God!’” said John. And in his proclamation he was echoing the words of the prophets before him. This morning we heard similar words from the prophet Baruch but they were said by other prophetic voices too: “God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low, and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.” Now maybe you hear Handel’s Messiah playing through your mind as you hear all of this – the tenor’s voice expressing the exaltation of the valleys. Or maybe you’re more the Godspell type and “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!” and that music and vision of the Baptist flashes through you when we get to the Advent words of John and the prophets. Whatever the case, the words and images are powerful and hopeful words and images that speak and sing to us about the coming of our God, about the work that God is doing and that we are to do in terms of preparation.
Now according to these passages, preparing involves some leveling of the ground so these are no small tasks. The vision itself is significant. Valleys should actually be filled in. Mountains should be made low. Rough places made smooth. And all for the simple reason of making it possible for everyone to travel “safely in the glory of God.” Neither the earth nor we should make it hard for people to get to where they need to get be in order to see God, to know God, to experience the grace of God. Part of the point of these passages is that the traveling should be safe and easy and relatively uneventful.
And so I want to share with you an experience I had yesterday because on a very small scale it spoke to me of this process and the possibilities we have to help this kind of leveling happen. Now this experience wasn’t about the salvation of God, but it was about soccer and while I’d never ever compare the two, an awareness of God and a love of soccer are two things that have lived in my heart nearly my whole life.
Yesterday I watched the women’s national team play against China at Ford Stadium in Detroit. The U.S. won (which isn’t the point of the story but I did get to watch two fabulous goals scored.) They filled the stadium in sections with the upper tiers closed off – this wasn’t professional football afterall. But towards the end of the game they announced that this was actually the largest attendance ever recorded at a soccer game in Michigan. Again – amazing if you’re me but still not quite the point of this story. So here comes the point – to look around was to see a crowd composed in a very large part of little girls, teenagers and young women. And they were dressed in jerseys whose backs said “Hamm” (Mia), or “Wambach” (Abby), or Morgan (Alex) – which was a loud and clear tribute to something like the communion of saints among soccer players. And these girls were waving posters and they had their faces painted and they were shouting about players they admired and a game that they loved. A game that they get to play all the time with no doubts about whether or not the game is for them.
And the amazing thing to me was how much things had changed. Way back when I was a kid (I get to say that every now and then) for awhile I was the only girl in our city’s league, and there had been girls who were just three years older than I who hadn’t been allowed to play when they were my age – because girls weren’t allowed to play yet. And while I didn’t have to struggle for the right to play, others before did and the residuals of that struggle were still hanging pretty thickly in the air when I was a kid. So I was deeply aware yesterday of how the whole scene that is women’s sports had been a battleground more than a playing field – BUT NOW here was a stadium filled with thousands of little girls who would never have to question whether or not the game was for them.
And because it’s a game I loved – I was filled a joy that’s hard to explain. For those little girls, soccer is undoubtedly theirs too and it’s theirs too because at some point along the way, valleys were filled and rough places were made smooth and it became safe for them to experience the glory of (at least) this game.
And the prophets told us to constantly wonder what it would be like if things in this world could become more like that. We can give lots of historical examples of those kinds of changes that have happened, but there are still valleys that need filling, still so many hills that need to be made low in order for the all of the people of God to walk safely in this world.
Now I realize that the prophets vision was about something much larger than any of this, (even larger even than women’s soccer,) bigger in fact than anything we experience here because the prophets were talking about salvation – a kingdom yet to come. BUT (this is part of the point of this season) we’ve been called into that vision not only as a comfort but also as our work – and this vision can be both of those things.
In this vision we have been invited to find peace and trust that God is coming and will make things well. But this is also a vision in which we should discover the kind of dis-comfort that leads us to apply all that we have to helping something new come into being. And in the here and now that involves helping our world to more closely resemble the Kingdom that we pray is coming into being. And so our waiting this season of Advent and always is to be a participatory, active sort of waiting in which we get out a shovel or two in our little corner of the world and we do what we can to level the ground. And the flip side too- we need to repent of the ways in which we benefit from the valleys and mountains existing as they do today.
So dream a little with me and the prophets this Advent: What if the world was filled with children who not only got to play whatever game they wanted to play but what if the world was filled with children who never had to wonder if food was for them or safe streets or education or faith was for them? What if the mountains that stood between children and clean water were brought low? What if the valleys that got in the way of children and all people knowing peace were filled in?
These are the questions of the season, the promise and hope of the season that is Advent. May the vision bring us comfort and dis-comfort all at the same time as we await the coming of our God.