3 Advent B – 14 December 2014 – Preparing the Way for ….
Karl Barth, a leading 20th century Protestant theologian, regularly told his students: take your bible and newspaper and read both. But, he said, interpret the newspapers from your bible.  That’s what we try to do here in this congregation week after week. Karl Barth would be at home here.
Perhaps the most familiar and challenging line found in today’s biblical texts, the one that prompts us to “open our eyes and ears to the sounds of the times”  is “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Let us begin with John the Baptist.
Traditionally we understand that John preached repentance and cleansing. Advent, however, is not a penitential or baptismal season as much as it is a time for reconciling. How do we reconcile ourselves with our God, other humans, animals and the whole environment.
John was mainly speaking to Israelites who had been longing for the promised land, waiting for a messiah to take them there. His message was also cleverly addressed to the corrupt religious and civic leaders of his time. John was considered a dangerous man by the authorities. With the ability to rally a crowd and speak eloquently about moral issues plaguing society he was a threat to their establishment.
If John were alive today he would be taking his place among the many protest marches occurring in our country. He would be a voice crying in the deserts between Mexico and our southwestern borders. He would be advocating a living wage for workers in every industry. He would be calling for racial justice in our city streets. He would decry the use of torture for any reason whatsoever.
And what else would a contemporary prophet and community organizer like John be addressing today? I asked our youth ministers to ask our teenagers. Here’s what they thought (think). [Note: Here, during the homily, a number of teens announced from the ambo (pulpit) the issues that they believe need attention to prepare the way of the Lord. Here’s what they said]
To Stop Hunger
- Donate food to our food pantry
- Don’t waste food
- Volunteer to serve food
To End Racial Discrimination
- Not have a stereotype of African Americans
- Encourage sensitivity training for law enforcers
- Work to change justice system peacefully
To Treat People with Respect
- Address bullying in school by standing up for others
- Treat people the way you want to be treated
- Respect people’s boundaries
To Stop War and Work for Peace
- Avoid violent actions
- Work to end conflict and war overseas
- Do random acts of kindness
To Care for Those Who Are Homeless
- Don’t judge homeless people
To Help Those With Chemical Addictions
- Convince people to seek help
- Don’t be afraid to say no at parties
What our teens are reminding us is that there is more work to do to hasten the experience of God’s kindom. You might be saying the task at hand is age old but in this moment we are also saying we cannot be discouraged. We know that the problems we have in this world, our cities, our homes, will never be completely resolved. That does not let us off the hook to work for justice now. We take our place along with others in history by doing so.
Long ago the prophet Isaiah wrote about his mission. The tasks are familiar to us now — to bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the broken hearted, proclaim liberty to captives, release prisoners. Wild and wooly John the Baptizer helped the Israelites keep their hope real for the promised land — a real place in history and an ongoing metaphor for the fulfillment of God’s promises of peace on earth. [Pause]
Today is also called Gaudete Sunday by some. The term is taken from the entrance antiphon “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:4-5). While many of us do have plenty to be joyful about there are others among us who are not so happy or even hopeful.
As we prepare to commemorate the birth date of Jesus it is helpful to remember that Christ continues to be in our midst regardless. The Spirit of God moves within each of us to stir our minds, hearts and bodies. She fires us up to do good work that will renew the face of the earth. In the words of Paul to the Thessalonians do not quench that spirit, do not ignore the voices of our prophets. Retain what is good. Reject what is evil. Prepare the way of the Lord.
1 Time Magazine piece on Barth, Friday, May 31, 1963
2 Pope Francis speaking to the International Theological Commission, Vatican City, 5 December 2014