Sunday, December 8, 2013

voices in the wilderness

Advent 2, Year A, 2013
St. George’s Chapel

May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone. Amen. 

Of all the jobs in the world, probably the most hated one (even more than lawyers and tax collectors) is that of a prophet. Prophets are never satisfied; they seem to always be complaining about the status quo. They make us uncomfortable because they urge us to change. All that doom and gloom is just plain annoying, plus, some of them can be quite...what’s a nice word for it? Eccentric. 

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness” in today’s Gospel reading is coming from a man in camel-hair clothing who subsists on a meal of insects and honey. He lives outside of town, in the “wilderness” (Matt 3:1), but the distance and his whacky appearance don’t keep people from traveling to get a glimpse of him. In fact, people are coming from all over, and what’s more, they’re actually listening to him! John is telling people that they need to repent because “the kingdom of heaven has drawn near” (Matt 3:2). 

Now when you think of the word repent, what comes to mind? I think of feeling bad or guilty for things I’ve done wrong. But repentance involves something more. To repent also means “to think differently afterwards,” to change directions, to reorient. When we repent, we don’t just say we’re sorry and continue to go along our merry way as if nothing has happened. When we repent, we are admitting that we are no longer able to live the way we once did. When we repent, we are committing to changing directions, to reorienting our patterns of thought and action. 

John was able to bring people from different backgrounds together. From near and far, people heard his call to repent, to reorient their lives. The people confessed their sins and then marked their commitment to change with the waters of baptism. 

In the Bible, prophets are not just wild, crazy people who can predict the future. A prophet’s main job is to tell us when we have gone astray and to help us to get back on track. They point the way to God. There are many prophets in the Bible: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah and Elisha, to name a few. Since their time, there have been a few prophets out in the secular world, as well. Modern-day prophets include Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The world lost another great prophet this past week: Nelson Mandela. 

Mandela was a voice in the wilderness of apartheid. When people on both sides were killing each other, Mandela’s words and his actions inspired change. Rather than let bitterness and resentment eat away at him while he was imprisoned for 27 years, upon his release he demonstrated compassion. His message was one of reconciliation. Reconciliation to him was not simply, “Ok, we have to work together, so let’s just make it easy and agree to do it my way.” No, reconciliation was more difficult than that. It required both sides to take the time to listen to one other. It required both sides to admit their faults and to change the way they were going to move past the pain in order to journey forward together. Was reconciliation easy? Of course not! The road to peace is a long and heavy one. But, as Mandela once said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” This is what reconciliation is all about. Restoring broken relationships. 

There was yet another prophet who spoke of both reconciliation and repentance. He called out leaders for their hypocrisy and defended people on the margins (the poor, especially widows and orphans). He taught and lived a way of peace. This man was not only a prophet, he was also the Son of God. 

Somewhere along the way in our journey with God, we had grown out of touch. Christ came into the world as a person to repair the broken relationship between God and God’s people. He experienced the joy and pain, the limitations and the wonders of humanity. Through his death and resurrection, he promised forgiveness of sins and opened up for us the gates of salvation, the promise of eternal life. 

In the season of Advent, we not only prepare to remember and honor the miraculous birth of Christ, we open up our hearts to receive him in the present while we look for “his coming again with power and great glory” (BCP 342). In the next few weeks, take some time to ponder where God is calling you to repent. How is God calling you to change your outlook, to reorient your life? Which relationships in your lives could use some strengthening, some reconciliation? 

Finally, this Advent, as you await Christ, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

In memory of Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013
Image found here.

Sources for information on Nelson Mandela: 

Sources for definitions:

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