2 Advent B December 10, 2017
Luther Memorial Church Seattle, WA
The Rev. Julie Hutson
Isaiah 40: 1-11 + 2 Peter 3: 8-15a + Mark 1: 1-8
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God who was, who is, and who is to come. Amen.
I remember when I first moved to Seattle from Ohio. I found getting around to be a little bit trickier here in this beautiful corner of Creation. For example, it is forever burned in my memory the day that I drove Bruce’s car down to Pike Place Market after dropping him off at a shoot. I was driving along Western Ave. and my GPS told me to turn left on Virginia Street. It was raining. At that point Virginia is a really, really steep hill. Made entirely of old brick pavers. I didn’t know we had hills like that in Seattle; San Francisco, yes…Seattle….no. Did I mention that Bruce’s car is a straight shift? And it was raining….on a hill….and the street there is brick….and there was a car behind me?
I think it’s my duty as a good internship supervisor, to warn Vicar Laura’s partner, Kate, about Seattle streets. After all, Kate will be moving out here in a couple of weeks; she’s here this weekend finding an apartment. (Congrats on the new job.) So let me just tell you…
The streets in Seattle are never straight. And they will end for no apparent reason other than you’ve suddenly run into a body of water like Greenlake or Lake Union or Lake Washington…and then they’ll pick up a couple of miles past where they left off. Also….Northeast and Northwest are important. There’s 15th Ave. NE and 15th Ave NW for instance. They are nowhere close to each other.
In today’s Gospel reading we meet John the Baptist…the messenger sent to prepare the way for Jesus. His is the lone voice crying out in the wilderness “prepare the way of the Lord, make the paths straight.” He is the one of whom Isaiah spoke, saying: A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”
In this Advent season, many of us, your pastor among them, are spending a lot of time preparing. We are preparing our homes and our schedules for visitors and Christmas morning and traveling and parties and gift giving. But you know and I know that this is not at all what it means to prepare the way for Jesus. Most of those things we do at this time of year are more about the overly ambitious expectations we place upon ourselves or that we imagine others are holding for us.
What if we were actually preparing a way for Jesus?
I remember growing up I had a Sunday School teacher who loved to ask this same question in a slightly different way, meant perhaps to instill a little bit of fear in her 5th and 6th grade students: What would you do if you knew Jesus was coming to your house? How would you prepare? And the thing is, preparing for someone who is coming to visit doesn’t actually make them come. They are coming to see us regardless of whether we prepare or not.
John calls us to the work of preparing a way for Jesus. Of taking what is crooked…what is not as it was intended…what is not as it ought to be….in this case, what is standing in the way of Jesus and his reign of justice and righteousness… and John calls us to straighten it out. John calls us to level everything that stands in the way as impossible mountain to climb or cavernous valley to traverse, everything that stands in the way of the people of God and the Kingdom of God.
When Mark’s Gospel was written, those hearing an announcement that was heralded as “Good News” were hearing a very specific kind of announcement. It would be read in the town square and it would announce the arrival of a king or ruler or monarch. It might even announce the impending arrival of armies or troops. Good News was directly connected, for the writer of Mark’s gospel and its hearers, to political action.
So John the Baptizer….this unconventional prophet in his camel hair, hanging out on the edges of the river baptizing people….took that language of Good News and announced to the people that there was a new ruler coming….
In this year, perhaps more than any in recent memory, the work of preparing a way for Jesus almost seems overwhelming. Rarely does a day pass that I don’t hear the anxiety for the future people are carrying with them. Will they be able to afford their healthcare? Will it be adequate for them as they age? When people can no longer deduct interest on their mortgages or their student loans will they continue to buy houses or get an education? And how is it that even as the stories of abuse and misconduct are being boldly shared, we seem to be on the verge of electing a pedophile to the U.S. Senate? And how will our neighbors be able to afford housing? How will we?
How do we prepare the way for Jesus, when our own future seems so very much in jeopardy?
Like that houseguest, Jesus is coming, whether we prepare the way or not. The real question is posed in our reading from 2 Peter today, who notes that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, when we least expect it. So, the writer of this letter asks: What sort of persons are we to be in the meantime? And the author answers their own question: persons of holiness and godliness. Set apart for the lives and the work God has created for us and created us for. God’s work.
But Godly work isn’t some saccharine coated, award worthy string of good deeds. God’s work is messy work. God’s work is less angels singing in the sky as it is a smelly prophet in a camel’s hair tunic lingering at the edges of the river, crying out for the world to be prepared. Good News. A new ruler is coming. A Messiah.
This Messiah’s kingdom is nothing like the hearers of Mark’s Gospel expect and on many days it seems as though our nation has lost sight of it as well. This Messiah’s kingdom is one where the hungry are fed while the rich are sent away hungry. This Messiah’s kingdom is one where people of every gender identity and no gender identity are valued and protected. This Messiah’s kingdom is one where we receive with care the wisdom of the elderly and the very young. This Messiah’s kingdom is one where immigrants and refugees are offered shelter and assistance….just as his family was on their way to Bethlehem and again when they left, fleeing from Herod. This Messiah’s kingdom is one where all people are loved and respected regardless of the color of their skin or their gender. I can’t believe I still have to say that.
And this Messiah’s kingdom is one where those without homes are sheltered, welcomed, and cared for.
When I look at the parking lot, I see Advent. I see “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Only in our case it is “Prepare the way of the Lord. Tear down the old models that no longer serve you and build something new that will bring safety and stability to families and beloved children of God. Make a way straight out of homelessness and into full and fruitful life.
Beloved community, just like driving in Seattle isn’t the easiest things, neither is preparing a way for Jesus. The work can be hard and discouraging and we wonder whether we will make a difference. But it is Advent….and we are people of hope. The prophet Isaiah offers us encouragement in our preparation: Lift up your voice with strength! Lift it up. Do not fear. Say to those who are suffering, or wondering, and maybe that means you remind yourself: Here is your God. God who has come among us. Working through those who prepare the way. This God will feed the flock like a shepherd, this God will gather in the lambs…the most vulnerable…picking them up and carrying them….and guiding the mother sheep.
Do not lose hope, beloved sheep of God. Remember what Mark’s Gospel tell us: this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. But it’s only the beginning. The best is most certainly yet to be.
Thanks be to God, and let the church say…Amen.