In the 6th year of the reign of MAGA Emperor Donald, when Joe was the truly elected president of the United States, and Mitch brought the Senate to the edge of a cliff, and his cohort Kevin ruled over a despicable crowd, during the Judicatory of Amy, Neil and Brent, and the silencing of the voices of Bernie and Elizabeth, the word of God came to John in the wilderness.
Once again, we hear from our namesake John the Baptist, announcing that all hell is about to break loose and that as Lisa recently preached, we cannot handle the truth. God clearly condemns a system and culture that does nothing more to make straight a path but to provide thoughts and prayers for the families devastated by a child mass murderer and his supportive indulgent parents.
The historical litany from the Gospel which places John in history attempts to not only give us historical perspective but more importantly to clarify the difference between God’s Reign of heaven and the corrupt racist economic social system we pledge allegiance to. John relies upon the prophetic narrative, as in today’s reading from Malachi, we will be cleansed and purified by the refiner and made fit to be offered to the Lord in Righteousness.
John is a troublemaker. He is loud, confident, and based on history had huge followings, people who were daily repressed by the economic systems of Jerusalem, Herod, and the Empire. His criticisms of government and the economy are devastating…he warns that God’s Axe is laid at the root of the tree, Jerusalem, that we can all be replaced; God can raise up children from these stones.
John had left the empire and lived in the wilderness, away from the powers of corruption, he lived on the abundance that God had provided, not the economic slavery we have become addicted to. He challenges his followers to build a better way…if you have two coats, give one away, if you have two loaves of bread, share with your neighbor. Love one another, be righteous with each other. John is confident that we can build a new world of hope among us by sharing our abundance and removing the systemic systems of separation, racism, class, and privilege.
John challenges us to see the wilderness not as desolate, but a space of abundance, hope and beauty. Consider how we are renewed by spending time in the wilderness, away from our urban economic centers. In the same way that Moses calls the Israelites to leave their captors and move through the wilderness to a fresh start, or the later Prophets call the Babylonian exiles to leave their captors, travel through the wilderness and return home, we are called to repent and return to God. John call us to have courage, to come to the wilderness, leave our economic and privileged baggage behind, and experience a baptism of repentance.
Too often I fear we allow ourselves to be caught up in John’s message about the one who is coming, and whose shoes he is not fit to untie. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that Jesus is coming is the heart of John’s message… I suggest however that there is much more to John than simply pointing towards Jesus, as important as that is.
Before I knew that I was going to preach this morning, I wrote portions of the following in the reflection you read in the weekly…
My friend Neil Elliott, priest, and Pauline Scholar (you should read his books), wrote this is Face Book this past week. I made a copy and have been meditating with it several times a day…
All the Christian bluster about “waiting” for Christ to be born at Christmas is nonsensical. Waiting for the past means you missed your bus. This smacks of succumbing to consumerism; you know Advent from the muzak playing in the mall.
Waiting for Christ to be “born in our hearts” is an authentic part of the mystical tradition, but no properly Christian mystic EVER meant, “and then we’re done.”
This is a season meant to irritate even Christian hearts into longing for a just and peaceable world. The Arc of the Universe, and all that.
When everyone can together chuckle at the lines from Amos and Micah–“Ah, yes, we fondly remember the day when justice was decisively established throughout the earth”–THEN you can get up in my face about smiling through Advent. ‘Til then, read the signs of the times.
There are two lines in his musing that catch my breath. ‘Waiting for Christ (Jesus) to be born in our hearts’ and ‘this is a season meant to irritate even Christian hearts into longing for a just and peaceable world’.
Consider the latter…. A season meant to irritate the Christian heart into longing for a just and peaceable world.
The powers of empire are corrupt, and conflict with God’s intentions. make straight the path, fill every valley, make the rough ways smooth. Preparing the way of the Lord, a path towards peace, a restoration of our relationship with God and our soul, requires overturning the world as we know it.
John and the prophets call us specifically to repent, rethink, reform, restore the systems and structures that we experience and justify as normal, and that God clearly condemns as oppressive.
John is suggesting we bring a bulldozer.
The Washington National Cathedral announced in September that the previously removed stained glass window commemorating confederate Robert E Lee has been loaned to the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History exhibit that examines the legacy of Reconstruction and the Lost Cause narrative. Dean Hollerith explained that the window is no longer part of the Cathedral’s sacred fabric and was removed along with the window of General Jackson to further a fuller understanding of the depth and extent of racism in this country. Both windows were desecrated.
We might look around this space and imagine windows and art that are not embedded in the privilege of whiteness. We might imagine windows with brown, black, red and yellow faces and other spiritual ancestors. Paul Tillich suggests our symbols and icons point beyond themselves to something else. He continues that our symbols open hidden depths of our own being, that correspond to the reality they point to. We might ask, how do our symbols prevent us from truly understanding our racism and privilege? We might ask, how is our white privilege lens harming our soul?
As Kelly Brown Douglas writes in Resurrection Hope, ‘the human soul is not defined by the unpredictable and vacillating protestations of society’ rather she writes the soul is bound to the transcendent moral arc of the universe, that bends towards justice, nothing other than the perfect justice of God’. Further she writes, ‘the soul signifies the human connection to a divine creator’ and ‘is the essence of that divinely created humanity within each human being’.
In Advent we remember the incarnation…the visitation, the journey to Bethlehem, the manger, animals, angels, and wise men from the east. We might ask, how are we ‘Waiting for Christ (Jesus) to be born in our hearts’?
I invite you to take time to remember Mary, John’s cousin. A woman who belongs with John in the prophetic tradition with Jeremiah and Malachi, a woman who left the comfort of her own home and family and after a long journey bears a child in a stable with a variety of animals, surrounded by strangers. A refugee, separated from her closest friends, forced to flee to another country to protect the life of her child. My soul is magnifying God, she says; God, who scatters the proud in the imaginations of their hearts, who brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich empty away. A first century Elizabeth Warren.
Saint John’s has a remarkable ongoing history of showing up and doing what we can to do more than just longing or wishing for a peaceable world. We do our best to get our hands dirty, share the Gospel, and assist in bending the Arc of the Universe. We are engaged in so many missional activities that I noted the other day in a meeting that we needed a project management tool…. our work is clearly focused on the Way of Love, and in using the talents and resources we have been blessed with. Baskets filled with home supplies, teachers, and meals for students in Haiti, food for the hungry and homeless, and more recently learning how to challenge systemic racism, poverty, and violence.
To be honest though, My heart longs for a just and peaceable world. I chuckle as Neil writes commenting on the lines from the prophets from Amos and Micah. Ah, yes, we fondly remember the day when justice was decisively established throughout the earth”.
As Kelly Brown Douglas writes when she asked her son, Desmond, what would it look like to live in a world where black lives matter? He responded; it would be a world where we would all be treated equally. She added, we might see a black Christ crucified by his own creation.
Eric Bazilian of the Hooters wrote the iconic song, If God was one of us for Joan Osborne, it is one of my favorite advent songs…. Not to be found in the hymnal.
If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with Him in all His glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?
If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see, if, seeing meant
That you would have to believe in things like heaven
And in Jesus and the saints, and all the prophets?
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin’ to make his way home?
Waiting for Christ to be “born in our hearts” is an authentic part of the mystical tradition,
but no properly Christian mystic EVER meant, “and then we’re done.”
Meister Eckhart would say to us, breathe God in, and Out, and practice being a midwife birthing the incarnation of Jesus and the Reign of Heaven into each of our hearts.