Sermon for Year C, Advent 2
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
December 9, 2012
St. Thomas Episcopal Church; St. Paul’s Indian Mission
You know how it is each week after we read the Gospel lesson.
In most places, it’s pretty quiet.
Folks generally stand up to hear the lesson
And they say what’s on the page –
“Praise to you, Lord Christ” –
And then they sit down while the preacher gets his or her act together
And right there, before much else happens,
You could hear a pin drop.
Any preacher worth his or her salt knows how to harness that quiet moment.
It was in one of those fine moments of sleepy quiet on a blue-sky Colorado morning
That I once heard a priest start a sermon on John the Baptist
By slamming his fist down on the pulpit
And by proclaiming, in a very loud voice, “WAKE UP!”
He let an awkward silence ring in the air between us.
I’m sure that in that moment none of us particularly liked Fr. Rick for doing that!
I’d have thrown my shoe at him if I’d had the presence of mind.
We were offended, but in a way we couldn’t really explain.
Maybe it was because this was the sort of preacher
Who as a rule didn’t put a lot of screaming into his sermons.
Maybe it was because a lot of folks had put their trust in him as their priest
After growing up with quite a lot of screaming on Sundays,
And Rick’s usual way of gentle teaching was seen as a vote for something better.
Maybe – shame on us – it was because we thought church
Was supposed to be some sort of escape from reality.
But in any event there it was. And I have never forgotten it. He was right.
(Let it be mentioned that this was a man trying to raise teenagers at the time.
He didn’t need lessons to sound convincing on this point;
It was a sentiment conveyed with real authority borne of actual, recent experience!)
John. The man in the desert, baptizing and preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins.
Armchair theologians like me enjoy plastering John with all sorts of titles:
Baptizer. Revelator. Forerunner. Prophet.
I think, though, it might be more accurate to name him for what he truly is.
The cousin of the Christ, who comes before the Christ,
Must be an Annoyance. An irritation. An alarm clock.
A bucket of cold water on a slumbering teenager.
John’s job is to relentlessly poke at us –
Get up … get up … c’mon, get up right now –
Until at last we rub the sleep out of our eyes
And find, to our great surprise, that we are standing before God …
In the holy presence of God! – the holy joy and comfort and judgment of God …
And having made such a realization,
The next announcement immediately follows on:
That God is doing something new, and that it’s still time to pay attention,
And that in this something new that’s about to happen,
Every uneven thing shall be made even,
And every crooked thing shall be made straight:
That the mountains will be sanded right down,
And the low fields pulled up to the same height;
That every last little dangerous road that used to be so filled
With so many curves and switchbacks and falling rocks and thieves
Will now be a straight shot. A way that is safe to travel.
Pay attention to the One who is to come, this Christ,
Because God is about to to level the playing field and make things right;
Bigshots will be humbled, and humble things will be placed in the spotlight.
Now, do you think that that came as good news
To a people and a culture and a religion
That had been as perpetually and chronically oppressed as the Israelites? –
The same small group of people that had been under the thumb
Of Assyria and Greece and Babylon and Persia for more than a thousand years
And was now barely scraping by under the harsh and sharp edges
Of the sword of the Roman regime?
Of course it was good news! Terrific news. Amazing.
The sort of news worth waking up to hear.
As wake-up calls go, this is already the second of its kind in the Gospel of Luke.
We’re only in chapter three, but wake up and look:
In the very first chapter of this saga,
An unprepared, frightened girl named Mary has been told that she will be the mother
Of Jesus, who will ascend to the throne of David,
And whose reign will be just as great as David’s, even greater, lasting forever.
It will be this young, unprepared girl – already one of the least –
Whose song about Things Made Right
Is echoed by John in the desert in substance and in heart.
Hearing this proclamation of the angel about her child, she will sing out,
God has looked on my lowliness and somehow I am blessed.
“He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
According to the promise he made to our ancestors,
To Abraham and to his descendants for ever.”
A level playing field.
Oh, and do you remember Abraham?
The childless one, the one without a legacy,
Whose disappointed face God turned to the night sky,
And said, Don’t worry, Abraham; it’s okay; just wake up and live – open your eyes:
Someday, Abraham, you’ll have more descendants than there are stars;
Many long years after you’re sleeping in your grave, Abraham,
You’ll have more children than there are grains of sand on the seashore.
The lowly lifted up once again … blessed beyond measure.
The humble brought up, and the mighty humbled.
It is an old, old story in the Bible, and very good news indeed.
We just have to be irritated from sleep and to wake up long enough to be able to hear it.
Every time we worship:
Every time we bow our heads, pause, give thanks …
Every time we acknowledge God’s presence and power in our lives …
Every time we come into this building to take Christ’s body and blood …
Every time we hear a lesson of God’s unlikely power and providence,
It is as though we’re pushed to wake up just a little bit more,
Build up the capacity to pay attention just a little bit more,
Increase the chances we might hear the message just a little bit more.
It’s easy to succumb to sleep;
But that’s not why we’re here.
We’re here because Christ has called us here,
Because we need to wake up
So we can hear the good news
That the One who is coming into the world
Is going to show us what the world looks like
When the humble are lifted up and the proud are scattered.
Jesus will do that with his life time and again, leaving us countless lessons,
And then he will do it in his body –
Being humbled and lifted up, upon a cross which is also a throne –
The seat of God’s holy judgment and comfort and joy and presence.
First, we awaken. Then we see and we get the message.
Thanks be to God. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.