Sunday, December 9, 2012

2 Advent

December 9, 2012

Luke 3.1-6

+ So, it seems there are two phrases that sort of define my life. For any of you who know me for any period of time, you will have heard me say, at some point, one of these statements. And sometimes, on a rare occasion, you may hear me say both phrases.

The first phrase I say often is “The chickens always come home to roost.”

I love that statement. I think it should be the epitaph on my gravestone. In many ways, it summarizes my ethic/moral view of the world. Essentially what is says is that there are consequences to all of our actions. There may be such thing as Karma in the world.

The chicken always come home to roost.

The other phrase I use often—more often than not tongue-in-cheek—is “I am the prophet in your midst.”

By that, I mean I sometimes have a weird perception of things. I can take one look at a situation, assess it and make an educated guess on how it is going to turn out. The prophet in your midst.

The problem is, sometimes the prophecy doesn’t always turn out as planned. That, of course, is also prophecy. Sometimes the prophecy changes because those to whom the prophecy is made, change, and God grants them grace.

Today, in our Gospel reading, we encounter another prophet—one of the great and one of the last official prophets. In this morning’s Gospel, we are faced with the formidable figure of John the Baptist. The impression we get from Luke is of someone we probably wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. He comes across to us through the ages as a man crazed. Certainly it would be difficult for any of us to take the words of a man like this seriously. Especially when he’s saying things like, “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. How could WE do any such thing? Somehow, in the way John the Baptist proclaims it, this is not so much hopeful as frightening. It is a message that startles us and jolts us at our very core.

But this—whether we like it or not—is the true message of Advent. Like John the Baptist and those who eagerly awaited the Messiah, this time of waiting was almost painful. When we look at it from that perspective, we see that maybe John isn’t being quite as difficult and windy as we initially thought. Rather his message is one of almost excruciating expectation.

For us, as followers of Jesus, we too are living with this excruciating expectation. But our expectation is not something we do complacently. We don’t just sit here and twiddle our thumbs in our patient waiting. Rather, in our expectation we do what John the Baptist and other prophets did. We prophesy. We proclaim. We asses the situation, and strengthened by what we know is coming to us, we make a guess at how it will all turn out. And we profess and proclaim that message. Our job as prophets is to echo the cry of the Baptist:

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

We should find ways to prepare for the Incarnate God’s coming to us. We do it in many ways during Advent. We light the candles of the Advent wreath. We listen to the message of the prophets from the Hebrew Bible. We slow down and we ponder who it is we are longing for. And we wait…

As prophets, as fellow seers of the future, of that moment when the Messiah will come to us, the most common prayer we seem to pray during this Advent season is:

Lord Jesus, come quickly.

But it is also the perfect summation of this Advent season.

Lord Jesus, quickly come.

It is the prayer we should all be praying as we prepare the way of the Lord. It should be the prayer that is on our lips constantly in these days before Christmas. We know he is coming. We know is imminent. But sometimes it seems so agonizingly slow in coming. In our impatience and our expectation, we cry out:

“Lord Jesus, come quickly.”

A few years ago, Joanne Droppers, a former member of this congregation, gave me one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in some time. The book is Exiles by Ron Hansen. I have long been a fan of Hansen, every since I read his exceptionally beautiful novel Mariette in Ecstasy.

In Exiles, Hansen examines, in his fiction, the story of the great poet and Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Now for those of you who know me, you know that Hopkins has been a major poetic influence on me. I recently came across my journal from 1987, when I was seventeen years old. I was amazed how much Hopkins I read at the time and how many times I referenced him.

Hopkin’s most famous poem is “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” And, in Hansen’s novel, he examines the actual disaster that inspired the poem.

On December 6, 1875, a German passenger steamer, The Deutschland, on its way from Bremerhaven to New York, ran aground in a blizzard on a sandy shoal in the Thames estuary near Harwich, England. After several hours of being trapped there, early on the morning of December 7 the ship began to take on water and the captain ordered the ship to be abandoned. The passengers panicked and people began falling into the freezing water. Among the several hundred who died were five Franciscan nuns who were fleeing the anti-Catholic sentiments that were sweeping Germany at the time under Otto von Bismarck. All five nuns died in those waters. But as they floundered in the water, they were heard crying out one prayer.

As Hopkins puts it in his poem:

“And they the prey of the gales;
She the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly
Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails
Was calling ‘O Christ, Christ, come quickly’:
The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wild-worst Best.”

To some extent, our Advent is much like the freezing waters that rise about this poor nun in Hopkin’s poem.

In this season, overwhelmed by all that is happening around us, we too might find ourselves crying out as that sister did in those freezing waters. Both places are frightening. Those freezing waters are frightening. And our own lives can be frightening. And at times, these moments of expectation are frightening.

But, still, even in these frightening moments, we are prophets. We can assess the situation—as ugly and bitter as it is—and see that there is a positive outcome. Always.

Jesus is coming. Yes, not at the speed we want him to come. But he is coming. And in that moment, prophets that we are, seeing into the dark of the future, we too can say,

“Even so, Lord, Jesus, come quickly.”

In it, we find our hope and our longing articulated. We, the prophets, find that we can now see the goal for which we are working. We can look into the gloom, into the frightening future and see that all is not lost.

He is coming. He is coming to us. He is coming to us in this place in which we seem sometimes to flounder. He comes to us in these moments when we feel overwhelmed. He comes to us in those moments when it seems we have lost. He comes to us in our defeat. And when he does, even in those moments, we know.

Truly the summation of our prophecies is upon us. And that summation? It is the fact that, in his coming “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” in our midst. And with that realization, with that actualization, we are listed from those waters and from mire and muck of our lives, and we restored.

Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!


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