Romans 15.4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
+ So, do you want to feel good on this Second Sunday in Advent? I feel this good this morning. I feel really good this morning.
It is my birthday today. I’m 44 years old. I’ve just this past week kicked the diet soda habit. I’ve been ordained for ten years. My twelfth book of poems is due to be published in March. I am in the end process of finishing a new book—a book of short fiction. I am very fortunate to be in charge of a rapidly growing and expanding congregation of eclectic, visionary prophets who are leading the way into what the Church of the future will no doubt be. I have a great mother. I have great friends and family and colleagues.
So, I’m feeling very good and very thankful this this morning.
But do you want to feel good this morning? Do you want to remember something that will warm the cockles of your hearts (I don’t know what cockles are or where they are, but it sounds nice to have them warmed).
OK. So, let’s go back. Let’s go back to when we young and innocent. Let’s go back to this time of the year when we were kids. We have just turned on our big 1960s 1970s 1980s console TV.
And what do we see? We see a blizzard, people pushing their cars from snow drifts. We see newspaper headlines coming at us: COLD WAVE IN 12TH DAY and FOUL WEATHER MAY POSTPONE CHRISTMAS.
Then we see the credits: RANKIN/BASS PRESENT
There’s Sam the Snowman, voiced by none other than the great Burl Ives, who proceeds to sing the title song.
RUDOLPH THE REDNOSED REINDEER.
You feel pretty good right now don’t you? And no, this is NOT a Christmas sermon. I heard a Christmas sermon last Sunday at the Cathedral on 1 Advent, so I am making clear: this is NOT a Christmas sermon!
Well, this past week I was reminded of this wonderful Christmas tradition after our own James Mackay posted this Facebook update:
As a child, and even today, sometimes, I could identify with the Island of Misfit Toys.
The Island of Misfit Toys is that magical place where all the misfit, slightly off toys went. A place where the toy train has square wheels on its caboose, or the cowboy who rides an ostrich, or a water pistol the quirts jelly. I responded to his post with this:
If there was an Episcopal Church on the Island of Misfit Toys, I could be the Priest and you could be the organist. It could be called St. Rudolph's-in-the-Breech. Or the Church of the Holy Fools of Christ.
I think the Island of Misfit Toys is a great analogy of what the Kingdom of God is like. Probably some pop theologian has already made this connection somewhere. A kingdom built up not of the perfect, the best, the brightest. But a Kingdom built up of Misfits, thought misfits made perfect in the eyes of God.
Well, this morning in our Gospel we are encountering the person who probably could’ve been the Prophet on the Island of Misfit Toys. Just imagine: St. John the Baptist on the Island of Misfit Toys. I think he’s actually fit in pretty well, though would scare those poor toys. He’d really scare poor Charlie-in-the-Box.
In this morning’s Gospel, we are faced with this formidable figure of John the Baptist. There is no getting around him. There he is—loud and, excuse me for saying, but he sounds a bit crazy to me and I’m sure to a few of the people who heard him. The impression we get from Matthew is of someone we probably wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. He comes across to us through the ages as a kind of gnarled mountain man. He is dirty. He is not very well mannered. He is shouting strange words and prophecies. He is frightening. I would probably guess his hygiene wasn’t that great. And, no doubt, he may have smelled.
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, for the Kingdom of heaven draws near” “the axe is being laid to the root of the trees” and “the chaff will be burned in an unquenchable fire. “
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 is the true message of Advent.
Like John the Baptist and those who eagerly awaited the Messiah, this time of waiting—this time of hope—can be 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 and hope.
It’s something we all feel occasionally, but it’s something we very rarely ever discuss or personally examine.
What is hope in our lives? What do we honestly hope for? Or do we? Do we hope anymore?
I think we do. I hope we still hope. I don’t know if we necessarily name it as hope. I don’t know if we articulate it as such. But I think we all live with a certain hope. Because when we think for one moment about having no hope, everything suddenly seems bleak and horrendous.
Now to put it in its proper context, maybe the only thing we hope in anymore is God. Of course, if that’s all we hope in, I think we’re doing pretty well. But even then, I don’t think we ever really think about the hope we might feel. Hope for us, as Christians, is a matter of confidence. It is a matter of believing that no matter how fractured and crazy this life gets, there is the promise of newness and fullness to this life. And, as this season of Advent promises us, it is also a matter of waiting for Christ to come in glory.
Like John, we are waiting in joyful hope for our God to come to us, to appear to us as one of us in Jesus. As we know, waiting, even in hope, can be excruciating. It can be more difficult than anything we can possibly imagine.
So, what do we, as Christians, do with this hopeful waiting? This season of Advent offers us a time to slow down a bit spiritually and to look long and hard at our lives as hopeful Christians. It is a time for us to prepare for God’s coming to us. It is a time for us to shed some of those things that separate us from God. It is a time for us to find a place in ourselves, if no where else, in which we can go off and be alone with God. A place in which we can wait for God longingly.
In Advent we can fully express our hope. Because, we are hoping. We are looking longingly for God to come to us. So, yes, John’s message in the wilderness is a frightening one at times. It is frightening because the Light he is telling us is coming to us can be frightening, especially when we’re used to the darkness.
But it is also a message of hope and longing. It is a message meant to wake us from our slumbering complacency. His is a voice calling us to sit up and take notice.
The kingdom of heaven is near. That Kingdom of people like us here at St. Stephen’s, misfits, people on the fringe, people who swim against the stream, people who step outside the expected boundaries of the world a bit. That Kingdom is near. In fact it’s nearer than we can probably ever hope or imagine.
So, let us be prepared. Let us watch. Let us wait. Most importantly, let us hope. For this anticipation—this wonderful and beautiful hope—is merely a pathway on which the Christ Child can come to us here in our darkness and appear before us as one of us.