Advent II – December 7, 2014
St. Augustine’s Church – Wilmette, Illinois
There’s a voice in the wilderness, crying:
‘I can’t breathe.’
John the Baptist comes into the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance. It’s one of those words, repentance…a word we can hear and then stop listening to anything else that comes after it. It’s a street corner preacher kind of a word. It’s a loaded, coded word. It’s a word that calls out for a placard and a bullhorn.
I don’t mean that word, repentance, in the way you may anticipate hearing it. So I hope you won’t stop listening. I mean it, instead, in the way that it means to turn: to turn away from my own, from our own, perceived protection and safety and comfort…to turn toward the one who is my neighbor, but who looks entirely different than I do.
And honestly, I would take that street corner today, right there next to the prophet Isaiah speaking to his people in exile in Babylon, right next to the prophet John the Baptist with his strange and itchy camel’s hair shirt and his leather belt and his bugs and his honey and all of it. I would take that street corner today, uncomfortable as it makes me. And I would take the placard, and the bullhorn. I would take them all.
Because there’s a voice in the wilderness, crying.
Because John the Baptist comes into that wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance, a baptism of turning from, a baptism of turning toward. And as he baptizes those people in the Jordan, he tells them of the One who is coming, the One whose shoe he is not worthy to untie, the One who will baptize them, the One who will baptize us, with the Holy Spirit.
Remember. Remember what happens when the Holy Spirit comes into the world. Creation happens: the Spirit broods over the waters, and Creation is born. And it is good. The Church happens: the Holy Spirit rushes into that room where the disciples are all locked up in their fear, a mighty wind that those followers of Jesus breathe in, and the Church is born. And it is very good.
What if this is a moment of our creation, once again? Hear and claim the first line of today’s gospel: “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” What if we are being called to breathe in the Spirit as those disciples did, to receive it together as co-creators with God, to begin again, to turn and make room in relationship with those who are our neighbors?
What if our Advent is to watch for God’s messenger sent to us, to notice him, to recognize her, in a person most unlike ourselves, even in a person who challenges us, even in a person who makes us uncomfortable?
What if we hear the voice of one crying in the wilderness, and instead of turning away, all locked up in our fear, in our hunger for safety, in our desire for protection…what if, instead, we turn toward that voice with the full breadth and depth of who we are? What if we join our voices with the one who cries out, calling out together, proclaiming that if one of us can’t breathe then none of us really can? What if we prepare the way of the Lord by walking on ahead, together with those who must, as those who must?
What if that is the beginning of our Good News?
And what if our baptism of repentance, our baptism in the Spirit, is to turn? To turn away from our own protection, from our own isolation, living and moving only among people who talk like we do and think like we do and who watch the same news channel and listen to the same music and share the same education and read the same books and eat at the same restaurants…to turn away from our own supposed safety, our own assumed comfort? What if our baptism calls us to turn toward neighbors who look entirely different than we do, whose stories we do not yet know, who do not talk like we do and think like we do and who watch different news channels and dance to different music and who have different education and who read different books and who eat different sorts of food than we do?
What if our baptism in the Spirit calls us to take a deep breath and turn toward the stranger, trusting that we will not overcome our fears, we will not overcome all that separates and would divide us, by knowing about people, but by knowing and being known by them?
What if our baptism of repentance, our baptism in the Spirit, is to turn toward neighbors we do not yet know, and there, in them, see God’s own face?
Only then. Only then will we have begun to prepare the way.
It’s Advent, dear friends. It’s Advent.
And there’s a voice in the wilderness, crying.