Awaiting Christ’s Coming: in History, in Mystery, and in Majesty

Preached on 9 December 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

Where do you go to hear the Word of God?  Where have you found it?

The Word of God came to John.  In the wilderness.  Do you think the author of Luke was trying to accentuate a point by naming all the power players of the day?  God didn’t speak to the emperor or the governor or the regional rulers or the high priests.  And God didn’t speak in the city or even in the Temple.  No, God chose John, son of Zechariah; chose him even before he was conceived, to be a prophet.

At the end of the first chapter, as soon as John is born and named, Luke tells us, “he grew and became strong in spirit and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.”

So, John didn’t just happen to be in the wilderness; he didn’t wander out there.  The wilderness was familiar ground; it was home.  And he was ready; prepared to hear and proclaim the Word of the Lord.  It is time for him to fulfill the prophecy his father proclaimed when John was born, the prophecy we repeated in the canticle this morning, the song of Zechariah.

God has come to God’s people to set them free,” he says, “God promised he would save us from our enemies, from those who hate us.  To show mercy and remember his holy covenant.”  “You, my child, will go before the Lord to prepare the way, to give the people knowledge of salvation.”

A song of such hope!  Assurance of God’s continuing love and mercy.

We hear a lot from the Holy Spirit, speaking through prophets about God’s salvation of the people.

In our Old Testament reading, we hear a prophecy attributed to Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary.  He offers words of comfort and mercy to a people living in exile in a strange, foreign land; a people longing for a home they may never have seen.  God promises to clothe them in righteousness and glory and to prepare a level road for the people to return safely to their homeland.  God will lead Israel with joy, with the mercy and righteousness that come from God.

And in our gospel, Luke quotes Isaiah, another of the exilic prophets, to talk about John.  He is the voice in the wilderness, crying, “Prepare the way of the Lord!  Every hill shall be made low and every valley filled… and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Good News to the people of Israel living in exile in Babylon.  Good News to the people living in a sort of exile in their own land but under the oppressive rule of Rome – as our writer so carefully laid out at the beginning of the reading.

Notice that in each of these prophecies, it is God preparing the way, God extending mercy and righteousness.  The people are not sending out engineering crews to blow up mountains or build roads.

John is not selling a self-help movement for moral reform of individuals who will achieve righteousness through personal will.  No, he’s proclaiming God’s presence and activity among the people.  God preparing the way, shining light in the darkness, that all will know the salvation of God.

What a message of hope!

It’s a message we never grow tired of; a message we need to hear over and over.  A message we need right now.

Advent is a time of waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ; the coming of Christ in history, in mystery, and in majesty.

When I think of Christ coming in mystery, I think of the mystery of Christ’s presence in our lives, in the world right now.  So, I’d like for us to ponder and wonder a bit this morning in Advent, preparing for the coming of Christ.

What is the wilderness where we can hear the voice of God speaking to us?  Are we willing to go there?  To silence the noise and distractions that draw our attention?  To wait and listen in a stillness of spirit so we can hear God’s word?

And what about darkness and exile?  We may have an inkling of the darkness and exile faced by the People in Babylon or under Roman occupation.
What about in our world, though?  In our own lives?  Do we experience an exile or sorts?  Have we sent others into exile?

It’s not hard to look around us and see darkness – especially in these long, dark, winter days.

But what if we looked for the light?  For signs of hope?  For places where God’s love and mercy and righteousness are breaking through?  Where do we see God preparing the way for Christ in our lives and in the world?  The world is yearning for that light; for someone to point to it and show them it’s there.

In this season of Advent, as we await and prepare for the coming of Christ, may we always remember that it is God who is preparing the way, preparing our hearts.

Or in the song of Zechariah,
In the tender compassion of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us

To shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death,
and guide our feet into the way of peace.

Thanks be to God.