Who Invited Him?
Second Sunday in Advent: 7 December 2003
"Who Invited Him?"
Rev. Philip R. Taylor
Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126; Philippians 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-6
All four Gospels talk about John the Baptizer. John was apparently not easy to ignore. I have a friend who is pastor for an Original Free Will Baptist congregation in North Carolina and he recently described John as "that cousin you would not like to see arrive at the family reunion." Even that description may be an understatement. If one definition for a true prophet is, "Someone who tells the King and the people what they don't want to hear" then John qualifies in spades.
We might be inclined to ask, "Who invited him?" The gospel writers all believed God invited John to the 'family reunion'. Well thanks a lot God. We had this wonderful party planned to celebrate the arrival of Jesus into the family and along comes his cousin, John.
I once heard a preacher say, "John came to preach repentance; Jesus came to explain how to repent." In my homilies at the drug and alcohol treatment center I have translated that preacher's line as, "John proclaims step one of the twelve steps of recovery; Jesus explains steps two through twelve."
To recognize our need for repentance, i.e. change, sometimes it is necessary to have John, The Unwelcome Cousin, invited to our party. Just in case we do not get it with John's stark message, Jesus, we are told by Mark and Matthew, begins his own public ministry with the word, "Repent."
John's message and one of the important themes of Advent is "Wake up, pay attention, recognize your need to change, admit your sinfulness, turn your life around 180 degrees, God wants to see your face not your backsides."
There is another theme for every Sunday of Advent. It runs through every lesson for every Sunday of all the major lectionaries in each of the years in the three-year cycle. We are asked to remain watchful to be sure but that presupposes that we have some yearning, some concept of what to watch for, some inkling of how important it will be for God to intersect with our lives, some hope.
While Advent shows us many facets of God's love and concern for us through the themes of action, surprise, watchfulness, repentance, and Second Coming, the theme of hope is ever present. Hope allows God to act. Our hope gives God permission to be born into our lives. Hope assumes God will surprise us. Our watchfulness begins in hope. Our repentance is based on hope. Hope is the cloud on which Christ will arrive at the Second Coming.
But what about the other side of the coin, hopelessness? In Dante's allegory, these words are over the gates of hell, "All ye who enter here, abandon hope." Truly, the times in my own life that have been devoid of hope have been periods 'of real hell'.
It seems that the events that swirl around us, speak forcefully about the effects of hopelessness. In our own country we are experiencing rampant crime and resultant fear. We see devastating poverty amid opulent wealth. Throughout the world, we see and read about mass starvation, ethnic cleansing, and over thirty shooting wars. These events not only are causes for hopelessness, but very well may often be caused by hopelessness.
What is our position? What can we say to each other and the world? What are Christians to say, do, and proclaim in such a world. "Hope!"
The Book of Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 1 says, "Now, faith is the awareness of things hoped for." Christian hope says that our future as well as our past and present, belong to God.
Bishop Frey once said, "Hope is the melody of the future; faith is the courage to dance it today." The poet and author Robert Bly tells us that the same nerve endings that allow us to cry and weep allow us also to dance and that those who have lost all hope hear no music; they cannot dance.
I have hopes, don't you? I have hopes for my children, for my wife, for those I love, and for myself. You have hopes, too; I know you have them. My prayer is that we can all grab onto those hopes and dance in this Advent Season.
As Christians we are born, live, and die in hope. At our Baptism, at our new birth, the celebrant says, "...you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own forever." We are baptized in hope, as well as in water and by the Spirit. Our baptism is celebrated by words of hope, "...you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own forever."
We also live and pray in hope. "Give us this day our daily bread"...give us hope..."lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil"...give us hope.
In the Office of Morning Prayer are these words from Suffrages B, "In you, Lord, is our hope; And we shall never hope in vain." In Suffrages A, we say, "Let not the needy, 0 Lord, be forgotten; nor the hope of the poor be taken away" and in the General Thanksgiving, "We bless you...for the means of grace and the hope of glory."
As Christians, we even die in hope. When the minister throws dirt on our coffin at the grave, these words are spoken, "In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life…"
How will God Advent to us? Perhaps God will speak to us as John the Baptist spoke. We may hear a voice which cries and shouts in the wild-er-ness, which says repent, change, become a people of hope. Return to the lord. Return to hope. I baptize you with water, John says, but one comes after me who will, baptize with fire and hope. One comes soon who will surprise you, who will bring you hope, a hope not revealed in your dreams or even in the words of your prophets. He will bring you the hope of eternal life.
God loves surprises. He has certainly surprised us by inviting cousin John to the reunion. Children love surprises, too. God must be a child! Do not stop the little children from coming to God, because in the kingdom of God, God is like a child. The child, unlike the adults is happy to see the unwelcome cousin John. God is playful, imaginative, mischievous, and full of surprises. So God is not a child, you say. Well, God was once a child. "Do not fear", the angels say, "I bring you good news, I bring you hope, I bring you God as a child."
We must be watchful, certainly. But we are also to be a people of Hope, we are to be the Christ bearers in our world, we are to be the bearers of hope. We believe that hope is already alive in us, in the spiritual womb of our being, about to be born once again, as a baby, as Christ the lord.
Christ will be born in our hope and Christ is alive in our hope. My own witness to you this Advent is that Christ is already alive in the distressing disguise of the poor and the powerless. He is alive in the God of surprises of life, alive as a little child among us and alive in our hope. Come let us repent in response to the plea of our unwelcome cousin John and then let us dance to the music of hope.