Sermons

The Second Sunday of Advent, Year C, December 5, 2021

Text: Malachi 3:1-4; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6; Canticle 4 or 16

Calvary Episcopal Church and Christ and Trinity Lutheran Church, Sedalia, Missouri

The Rev. Anne Meredith Kyle

 

From the Song of Zechariah, You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen!

The words of the prophet, Malachi, whose name means messenger of God, tell us that God is sending one who will offer purification and will refine in the way that fire purifies silver or gold, both of which are precious, yet may still be flawed. The one who is to come will also purify, as the fuller purifies the cloth to remove the impurities. I am hearing a call for us to join John the Baptist in the work of purifying.

The canticle we shared today is Zechariah’s song and is found in the Gospel of Luke. In it, Zechariah recalled for us the promise of a king who would be born of the line of the great kings and who would come, bringing freedom from hate, and peace with our enemies. Zechariah tells of the important role that his son John will play in all of this when he sang

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. To give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.

In this way, Zechariah gave his thanks to God for the gift of a longed-for son.

In his letter to the Church at Philippi Paul expressed his great joy in the people there and made a thanksgiving to God for their witness to the Gospel. This is more than the usual note of thanks as Paul was impressed not only by the Philippians faithfulness to the Gospel of Christ, but also by their actions done in the name of the Gospel. Paul called it a harvest of righteousness so impressed was he with the way they both proclaimed and lived their witness to Jesus Christ. They didn’t only accept the Gospel; they did something about it.

The Gospel passage we shared today is another example of Luke as historian. Chapter 3 is thick with details that place the appearance of John the Baptist in a very certain place and time. Luke oriented John’s appearance with the reign or rule of seven leaders in the government and temple, from the Emperor Tiberius to Pontius Pilate, Herod, Phillip, Lysanias, and the two high priests, Annas and Caiaphas.

John was born into a line of priests, but he shed that role and image for that of a wild, public evangelist. John quoted the prophet, Isaiah as a part of his call for people to repent, to turn around. He told people to prepare the way for the Lord by straightening out and smoothing over the path, filling up the valleys and flattening out the mountain passes. Mike is a runner and we both are cyclists. What John described with Isaiah’s words sounds to me like the Katy Trail… a place where we can run and bike without dangerous curves to navigate or exhausting hills to climb… But I don’t think that John is telling us to find easier paths for ourselves.

So, what is John asking of us? What is this ancient evangelist and an even more ancient prophet saying to us, today?  Prophecy is often taken as a prediction of the future and that is certainly one way to understand the word. But biblically speaking, a prophet isn’t a fortune-teller or one who predicts the future, rather a truth-teller who sees things as they really are, past, present, and future, and who challenges the community to both accept reality and to devote time to God, and to imagining of a better reality. A good prophet is a good bit annoying, as they work to shed light on the truths of our systems, our communities, and our lives… whether we wish to see that truth, or not.

In the time described by Luke, the word of God came to John while he was in the wilderness, and he took that word to people all around the region of the Jordan river. The words John preached were the words of an ancient prophet. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth…

We hear these words in Advent and take them as our encouragement to prepare ourselves, body, mind, and spirit, for the coming of the Christ child at Christmas, and so we should. As we prepare, we repent. To repent we straighten up, tidying up our ways and our habits. We work on making ourselves new as our way to prepare for the new Christmas and the dawn of hope in the birth of Christ.

As I reflected on these passages, on the message of the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap, the crooked paths and the hills to climb, the prophet’s message and the baptist’s cry, I heard something more than a call to make ourselves ready; I heard a call for us to be refiners, and fullers, and the straighteners of paths. And the call to be and to do all of that begins with Repent!

The word repent means turn around. In turning around, we don’t simply change ourselves and our behavior, though that may be an important part of our repentance. In turning around, we don’t just change our scenery, we change our focus. In turning around, we gain new perspectives. In turning around, we see not only the things which we are focusing on, but we turn our attention to the situations of others.

If we let our preparation and repentance be focused only on the person in the mirror, then we have not taken the call to repent seriously. Again, to repent, we must turn around. And, when we do, we will see our own opportunities to be refiners and fullers and straighteners of the paths of others.

When the prophet said you, my child, will be the prophet, you will prepare the way for the Lord, the prophet was not only speaking about John and his work of evangelism… when the prophet said you, my child the prophet was speaking about and to US… We are called by God into a sacred covenant to be preparers and prophets. Just as John was called to make a straighter path for the people to find God, we are called to refine, cleanse, and straighten the paths of the people we meet along life’s way.

We are called to straighten the way to Christ by being Jesus’ hands and feet, in the here and now. Sometimes our work is planned – a day to bring food for the hungry, a collection of Christmas gifts for a needy family, a shelter to protect people from the bitter cold.  But sometimes our work finds us in unexpected places. We may be called to give a kind word to one who is overworked or overwhelmed. We may be called to comfort and guide someone who is frightened or in pain. We may be called in that unexpected moment to speak truth to power and to smooth the way for a person whose everyday path is steep and treacherous. Like the Philippians, we are not only to accept the Good News, but we are also called to do something about it!

So, on this Sunday when we light the candle of love on our Advent wreath, may we take some time to turn around and consider how the love of Christ might shine through us, as a light on the path of another. Amen.