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The Second Sunday of Advent (C)
6 December 2009

A Sermon Preached by the Rev'd Dr Andrew C. Blume

Merciful God, who sent thy messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Baruch 5:1-9
Psalm 126
Philippians 1:1-11
Luke 3:1-6

John the Baptist is a complex figure and we will hear more about him over the next two weeks. Today we are called specifically to discern how his life and ministry, sitting as it does on the very cutting edge of the transition from one age to another, gives us power to live our lives as Christians in the here and now. We may or may not be on the verge of a new age—it is a perennial question all generations have faced. Nevertheless, our sense of him living an Advent life, living a life calling people to prepare for the new age of Christ, for new life in Christ, can be inspirational to us.

John, we are told, heard the word of God and acted. He heard the word of God in a specific place at a specific moment in history, when history itself collided with God’s plan for salvation, in that far-flung corner of the Roman Empire. Indeed, Luke is insistent upon this point that history and salvation history met under Roman rule and that the structures of Empire, its very infrastructure will aid in the spread of the Gospel.

For Luke, John is the last of the great prophets of Israel. In the Age of Empire, John marks the transition from the age of prophesy, the age of promise, to the age of Jesus, the age of salvation—a salvation that is universal, available to the entire known world, to the whole of the Empire, which, in Luke’s world-view, is the same thing. In this very real setting and on this vast imperial scale, John’s life and ministry reveal a man who heard the word of God and responded; who changed his own life and devoted himself to making sure that others in turn heard that word through his preaching. He called people to account, called people to hear God’s word and gave them an ethical imperative to change their lives, re-orient themselves towards God, towards responding to the impending Incarnation of God in Christ into history, into the world as we know it—the incarnation of God into our daily lives.

John asks us to prepare the way, to get ready. In Isaiah’s language he is talking about fixing up roads to make a processional path suitable for the Advent of the Lord (1). For us, it means taking account of our lives and seeing how we may better be bearers of God’s gifts to us. We do this so that when the Incarnation happens we can see God’s hand at work, we can be comforted, strengthened in hope and make our fitting response. Our Advent practice is to “prepare the way of the Lord” and, in our own way, “make his path straight.”

In Advent, we are called very specifically to hear John’s call to prepare for his coming, his Incarnation. The incarnation is, for us, of course, that which has already happened in that very specific moment in history. The incarnation, Jesus’ incarnation in Roman Judea over two thousand years ago shows us that what happens here matters and that our human institutions can be used by God for his purposes.

That first incarnation also affirms that in our own day God makes use of our institutions, our lives, and comes among us, manifests his love in the here and now. We wait and watch, therefore, trained by our practice of Advent for the incarnations that happen every day. These incarnations, when we recognise them, strengthen us and fulfill our hope so that we may continue on our journey.

Furthermore, that first incarnation tells us of a time when God will consummate his promise of reconciliation, when God will usher in a new age in which his love, his purpose is fulfilled in us. And we have no idea what that will look like—although many have tried to imagine it. Our Advent practice, however, calls us to lives in which we watch and wait for the signs of God’s in breaking into Creation—whether it will be in a moment, a glimpse of love that fills us with hope or something much more.

When we have done this work, when we are prepared, our Advent practice gives us the power to see in events like the birth of little Leander to Lucy and Ravi just the other day the in-breaking of love into the world, the in-breaking of a new person who is, I am sure right this minute, being schooled in love on behalf of our Lord by his parents and family, a love that will be reinforced and lived out in the life of community.

Advent practice gives us the power to see in tragedies like Don’s death, as well as in his life, glimpses of the Resurrection in his gift of himself, in the midst of his own struggles, as a servant in this place, and, finally as an organ donor. Our Advent practice also allows us to see the gift that we his community gave him to see this place as an incarnation in the city of God’s outstretched arms, open to receive in love a seeker over and over again.

Our Advent practice gives us the power to see these incarnations. It teaches us to keep watching and waiting for any signs of God’s in-breaking. It teaches that our watching and waiting is active rather than passive and that we need to keep on welcoming all people, welcoming the outlier, loving the child in our midst. Our Advent watching and waiting is, like John’s call, a response to our having heard the word of God.

We have heard the Word of God. We have acted, repented, changed the orientation of our lives. We are called to act differently because of what we have heard. And so, we have chosen a life in Christian community, we have been called into community, called to this very place—an Incarnation of the Body of Christ in this City and at this moment. In the midst of this community, having heard the word of God, living the Advent practice to which John calls us, we are called to respond in our lives whenever we see the signs of God’s presence, wherever we see the hope of God’s presence.

We now have about three weeks until the liturgical clock will bring us to the creche. In those three weeks, let us hone our Advent skills, work at making the path straight, work at making our lives ready for soon “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Andrew Charles Blume+
The Second Sunday of Advent, 6 December 2009

 

(1) François Bovin, Luke 1: A commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1-9:50, trans. by Christine M. Thomas, ed. by Helmut Koester, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002) 121-122

 

©2009 Andrew Charles Blume