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ADVENT 2  Year C
Malachi 3:1-4; Canticle 16; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday December 6, 2015
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
On this second Sunday of Advent,
John the Baptist arrives
for his annual Advent visit –
“proclaiming a baptism of repentance
for the forgiveness of sins.”
He’ll be back in next week’s gospel, too,
with quite a lot to say on that subject.
But today
we learn of
Luke’s understanding
of John’s pivotal place and role
in the ever-unfolding saga
          of God and God’s people.

Luke begins his gospel with the story
          of John’s conception and birth,
inter-weaving it with the more elaborate story
          of Jesus’ conception and birth . . .
the inter-weaving
          a signal that these two lives
                    were to be ever intertwined
                             in living out God’s purpose . . .
And the more elaborate treatment
          of Jesus’ birth
is a clue that, while John
          is a most important figure
                   in this purpose,
                   Jesus stands at its very center.
          (John, after all, didn’t have any shepherds and angels
                   attending his birth.)
Both pregnancies were unlikely occurences:
Luke tells us that John’s mother Elizabeth was barren,
          and both she and her husband Zechariah
                   “were getting on in years . . .”
He tells us that Jesus’ mother Mary
          was unmarried and a virgin.

Both astonishing pregnancies were announced
          to the respective parents
          by a messenger from God,
                   Gabriel. the first among angels . . .
a sign that God would be
particularly at work
          in these intertwined lives.
While the infants
          were still in the womb,
                   (John 6 months the elder)
Luke tells of the newly-pregnant Mary’s visit
to Elizabeth at her home in the Judean hill country.
As the women embraced,
John leapt in his mother’s womb
startling her into surprise and praise . . .
and so began his ministry
          as the forerunner,
          the one whose mission
          was to announce
                    the greater One who was to come . . .
for Elizabeth, filled with the holy spirit,
exclaimed to Mary:
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And why has this happened to me,
that the mother of my Lord
should come to me?”                          (Lk 1.41-43)

The two infants were born,
and circumcised,
according to Jewish religious practice.
Luke says nothing more of John’s infancy and childhood,
and just enough of Jesus’ infancy and childhood,
that we know Jesus is remarkable, unique,
and the one with whom
          we will ultimately be concerned.
We next encounter John and Jesus
some thirty years later,
grown men,
John first on the scene,
stirred into action by the word of God
          that came to him in the wilderness.
Luke first
reminds his readers
of the very specific time and situation
into which God chose to speak that word . . .
with a list
of the Roman principalities and powers
who ruled over occupied Judea,
          and the names of the Jewish high priests
                    who collaborated with them.

In that “15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,”
a great and definitive inter-section occurred,
of the harsh realities of the time
with the eternal purposes of God . . .
for God was speaking through John
a word of warning and a promise of redemption:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
In John,
Luke sees
the last in the long line
of the prophets of Israel.
Prophets like Malachi,
messengers of
God’s eternal intent
breaking into the world
on a great and awe-filled day
          of refining and purifying . . .
when the worthiness and righteousness
          and joy of all God’s people
will be all that is left of us –
that which is good, and honest, and true,
          and is more than enough
                   to please and glorify God.

In John,
Luke sees fulfilled
the words of the prophet Isaiah . . .
Isaiah, who, over 500 years earlier,
(in another specific time and situation)
wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon
          to prepare themselves,
for God was preparing
          to bring them out of exile
          and restore them to their own land.
“Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
the winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh / shall see the salvation of God.”
In this reminder
of God’s saving action in the past,
Luke knows his community will hear,
in their own time and situation,
its fulfillment foretold
          in John’s proclamation
                   of the coming One –

who in the place of tyranny
          brings justice,
in the place of captivity,
in the place of violence and brutality,
in the wilderness,
          a green shoot of love
                   springing up from parched soil.
It is the advent of God’s kingdom,
which has come, is coming, will come
into the world
in and through the person of Jesus.
Justice, freedom, peace,
a green shoot of love . . .
It is for these things we yearn
in our own time and situation
this Advent in the year 2015.

Justice, freedom, peace,
a green shoot of love . . .
for God’s wounded Creation,
God’s suffering creatures,
God’s beloved, hurting people . . .
What word is God speaking
to us this Advent?
We have been visited
by angels
this fall,
messengers of God
who roam the wilderness
of Tacoma’s backstreets and alleyways . . .
a wilderness
of no location for self or belongings,
          for a circle of friends,
          for the companionship of fellow workers,
because there is no home,
no job,
no place to create a life,
no place even to sleep.

On the cold and rainy nights,
they have tucked themselves
into the corners of our buildings,
because there was no room for them
in Tacoma’s overcrowded shelters.
Their presence has spoken to us
of our society’s ongoing and grievous failure
to serve and care for the most vulnerable
among us.
We, of course, are participants
in that society.
Their presence has questioned us . . .
stirred up our compassion,
          our consternation,
          our sense helplessness,
          our concern for safety,
                   ours and theirs . . .
And we have wondered . . .
Might this place
be one place
the wilderness of Tacoma’s streets
and the Kingdom of God
have intersected?

God has entrusted us
with a great wealth of buildings
and space . . .
Might the warm basement of Wells Hall
be a safe sleeping place
on the coldest and meanest of nights,
for those abroad in the streets
whose lives are in danger?
Today, on the 6th day of December
          in the year 2015,
following this liturgy,
we’ll meet to learn from the group
          exploring this possibility,
to share ideas and concerns,
to ask our questions and be questioned,
and, above all,
to listen,
to listen for the word God may choose
          to speak in our midst.
Is it here and now,
in this very specific and cruel situation and time
that the advent of God’s Kingdom,
in this one small but crucial way
will make itself known among us
and through us?

Can the rough places be made smooth,
the mountains and hills be made low,
the winding roads be made straight,
that God may bring
at least some of God’s exiled people in?
In the silence of yesterday’s Advent Quiet morning,
our presenter Susan Cherwien
spoke of Christ Church as
“a little spot enclosed by grace
out of the world’s wide wilderness.”
                                                    (from a hymn text of Isaac Watts)
“a little spot enclosed by grace
out of the world’s wide wilderness.”
May it be so
for all who come to us
out of the wide wilderness.