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Advent 2 December 4, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
ADVENT 2  Year A
Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7; 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, December 4, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
I heard an editorial
on National Public Radio
same time ago,
enumerating all the ways
Christmas has been co-opted
by culture –
Instead of the slogan
“Keep the Christ in Christmas”
the commentator offered his own:
“Free Christ from Christmas.”
He went on to suggest
that Christians should give up
          on Christmas as a holy day
and just enjoy it
          as the secular celebration it has become.
Free Christ from Christmas –
from crass commercialism,
frenzied consumerism,
the demand to be jolly and bright,
from Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

He had a point,
and yet
I found myself wondering if Christ
wants to be freed from our Christmas chaos.
After all,
Jesus was born
into chaos.
His parents,
along with hundreds of other country folk,
had just arrived in Bethlehem
to be counted for taxation.
The place was crowded with those visitors
competing for lodging and food;
making the most
          of their compulsory trip to town,
seeing the sights,
reuniting with relatives,
partying with friends old and new,
shopping –
picking up souvenirs for themselves,
and gifts for the folks back home.
Innkeepers, shop owners, street vendors
were no doubt making the most
of this sudden influx of customers
and the opportunity
to turn a fourth-quarter profit –

Surely thieves and pickpockets
were also making the most
of the crowds and confusion.
And the residents of the town
were just trying to get through
the invasion.
No doubt almost everyone
in that busy town of Bethlehem
was oblivious to the birth of a baby
in a stable –
Among those few who heard of it
fewer still
had even an inkling
of who this was,
that God
had been born into their very midst,
and was bedded down for the night
in a feeding trough.

God’s Word made flesh,
chose to arrive smack in the middle
          of the world’s muddle –
as a baby,
a mere whisper of a child,
the smallest word God could speak.
Even before he could talk,
the baby challenged the world’s expectations:
Well . . . what were we waiting for?
What did we expect?
Only a kingdom.
It always seems to me, in Advent,
that the veil between this world and the kingdom of God
is especially thin, permeable,
          if only we would pay attention.
Each Sunday brings Kingdom messengers . . .                  
and John the Baptist . . . 
And I’ve invited a guest,
Marie-Joseph Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,
(one person with a very long name)
          from my own Advent reading.
Let’s listen to them.

About 730 years before Jesus was born,
during an invasion by the Assyrian army,
the prophet Isaiah
spoke words of encouragement
to the people of Israel:
“Even if Israel is cut down like a tree,”
he said,
“there is still life in the stump;
still juice in the roots of Jesse . . .”
“A new king will arise
descended from the royal line of Jesse’s son David.
He will be the very ideal of a king:
filled with God’s spirit,
judging the poor with righteousness
          and the meek with equity,
and striking down the wicked.”
Isaiah’s vision of Israel’s restoration
expands to anticipate the reign of God,
when there will no longer be predator and prey,
          animal, or, by extension, human.
Wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, lion and ox,
will live together in peace,
so docile they can be shepherded by a child.
“They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord,
“for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.”

About 1940 years after Jesus was born,
there was a man who searched the desert wastes for fossils,
to learn what they might tell him
about the evolution of the world and God.
This was the Jesuit theologian, geologist and paleontologist
Marie-Joseph Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,
who wrote his own vision
          of the coming of the Kingdom:
“ . . . the presence of Christ
                   which has been silently accruing in things,
          will suddenly be revealed –
Breaking through all the barriers
          within which the veil of matter
                   and the water-tightness of souls
                             have seemingly kept it confined,
          it will invade the face of the earth  . . .”          
“ Like lightning, like a conflagration, like a flood,
the attraction exerted by the Son of Man
will lay hold of all the whirling elements in the universe
          so as to reunite them . . .”     from Le Milieu Divin in Celebrating the Seasons,
                                                                                                Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, page 7.
“The presence of Christ which has been
silently accruing in things
          will suddenly be revealed . . .”

“. . . and the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.”

About 30 years after Jesus was born,
John the Baptist appeared
in the wilderness of Judea,
proclaiming the nearness of God’s Kingdom –
I think of John as a Pacific Northwest
          sort of character,
outside the bounds of organized religion,
          (but very spiritual)
appearing in the wilderness of the Palouse
wearing a polar fleece blanket
          with a fanny pack for a belt,
                   eating a natural trail mix
                   he has gleaned
                             from the land –
He makes his way
through the mountain passes down to Tacoma,
showing up, let us say,
at the Immigrant Detention Center
          on the Tacoma tide-flats,
calling us to repentance . . .
not only for the injustice of that place,
but for all the ways we have failed
to pay attention to the signs and demands
          of God’s Kingdom.

After John is interviewed on King-5,
the word goes out on Facebook and Twitter
and God knows what-all,
people turn up from all over to be baptized.
Even the Pharisees and Sadducees,
the religious professionals,
come out, curious,
concerned that John may be a threat
to their ministries and livelihood.
John spots them in the crowd.
“You brood of vipers!” he shouts.
“Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” 
When we picture this scene,
we may imagine ourselves standing
right next to John,
thinking that the Pharisees and Sadducees,
          over there,
                   are getting what they deserve.
How do you tell a prophet from a madman?
He’s a prophet when he accuses others;
a madman when he accuses us.
John’s call to repentance
is a bucket of ice-water in the face.

Just like the Pharisees and Sadducees,
we have no claim to salvation
simply because of our ancestry –
it’s no good being related to Abraham,
no good being baptized into kinship with Christ
          if we do not produce the fruit of the Kingdom . . .
for God is able to raise up
from stones scattered across the ground
          true brothers and sisters for Christ.
Our watertight souls impede the growth
          of the Kingdom within –
Advent calls us to repent,
to open to God’s hope –
to live in a way that contributes to
the spread of the knowledge of God
and the silent accruing of Christ in things.
“I baptize you with water for repentance,”
cries John, “but one who is more powerful than I
is coming after me . . .
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fork is in his hand,
and he will clear his threshing floor
and will gather his wheat into the granary;
but the chaff he will burn
          with unquenchable fire.”

John is urgent and angry for the Kingdom.
We may object to the harshness of his message
but it gets our attention,
and we had better pay attention.
These three Advent messengers
tell of a God who is both savior and judge
who is by very nature both
justice and mercy,
who holds accountable and yet forgives.
This is the God whose journey in human form
ended in death on a cross,
becoming on the cross
the intersection
          and reconciliation
of judgment and mercy
for all time.
It’s strange how time goes
when you’re dealing with God,
who dwells outside time.

Advent is the anticipation in time
of God’s coming,
and the unexpectedness
          of God’s arrival in time,
and the gradual attraction of all things to God in time,
the presence of Christ silently, tirelessly, accruing in things
across time
until the tipping point of the Kingdom is reached.
Advent is our schooling in expectation:
a time for practicing
quietness, patience, attentiveness, awareness:
for listening to messages
          whispered in the air
and shouted from the Tide-flats –
messages in the proclamation of Scripture
on Advent Sundays,
messages every day in odd and chance encounters,
moments that may reveal to us,
on second thought,
more than they seemed to contain at the time.
And when we least expect it,
and in a manner we cannot hope to predict,
righteousness, justice, equity,
will spring forth
and the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Advent is for entering more deeply
          into the mystery of a God
who is both far from us and deep within us
          and always drawing near,
the God who comes in Christ,
who doesn’t desire
to be liberated from Christmas
or any of the rest of our chaos,
but to enter into it and transform it,
          to lay hold of all the whirling elements
                   in us, in the human community,
                             in the universe,
                             so as to reunite them.
God, revealed as love
          in the very madness of it all,
come to pierce our water-tight souls
with a baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit.