December 9, 2018

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C

As the popular TV show Game of Thrones says, “Winter is coming!” And I think this morning winter has arrived! It is a physical reminder of the spiritual nature of this Advent season where we experience longer nights and shorter days as we look toward the light that is coming, a light that brings the warmth of God’s love into focus.

Our readings point us toward this light. The prophet Malachi is writing after the Hebrew people have returned from their Babylonian captivity and have rebuilt their temple in Jerusalem 500 years before the birth of Jesus. The people are wondering about when they will see God’s justice against their enemies, but Malachi calls them to examine themselves and their selfish desires. In a passage just after our lection reading the prophet speaks on behalf of God,

Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. 

Of course these words are in the context of God sending God’s messenger to prepare the way and point us toward our own need for the refiner’s fire. Just as Jesus told his followers to take the log out of their own eye before removing the speck from their neighbors, so the season of Advent calls us to examine our hearts as we look for the coming promise of God’s deliverance. Malachi is directing our attention toward God’s messenger.

The Canticle of Zechariah takes up Malachi’s theme in the first chapter of Luke. Zechariah as you recall is the father of John the Baptist and famously questioned Gabriel about God’s promise that his barren wife would conceive a son. So the angel made Zechariah mute until the promise was fulfilled. The words of this Canticle are the first words Zechariah has spoken since that encounter with the angel Gabriel.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.

Prophets like Malachi and Jeremiah and Isaiah and Hosea and Joel - and the list goes on – all proclaiming God’s redemptive love and the coming of one who will bring a new reign of God’s love in the world. A love that is like a refiner’s fire and and a fuller’s soap – both of which purify that which they encounter. So our hearts too are purified as we experience God’s love in the midst of our imperfections. But most of you don’t get to see how that purification works itself out in our Grace community the way I do. I see what a vital part of that reign of God’s love Grace Church is about. I have the joy of seeing behind the scenes when people extend God’s love in ways that are sometimes unseen by the person in the pew.

For instance, yesterday, on a broadcast on an NPR station in one of our nation’s major metropolitan areas, one of our Grace Church family, who came to us when they were a student at JBU, talked about how when their family had not accepted them they found a home with us. And even 1500 miles away they still consider Grace their family. Or yesterday, when I received a text from a Grace family who asked me who in the parish needed help this Christmas because they simply wanted to reach out to their neighbors. Or last year when our Genesis House adopted family found themselves losing a wife and a mother to cancer and didn’t have the funds for her burial, you stepped up and were their family, not only paying for all of their expenses but providing a beautiful service and reception and even a burial place in our Columbarium.

Over and over again, I see your generosity and your love extending God’s reign in our community and beyond. And I want to say thank you. Thank you to those who give their time and talent and money and prayers and presence and love so that others might know they are loved and have a home called Grace.

Luke’s Gospel tells us today that God’s Word came to John, son of Zechariah in the wilderness. Not to the high and mighty of the day, not to the Roman Emperor Tiberius, not to the Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, not to the ruler of Galilee, Herod or his brother Philip, or Lysanius, ruler of Abilene, not even to the high priests of the Jewish faith, Annas and Caiphas who make offerings in the holy of holies of the temple in Jerusalem on behalf of the whole people of Israel, not even to them did the word of God come!

But to one miraculously born to an elderly couple named Elizabeth and Zechariah who had been patiently waiting for God’s promise of one who would inaugurate a new kingdom of peace and righteousness.

[John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentence for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah;

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

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;

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

One of the great musical texts of the season is taken from our reading from Malachi in Handle’s Messiah, where the recitative proclaims, “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come.” After the first performance in London in 1741, Handel wrote to a friend: “I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wished to make them better.” Handel’s desire was that we might fulfill Malachi’s prophetic words and present ourselves as offerings to the Lord in righteousness.

This Advent season is an opportunity for us to hear again the prophetic word of promise as it comes to us where we are, in the wilderness of our lives, and gives us hope to see new life birthed in us.