Homily preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Third Sunday of Advent – December 12, 2010
Here we are – Advent III – another week closer to the celebration of God’s surprise visit to humankind in the form of a baby, but instead of hearing angel voices announcing the good news our lectionary asks us to visit the wild-man prophet, John, one more time.
John’s message had always been edgy; he wasn’t afraid of calling things as he saw them and what he saw didn’t match what he thought God had promised his people.
Things for the Hebrew people had not improved; they still lived under the oppressive rule of the Romans. They were poor and powerless; they were without dignity and they were treated unjustly. John himself had been thrown into prison for stirring up the people with his talk of the need for repentance and a new kingdom, but his hopes for that kingdom had been dashed.
His expectations seem to have included a political coup – a revolution led by the promised Messiah. John was waiting for action – blood and guts on a battlefield, a decisive and swift victory of good over evil led by a powerful and persuasive man, someone who would name names and pronounce everlasting punishment for those who didn’t sign on to what he understood God’s agenda to be. John was waiting for someone – the Messiah – and he assumed that someone would look a lot like himself.
What John experienced in the person of Jesus, however, was something completely different from his expectations. How could this man Jesus whose closest friends were poor fisherman and women of ill repute – this man who talked about a kingdom of unconditional love and radical forgiveness. How could this man possibly be the One promised by God to deliver and restore God’s people?
The followers of Jesus and the followers of John never really saw things in the same way. Throughout history, and even today, there are people who love to raise their voices shouting “repent!” while painting pictures of hellfire and brimstone – a supposed deterrent to sinful living and a warning of the judgment to come. And there are those who would simply write off prophets like John – sending them to the everlasting graveyard of historical irrelevancy – choosing to disregard any talk of divine judgment or need for repentance.
How might we understand these two characters and their message as part of the same overarching Gospel? If we take a few steps back, we may be able to see that both John and Jesus were headed in the same direction. They both had a desire to see transformation; they both longed for God’s order to be restored. They were obviously on very different paths but their destination was a common one.
It was just about a year ago when we began thinking seriously about reclaiming our education building across the parking lot. We needed the space – badly – and we believed it was time to restore what had been built long ago to its original intent.
Some of us thought we could make the transformation happen ourselves with a few brooms, a few buckets of soapy water and lots of paint. The reality is that we needed much, much more than that.
We needed professionals with crowbars, we needed forklifts and shovels and we needed dumpsters – dozens of them. It wasn’t until the place had been completely stripped and emptied that we could really prepare a place that was safe and appropriate for housing our choir and Sunday School classes. We all shared the same goal – restoration – but it could not have happened if our only tools were either crowbars or paintbrushes. We needed a wrecking crew and we needed builders.
Perhaps it would serve us well to remember that both of the paths suggested by the words and behaviors of John and Jesus lead toward restoration as we continue our Advent journey this year.
Is there something in our lives that needs demolition so that the restoration of our true selves can be completed? Is there something we need to confess and turn away from in order that the Kingdom of God can become more fully established in our own lives? Or is there something that needs building or perhaps a fresh coat of paint?
The Kingdom has begun – and God invites us again today to be a part of the restoration process.
May God give us grace and courage to look at our lives carefully and then to pick up the appropriate tools – whether they are the tools of a wrecking crew or tools of the builder – crowbars or paintbrushes – so that we can be a part of this divine transformation God has promised.