Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Canticle 15 (Luke 1:46-55). John 1:6-8, 19-28
Advent always moves too quickly. It seems that we just begin to get into the rhythm of this season of waiting and expectancy and it is almost over. Even if the world did not place so many demands on our time during this season, I think Advent could still fly by…there is so much to think about, so much to consider, so much to imagine.
Advent reminds us again of who God is and who we are. Advent calls for a special kind of vision…it asks is to stretch and think big, to see ourselves with God’s eyes for a moment. God’s vision of course is always so much bigger than ours, filled with so many more possibilities for transformation than ours could ever be. God’s vision never reflects the world as it is, but as it could be or already is…in God’s time.
In this morning’s Scripture we hear clear voices of people who caught this vision, at least for a moment….who at their own point in time allowed God to move through them, and became co-creators with God in that vision of God’s kingdom. Isaiah says:
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
In these beautiful words, a promise is made that hope lives on in the midst of despair, that even in a time when all seems lost, God still has a vision that good news and justice will come forth and that it will come from those who had been the least, the powerless and the oppressed. This is a theme we hear echoed again in the Canticle of Mary. Mary, the young girl who not only says “yes” to her own personal transformation in being the God-bearer, but, at least as she is portrayed here, echoes some of the themes of Isaiah
“He has shown the strength of his arm, * he has scattered the proud in their conceit.He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, * and has lifted up the lowly.He has filled the hungry with good things, * and the rich he has sent away empty.”
She too seems to have caught God’s vision for God’s kingdom, and gave testimony that God is about turning things upside down. Indeed the child she carried who would be the Incarnate one would be a strange King. Born in a stable, killed on a cross. And his life would serve as an example of this vision of the countercultural life of the justice of God’s kingdom. Forgive your enemies , exclude no-one, turn the other cheek, become poor, love one another.
And John the Baptizer. Clearly John was a person who got it. He knew who God was, who he was and what he was to do. He witnesses that it is the time of the Messiah, the long awaited one who was to come. The one who would be the light that the darkness could not overcome
As I hear these readings I can’t help but notice not only the message but these messengers. Each of these people is making a response with their whole selves and beings to a call from God, bearing witness with their very selves. When I preached earlier about Isaiah, one of the commentaries had made the remark that Isaiah was likely suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder from all he had witnessed in the horrifying destruction and chaos of his time. And yet he was able to speak forth God’s message of hope for reversal and for justice. And Mary – Mary who knew full well what her “yes” could mean in a time when the fate of a woman who became pregnant without a husband could be death by stoning. And yet her question to the angel was simply, “How can this be?” and her canticle sings praise to a God of justice and mercy whose concern is for those who are least and in need. And John – his challenge was resisting those who would give him the power and the glory that rightfully belonged to Jesus. In knowing who Jesus was, he was able to find a place of certainty in himself that enabled him to resoundingly tell the world who he was not.
Each of them….hearing a call from God and responding with their lives. Are we so different? Isn’t this in some way what each of us is asked to do every day? Oh, perhaps not in such dramatic ways, but this really is our vocation – to simply know who God is, to know who God has called us to be and to say yes.
We are celebrating an anniversary here at St. James this weekend. Along with the joys of the season and the excitement of our Lessons and Carols service tonight, this weekend is the third anniversary of the commissioning of the Total Ministry team and of Marilyn and Coleen’s ordinations. (I followed along in getting ordained a bit later) This was a wonderful “saying yes,” not only for those of us on the team, but for this entire parish community…a yes to risk, a yes to a new way of being church together, a yes to our future. And as someone in the congregation said to me about a year or so ago…it does seem to be working out. One of the wonderful things about Total Ministry is that it reminds us that ministering to each other really does belong to all of us as baptized members of the body of Christ. Whether “officially” on the team or not, what we all know about this place is that there is no-one here who is not active in ministry in some way, whether in this church community or in the wider world. We are all vocational beings who say yes to God’s call to be co-creators of God’s kingdom, whether we name it as such or not. God has anointed all of us to bring the good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted and proclaim liberty to the captives. We live in a world that needs that good news of justice and comfort every bit as much now as it did in the day of Isaiah. God has asked all of us to be the God-bearers, to lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with all of the good things God has promised us in God’s infinite love and mercy. God asks all of us to be witnesses. To give testimony to the light, to be the voices that cry out in our own wilderness. And we do say “yes.”
I said at the beginning of this sermon that Advent is a time when we remember who we are and who God is. We remember most especially who the Incarnate one is for whom we wait….the one who is the great both/and…who shows us who God is and who we can be…the one whose story is told in our creed and to whom we make our promises in our baptismal vows. In a few moments we will renew those baptismal promises together as a way of remembering both the gift of the One who breaks into history and the gifts that we are to this broken world as we respond to God’s call to co-create with God this new kingdom to come. As you pray the words of renewal, listen for God’s call deepening. He comes. Prepare the way.