St. Paul's Episcopal Church
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
December 14, 2014
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 1Thessalonians 5:16-24 Psalm 126 John 1:6-8, 19-28
From today’s epistle: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.”
As we move through Advent, we come to this third Sunday, which provides a moment to pause and rejoice as we continue on our path of preparation for Christmas. It is meant to give us encouragement to stay the course, just as Paul’s letter did for the Thessalonian community centuries ago. On this Sunday, we also turn our attention to John the Baptist, one of the many figures we encounter during Advent who point us to the coming of Jesus. Advent is filled with these “pointers”--not only John the Baptist, but also Isaiah, Mary, and even St. Nicholas, whom we honored last week.
John the Baptist is featured not only in today’s gospel reading from John, but he was also described in last week’s gospel from Mark. As we consider both of these descriptions, I think we will see that, while John the Baptist certainly was a “pointer” to Jesus, he was much more than that. John the Baptist provides for us an example of what it means to carry out God’s work of love and reconciliation in the world; his life is a model for using our voices and committing ourselves to what is right.
Last week in the reading from Mark, John the Baptist was described as a rather eccentric figure, wandering the countryside wearing camel’s hair and eating wild locusts and honey. While most of us are not likely to be interested in literally following this example, this portrayal of John does remind us of the importance of humility and simplicity, especially in the midst of all the shopping we seem to do at this time of year. And what was the message of John the Baptist in Mark’s gospel? It was a message of repentance and forgiveness; John the Baptist challenged the throngs of people who sought him out to examine themselves, to identify those things that separated them from God and from each other, and to turn away from them and turn toward a new life.
In this week’s gospel, John the Baptist is first introduced as a “pointer,” as a man who is sent by God to “testify to the light”—the “light” being Jesus. Then the passage tells us what John is not: he is not the messiah, or Elijah, or some other specific but unnamed prophet. So, what is he? He is a VOICE. He is a voice crying out in the wilderness. He has an important message, and he is willing to put his all into sharing that message. He is willing to speak up, to tell us what we need to hear. He implores us to “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
Sometimes when I hear the statement “Make straight the way of Lord” during Advent, I imagine “the way of the Lord” as God’s path to me. I see my Advent preparation being about opening my heart to allow the love of God as embodied in Jesus to make its way to me. Today, though, I would like to think about the “way of Lord” a little differently. Perhaps the “way of the Lord” is the path that we should be taking through this world, a path that needs some straightening so that our journey, and the journey of others in this world, can be a journey of peace, and justice, and love. And we can start to make this happen by doing what John the Baptist did, by using our voices and committing ourselves to doing our part to smooth the rough paths in this world, to help straighten and heal what is crooked and broken.
We as a parish did our part a couple weeks ago to help smooth the path for at least a few folks by participating in the Chapel on the Green in New Haven. We used our voice by saying “yes” to the call for help; we used our voice to ask for volunteers to donate food and make lunches, and we spoke a message of love by participating in the outdoor worship service and sharing the food we had prepared with a couple hundred people in need.
Today, on the second anniversary of the Newtown tragedy, we are also being called to use our voice. The Bishops of Connecticut have encouraged us to participate in the national Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath. We are being asked to use our voices to do what we each feel is right in helping reduce violence in our communities across this country.
We can use our voices in all kinds of ways, both large and small, in our society as a whole and in our personal relationships. Through our words and our actions, we can be a voice of love and reconciliation. We can speak up when we see the need to right a wrong, we can reach out to those in need, we can share words that will heal and nurture our relationships. This sometimes takes courage and can feel risky, but John’s example reminds us that it’s worth the risk. Some of us are comfortable speaking loudly, as John the Baptist did, and others of us prefer to use our voice more gently, perhaps more behind the scenes. No matter what our style, we can all use our voice to “make straight the way of the Lord,” to smooth the path even in small ways for others, to strive for a world filled with love, and justice, and peace, and to work toward preparing a path in this world that will allow all people to rejoice.