Advent IIB’20
6 December 2020
Is.40.1-11; Ps.85; II Pt. 3.8-15Mk 1.1-8
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone

“I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.” Amen. – From Psalm 85

I don’t know about you but I’m tired of waiting! I’m tired of waiting for a vaccine, waiting for the virus to finally end, I’m tired of politics, I’m tired of not getting to go out to eat, attend a concert, or see a movie in a theatre, I’m tired of being separated from my extended family during the holidays, and not getting to fully gather together with all of my brothers and sisters of St. Luke’s, and yes, I’m tired of wearing a mask! There it is, my ‘Advent Lament!’ I’m sure you could add some more to the “things I’m tired of” list!

The pandemic has only gone on for ten months, but as tensions and death tolls rise, we are losing patience. God’s victories are more of a slow burn than an explosion: from the beginning of creation until the resurrection of Christ scholars estimate that it took 4,000 years. From the last words of the last book of the Old Testament written by the prophet Malachi till the first dramatic words of the first gospel written by Mark it took 400 years. God is incredibly patient.

St. Peter’s second letter points us toward the timeless truth that God’s sense of time and ours are two totally different things: “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” Peter continues:The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” God’s timing is definitely not our timing.

The prophet Malachi ends the Old Testament not with a voice of wrath but with a message of hope: “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.”[1]After the writing of the Old Testament was completed, there would still be 400 more years before a prophet greater than Elijah would come.

Mark’s gospel was the first to be written some thirty to forty years after Jesus’ resurrection. It is also the shortest gospel, there is an economy of language that would lend itself to a play or a movie screenplay. The action can be going in one direction and suddenly turn on a dime and take a completely different direction. Centuries can be covered in one broad stroke: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Here at this juncture the clock is going to turn back 700 years before Christ’s birth to the prophet Isaiah who foretold of His coming. I love the tenor aria in Handel’s Messiah that animates the voice of the prophet: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people” (and me not being a tenor, I’ll have to stop there). But the message of the prophet continues: “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid… A voice cries out in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight a highway for our God.”

After literally centuries of waiting – the world turns a corner with John the Baptist being thrust upon the world’s stage seemingly out of nowhere. Like a proverbial ‘Rip Van Winkle’ finally waking up, he proclaims the message that the New Thing God was going to do was imminent: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

The messenger who was bringing comfort and hope was not the people of God’s idea of a comforting and hopeful presence, nor would it be ours. John the Baptist was a mess; wearing and outfit made out of Camel’s hair, with a protein diet that left grasshopper’s legs between his teeth, and his beard matted with honey, that trapped flies and desert sand… The Kingdom of God was at hand – Repent! Turn around! Wake up! Be Ready! The foretold messiah is coming, and it’s right around the corner!

Jesus came as baby Emmanuel, he will come again in glory as King of kings to judge the living and the dead, and as we open the door, Jesus is coming right now into our hearts, and breaking into our personal worlds in the face of strangers and the poor, and through folks we may think of as undesirables, and even in circumstances like a pandemic Jesus could very well be riding COVID’s coattails, and showing up where he is least expected, through circumstances that we or any other human power can’t foresee or control.

Because of all of these things we often ask the question ‘How should we live?’ When the door opens we have to be awake, not bogged down with sins and self-centeredness but, as Peter wrote: “To be found of him in peace and unblemished from the world…”[2]

It’s ok for us to have and to express our own versions of ‘Advent lament’, but then let us awaken, pick ourselves up, and dust off the sins from the many detours we have been on. Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen points us forward, past all of our Advent laments with an “Advent attitude” that can help make us ready for Christ’s coming, this Advent attitude has four attributes: Open, free, flexible, and receptive.[3] Let us stay Open, open to the strangers, the prophets who need a dental appointment and a fashion consultant, for they bring the comfort of Good News. Let us be open to Christ’s coming in the midst of COVID. Let us stay free from the distracting voices, the directionless detours, that cause us to miss out on the New Thing God is doing – the Kingdom of God that is breaking in. Let us all remember to stay Flexible, which is the opposite of being rigid: “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.” Relief is coming! Help is on the way!

“I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.” Amen. – From Psalm 85

[1] Malachi 4.5-6 NRSV

[2] II Peter chapter 3 NRSV