Advent 2B’23
10 December 23
II Pet 3.8-15a,18; Mark 1.1-8
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

 O Lord, grant us grace to always be open to your messengers, however distasteful they may be, that we might experience your redemption in the desert places of our lives. Amen.

I’ve never forgotten the day I was in Lucerne, Switzerland. I was 16 and I had been in Europe for nearly two weeks on a tour with my high school choir. Although I had really enjoyed seeing the sights and sounds of these foreign countries my stomach was all out of sorts from the change in diet, my legs ached from the many miles of walking, and my head was pounding, in short, I was very homesick for a place called “Arkansas.” Then I heard it, something that sounded slightly familiar but seemed out of place in Switzerland. Was it possible a southern accent? Then I saw that the voice was coming from a tall man who was wearing a cowboy hat and a leather jacket with fringes. I walked over to the man and asked if he was from America and he said, “Why I sure am, young fella!” He turned out to be a man from Dallas who was there on business. I remember besides being from the same part of the world we had both been craving some barbeque!  We both wanted to be back home.

 It is to this sense of feeling homesick of not being at home that the season of Advent calls us to remember and to watch, to wait and to hope for our salvation. The very first words of the best-known Advent hymn remind us of this: O come, o come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear.  During advent we pause at a three-way stop and look for Christ’s coming in three manifestations; his first coming as the baby Jesus, his second coming at the end of time as Christ the exalted King and judge and the third manifestation? Christ’s daily coming into our lives through his many and varied messengers.

Christ’s salvation encompasses the past, present and future. The first coming has already happened and the second coming hasn’t happened and since none of us know the day or the hour when it will happen, St. Peter reminds us where to keep our focus: Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…

And what is this holiness and godliness…among other things it is the seeking out of our wholeness for that is holiness in its truest sense to be made whole by Christ. All of us are broken, all of us have parts of ourselves that have not come home, parts that are still held captive in the desert of our own exiles. Our brokenness manifests itself in the many holding patterns that keep us captive in our relationships with God, ourselves and with our neighbors. There is a song by country music artist, Pat Green that captures the essence of our brokenness: “Mile upon mile, got no direction, were all playin’ the same game. We’re all lookin’ for redemption…”


God loves us just the way we are but is not content to leave us where we were found – God wants to bring every part of ourselves home.  In our Eucharistic prayers we are reminded that God continues to reach out to us and to bring us home, Eucharistic prayer ‘C’ says: Again and again, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages, you revealed your righteous law.

What are the parts of us that are still in exile? Some questions to ask that can help us figure that out might be: “What repeated lessons keep coming my way that I can’t seem to learn – where do I feel stuck in the present moment? Where do I continually fail to act in my own best interest and in the best interest of others?”

The people of Israel had been stuck in exile for a period of about four hundred years before the voice of John the Baptist cracked the silence with his cry: “See I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

 Into the wilderness of Israel’s brokenness came the cry of the Baptist and can I tell you I don’t think he was really what people were looking for or expecting. I mean this guy was a disaster. He had been living out in the desert for years, I don’t think any amount of super sport deodorant would have helped. He wore a camel hair tunic which only made him sweat more and smell more, and due to his diet of choice (honey and locusts) when he talked, you could see bug’s legs between his teeth – not my idea of a Royal Herald ushering in the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless, John was God’s messenger and those who were able to receive this messenger and his message were changed. Their personal wildernesses were transformed into gardens of grace. They would now have eyes to see the new thing that God was doing in their lives.

The gospel today reminds us that we don’t get to pick who God’s messengers are – we don’t get to pick our ‘John the Baptists’ God does, and we aren’t in control of how or when they will come, we only have the promise that they are coming – coming to break us out of our holding patterns like a thief in the night. Into the wilderness of our pain, confusion and brokenness God’s messengers will come to heal us and lead us to a more abundant life. 

One of God’s messengers came suddenly into my life when I was in the 4th grade. God’s messenger turned out to be my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Johnson and before you get any warm fuzzies, let me just say we all called her ‘old lady Johnson!’ Her unspoken motto seemed to be that: ‘all students are delinquents until proven innocent.’ After about two months of her harsh manner, I started telling my parents that I was sick and unable to go to school.  I was just scared to death of her.

My mom decided to have a conference with her. My mom came home and told me that she believed that things would be better at school. The next morning, we got up and I reluctantly got ready for school. My mom asked me a question that would be pivotal – she asked me if I’d like to pray before I went to school that things would go well. So, we prayed – things did go well and for the next eight years of public school I said a prayer with my mom each morning before going to school.

By the end of the year, I had come to really like Mrs. Johnson and now had this pattern of daily prayer established. I never would have picked Mrs. Johnson to be one of God’s messengers but thanks in part to her; prayer became a part of my daily life.

Who are the Mrs. Johnson’s in our lives, who are the John the Baptists, who are some of the unlikely candidates that are in our lives that may be God’s very messengers to move us beyond our wilderness of exile and bring all of us home?