Sermon – December 6, 2015 – Second Sunday of Advent

Advent 2
Pastor Bob Rasmus

“Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

Our gospel acclamation that we sing each Sunday comes from a conversation that Peter was having with Jesus in the 6th chapter of John.  Jesus had been explaining to the Jews and the disciples how he would be giving all of himself for the sake of the people, giving his flesh and blood and in sharing that flesh and blood,–the bread of life—the people would abide in him and he would give them eternal life.   Of course, the implication was that our Lord’s giving of his flesh and blood meant his death.  The disciples complained, “This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?” And some followers abandoned him.   So, Jesus queried the twelve, “Does this offend you . . . . Do you  also wish to go away?”  To which Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Following Jesus is seldom easy.  His teaching call us into places we would rather not go and to people we would choose to avoid.   He will critique our choices and demand that we examine them through the lens of the gospel.  And he will hold us to the standards that he has set to love God and to love neighbor.

Some days are harder than others.

Luke opens his story today with the roll call of the powers of the day.  The Emperor, the Governors, the regional rulers and the religious gentry.  This was the power alliance that sustained the status quo, who issued the commands to the people to jump, and who expected only one response, “How high?”  Fear was their weapon. Luke is not speaking to them.

In contrast, we are introduced to John, elsewhere described as a bug-eating, hide-clad, funky, weirdo emerging from the desert.  Luke, the historian, was not interested in those details, he was more interested in John’s pedigree and purpose over against the power bloc.  John is the son of Zechariah, a Levitical priest married to the daughter of a priest.  His father was visited by an angel who declared the fulfillment of God’s promises would continue through him and his barren wife, Elizabeth, herself a reflection of the matriarchs of the Hebrew faith, who were also unable to bear children until God’s intervention for the sake of God’s promises.  Women like Sarah, Rebekah and Hannah, Rachel, bearing sons like Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph,  and Samuel.  This John, this prophet, this pedigree, this proclaimer of Good News was himself named by an angel,  “His name shall be John . . .  for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”  To him, who at first glance is a nobody, the word of God comes in the wilderness, the biblical site of divine visitation and intercession.

That is his heritage, and his job, over against the power bloc, will be to call the people to reorient themselves, turn, repent and prepare to participate in the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ.

He announces the one who will level mountains, raise valleys, straighten the crooked and smooth the rough ways . . . and in him all will see God’s saving purpose and receive God’s richest promise.  And he directs the people to share in that same mission.  They too, will challenge the mountains and the valleys.

John is the messenger of this one who will transcend the secular power-brokers and lead the people into a new way of being in relationship with God and with one other.

But don’t we know, some days are harder than others.

Because the world is a wilderness still.   We are living in the midst of culture where life is little valued, where violence is a parlor game, where mass shootings occur more regularly than days of the year and our response is, inexplicably “more guns!”, where terror shatters lives and brings fear.  Here in this wilderness we discover mountains high and sheer, and valleys deep and dark.  The rough ways are nearly impassable and everything seems to be bent and crooked.   And it makes us crazy.   Suddenly, we are happy to deafen our ears to the cries of refugees-men, women, children, the elderly–and abandon them by the side of the road.  We turn against our neighbors even though we are set upon by a common enemy.  ISIS is a terrorist death cult with a blood fetish and we are right to take measures to undermine them and protect ourselves, but it has no more to do with mainstream Islam than David Koresh and Jim Jones of Jonestown have to do with mainstream Christianity.   Fear is the order of the day in the wilderness and it is the preferred tool of the power brokers because it is the lowest common denominator.

But it is into such places that the defiant and transcendent word of God in Christ comes to challenge those who would compromise our principles, turn us against each other and thwart the reconciling and healing work of the Spirit in our midst.  So we come today to reclaim our core principles.  The prophet writes, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.”    “The first and greatest commandment, Jesus said, is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.  And a second is like it.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  On this hang all the law and the prophets.”  That’s how we are equipped for the wilderness.

“Love your enemy. Bless those who persecute you”, he persists.    What?!!  That is so hard!   sometimes I think it is impossible because we are angry and we are hurt and we are afraid in this wilderness,  and we want to set our own terms for it.  But then we hear again, “Does this offend you . . . . Do you also wish to go away?”  . . . . . . . .“Lord, to whom shall we go?”

We have nowhere else to go, and that is gospel good news, even if it sometimes offends.  Following the voices of fear and division brings more fear and no resolution.   Lock and load and barricade yourself behind a wall is not biblical.  It is not the way of Christ.  If Christ had given into fear, he would not have gone to the cross.

Some days are harder than others, but that fact does not temper our call to follow Christ into these places.   Like all other believers before us, we have to figure out how to be faithful in our own time.  It’s not unprecedented.

So, what do we do?  First, we will do as John calls us to and repent of our collusion with the fear mongers and turn back to the way of Jesus.

Then, we refuse to do nothing.  We will hold firmly to our principles, to our faith, to our hope and we follow. We will our support and fellowship with those living in fear and deprivation.  We remember our partnerships with those who care for refugees and immigrants.  We raise our voices against those who demand that we turn to violence.  We continue to seek ways to protect the innocent without losing our integrity.  We  continue our advocacy for the least among us.   And we continue to bring praise and worship to the one who is ushering in the kingdom of God, and will discover again the unlikely good news that God continues to cherish this world and is determined to redeem it.  It is in the midst of this fearful wilderness that we will again discover Christ’s purpose and our own.  We will see what he yearns for the world to be and how we can do his work with our hands.

Does this offend you?  Yes, sometimes.  Yes.  This is hard, but Lord, to whom shall we go?  You, and only you, have the words of eternal life.

Thanks be to God.  Amen