Second Sunday of Advent
Baruch 5:1-9 | Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11 | Luke 3:1-6
Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
The four Sundays of Advent are really one, consistent message. Each Sunday focuses on a part of that message. The message is directed to something that we are about to begin, a new church year, a new liturgical cycle. Each cycle focuses on one of the synoptic gospels. Last cycle we just finished was the gospel of Mark. This will be the gospel of Luke. The first is the gospel of Matthew. Someone once said, if we didn’t have all four of the gospels, we couldn’t possibly have the fullness of the message of Jesus. So even though they seem similar, covering the same events, it underscores the fact that, as one reads an event, as one perceives it, digs into it, imagines it, as one would have imagined the ministry of Jesus and then wanted to record it, certain things would be recorded, depending on your perception. We have four different people’s perspective.
So let’s look at these readings and see what they point out, because last week, when we listened to them, we realized that there was something coming, something difficult, some difficulty was coming and that there would be a lot of pain, a lot of suffering, a kind of catastrophic situation where things were falling from the sky, and the earth was trembling, and there was great upheaval. I pointed out that one of the things I believe God was putting before us was the notion that, if we’re going to follow the way of God as revealed by Jesus, we are going to go through radical changes, and when those changes come, they’re going to basically free us, cut us off from the illusions and the half-truths that we’ve been living. And when you’ve been living in one way of seeing and you’re asked to let go of it, it isn’t just, “Oh, how wonderful, a new way of seeing. It’s so much easier, so much better.” No. You have to let go of the old, and if the old has really been a part of the decisions you’ve been making, particularly your unconscious decisions, then it’s almost like a death, like your world is collapsing.
The other thing we learned last Sunday is it’s time to pay attention. Don’t go numb. Don’t go unconscious. Pay attention. Pay attention. What I think we’re supposed to be paying attention always is our intention. Our intention is everything. What am I doing? Why am I here? What’s my deepest desire? It’s clear, especially as we listen to the second readings of both these two Sundays — we see that what Paul is saying is, “I’m so delighted that you’re engaged in this work. I’m so happy to see God manifesting himself through you, and I see you loving each other, taking care of each other,” which, surprisingly to me in a way, was so radically different than the way the world lived back then. Then this beautiful image of as you perceive what you’re seeing, as you perceive the message of Jesus, that perception is going to focus your intention in the right direction: empathy, care, forgiveness, and most especially, living out your life as it is written. Living your life as it is written, this brings up a very complicated issue of is our life already written for us. Not in the sense of all decided, because we have a major role in deciding how our life goes, but are there objective principles? Are there objective things that our life in particular has been in formation for years to get ready to give a particular insight, a particular part of the story so that everyone has this challenge of not only seeking to be who God calls us to be but to be uniquely what that is? And that takes a tremendous amount of self-reflection. What is it that I’m here to say? What is my gift? What is my purpose?
It’s interesting to me that at the beginning of God’s relationship with his people, he formed a community, the Israelites, calling them to be his people, which underscores to me that the way in which we are asked to live out our life here, our destiny on this planet, is in community with others. When I think about my community or your community, I could say, “Well, we belong to this religion. I do, Roman Catholicism. That’s my community.” I could say I’m an American, or I’m a Texan. Those are my communities, but I don’t think it’s that simple or geographical or based on whatever religion you belong to. I think it’s the family of man that is searching for the truth and longing to see what is real and to live out their part in that process, being a seeker. We come into the world in a particular family, and we are a part of that family. I think it’s fascinating how, when you come into a family, you would think maybe because children have the same experiences that their brothers and sisters have that they’d all be so similar. It’s just the opposite, it seems. Brothers and sisters can be radically different. Where does that difference come from? Well, there’s certainly a primary influence on all of us in our family of origin, but there’s also an influence that we come into the world with, which is about our past, about all the generations that preceded us and about the groups of people we were part of in an intimate way, that we were really working together. My point being we have a nuclear family that we work together with. As we grow older, in adulthood, we find we are choosing a family of friends, acquaintances, people that we are working with, and that’s another group that we’re connected to. Within that group, there’s usually a smaller group that’s our intimate friends. So we have a family that we’re connected to, a community of workers and connections with people that we interact with, and then this group of people that we really call friends. That’s who we work with. That’s the group that is ours, and whether we choose to be aware of this or not, it happens this way, because the way we are connected, the way human beings connect is that they connect in a way that is not just literally time with each other. But when you connect with someone, there is a true, literal flow of resonance and grace and energy between the two of you. I love it when you have a friend that you haven’t talked to in a long time and you pick up the phone to call them — this happened to me not too long ago — and they had picked up the phone at the same exact moment to call me, and neither phone rang. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
We work with a group, and what is the work of the group? Well, pay attention. Be alert. Be awake. Be conscious, and then notice some things that are crucial to the whole sense of being full and alive and engaged, principles called the truth. Our responsibility is to lead each other into the truth as Jesus came into the world to lead each and every one of us, as a community, into the truth, what is, reality. And so this work is the work of all of us. We call it sometimes the work of the church. We call it the work of friendship, the work of marriage, the work of parenthood, but it’s guiding each other, reminding each other of things. And that first set of readings that we had last week was saying there’s a promise being made to you by God, and this promise will be fulfilled. I love that image, because it means that this work of growing into the truth is not simply something that we have to come up with all the energy and all the strength that is needed to achieve it. No, there’s a greater strength than we are who knows so much more than we know, who’s light years ahead of us in wisdom, and it’s his relationship with us that, if we pay attention to his intention, it is we will succeed. We will make it. We’re going to make it. This is not a dice throw. No, it’s a slam dunk, unless we simply stand up and absolutely resist it, which is possible, but not for the person who’s seeking it, not for the person who wants it.
So we see in this particular second set of readings for the second Sunday, it is something a little different. It seems to be, certainly, about the plan, about the direction we need to go, but it also says that there is this path we’re supposed to be on, this journey. And we should be on it together. We should do it. It’s symbolized by — obviously the first thing that God did with the community that was interconnected was to lead them together on a path, on a journey from what they didn’t know to what they knew, from what was less to what was more, from what was imprisoning them to what was free. That’s our direction, and the thing that we can call all this work is going toward the truth. Now, one of the phrases that stands out from this liturgy is this path that we have. We have to do something about it. John the Baptist, who was the most important figure to engage us in this path, announcing it, not the source or the success of the path but the announcer, said that you have to make this path, the path of Jesus — you have to be open to it. You have to let it come to you. When it comes to you, you have to be strong and fearless enough to go where it’s calling you. It’s a journey, and I think it’s so fascinating, when it says so clearly, grace, the will of God, the intention of God inside of you, who wants this thing to happen, is going to do something for you. Every valley, every dark gorge, every dark place is going to be made level, and every mountain peak is going to be made level, and every road that is twisting and going in all kinds of direction is going to be made straight. And the path is not going to have so many obstacles in it. Interesting images. What is it? Some might say, “Well, that’s about heaven, because we won’t have any more struggles.” No, I think it’s about the path that you and I are supposed to be on, and God fills us with something that changes the erratic nature of it, the difficulty in it.
Let’s look at the symbols, the deep, dark gorge, the darkness. Let’s call it depression, call it not feeling anything, being sort of maybe in a bad place. Well, that darkness going down there is going to no longer be the negative that it is. You’re going to be going above it in a sense. You’re going to be on this level road where you go down, but you don’t have the resulting depression. And a high mountain top, I know that’s what everybody wants. That’s what I want, the mountain top, success, being above everybody else, being in charge. I love those high mountain peak things, but they’re dangerous, because we want to stay there too long. No, that’ll be leveled, and then you know the feeling, and I know the feeling that we think we’re going to this path. We’re excited about it. All of a sudden, we’re completely confused. Our decisions aren’t working, and we make decisions. We find ourselves going in the opposite direction or halfway in that direction, and we’re confused. We don’t know which way to go. He’s going to give wisdom so that whatever direction we’re going in, it is the right direction. It is the way in which we have to go in order to get to the goal. You have to follow the path, and I love the one of the road. When you’re on it, you’ve finally found your purpose, your direction, you’re going, but there is obstacle after obstacle after obstacle, setback after setback.
Think of any project you’ve ever done. This machine doesn’t work. That didn’t work. This got in the way. That happened, all negative, and then it can be discouraging, like, “God, there’s so many things working against this.” Well, God’s grace is going to carry you through that, and what is that grace? How can I name it? Hope. Hope. Hope is not belief that something might happen. It’s knowing that it will, and the other is trust. Trust. Trust that anything, no matter how dark, no matter how wonderful and exhilarating, no matter how confusing, no matter how irritating, it’s going to work. We’re going to get there, and the kingdom will be ours.
Father, we get confused. We lose hope. We get caught up in the wrong things. It’s just our nature. We know that you know that. We know that it’s nothing that surprises you. What does surprise us, however, is your consistency and your patience and your longing and your intention that we make it on this journey, and it’s our confidence. Your help is our confidence, our trust in it. We hope in it. So bless us, as we begin this new year, with the conviction that we will come to a new insight of the truth as we spend these weeks together growing in our ability to not only live a life of peace but one of great value and grace to those that we love. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.