Second Sunday of Advent. Lections for Year C: Malachi 3:16, Luke 1:68-79, Phippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6 To be preached at Christ the King Chapel, Crown Village of Ralston, CFB Suffield, 9 December 2012
"...the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 3:2-3)
"All flesh shall see the salvation of God", says John the Baptizer. Advent reminds us that the Lord is coming for us, for each of us, for "all flesh", in our time of need. Advent reminds us of our need for salvation, of our need to be forgiven of our sins. Advent asks us if we are ready to accept the change that we need, the change that is "salvation".
Let's pause for a moment and think about what "salvation" means in our time and place. If I asked my friends and coworkers if they are saved, I would get blank or hostile responses. There are too many filters in place, too many associations with Ned Flanders and pious TV preachers, for the idea of "salvation" to get a sympathetic or understanding reaction from them. And yet, I am sure, most of my friends and coworkers have some idea of an opposite meaning to "salvation".
Do you ever feel lost in the world? Ever feel alienated from and left out by those in charge, by those with money? Do you ever feel powerless, or drifting, or small? Do you ever feel that you don't really count? If we defined the opposite of "salvation" in these terms, I think we would start getting some traction in our dialogues with those who are indifferent or hostile to the Christian message.
Now what if we continued that dialogue by touching on today's gospel? What if we looked at how Luke describes the coming of John, the Messenger of God, by situating it in the reigns of those religious and political figures in power? The word of God bypasses the players and the halls of power of its day. The word doesn't stop with Lysanias or Caiaphas, but it goes all the way to "John son of Zechariah in the wilderness"(Lk 3:2). It's as if the word of God were to come today, ignoring the CEO and the General and the celebrity and going instead to the wild eyed street person on the corner. John is chosen, and John's job is to tell anyone who will listen that God is coming for all, and not just a few.
For all, and not just a few. As I write these lines, I'm thinking about Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse whose name has become a terrible footnote in the story of Britain's latest royal pregnancy. We can only imagine the terrible forces that led her to took her own life after finding pinned in the spotlight after a prank call by radio presenters went viral. The story of Britain's new royal heir was never meant to be about little people like her. It was supposed to be a story about the few at the top, but Saldhana fell into the machinery of our insatiable worship of power and celebrity. Our indifference to the dignity and individuality of ordinary people created this machinery, and that machinery caught her and chewed her up, leaving us to use inadequate words like "tragedy" and "remorse". It would have been nice if she had been spared, but if we really believed that, we wouldn't allow the machinery to keep running.
Surely a word like "salvation" is more appropriate to the situation. We can wring our hands over the perversity of our human orientation to the few, and the harm it causes, while never understanding or acknowledging the evil and inequity of the arrangement of our world, or we can recognize that God's vision is so much more broader and generous than ours. In God's economy all our worthy of salvation. The royal and the CEO and the celebrity are as worthy of God's word as the wild-eyed prophet in the desert, as deserving of mercy as the widow and the leper that the one preached of by John will come to aid and to love.
One of the glad tidings that we hear at this time of Advent is that all are equally created, all are loved, all are invited to love and turn to a gracious God. In so much as we have not heard this message, in so much as we have complied with merely human valuations of the worth of others and all the harm thus done, we are called to repent. In so much as we are offered a new way of living in the economy of God, a way of life called "salvation", we should rejoice. For unto us, unto all of us, a child is given. Amen.