I had the opportunity to preach today at St. George's of Forest Hill, Kitchener, the church where I was a theological student ten years ago. They were kind and supportive to me then, and it was a pleasure to see them again, even if they didn't believe it when I told them they hadn't aged a day. MP+
Lections for Advent 2: Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7,18-19; Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12
The prophet Isaiah foretells a day of rescue. On this day, as Isaiah describes it, God will remake the world. On this day, life will come from dead things. The poor and oppressed will finally know justice. The wicked will be punished. Pain and destruction will be banished from the world.
Who will make this day possible? Isaiah tells us that one will be sent by God to do these things. This person will come with God’s power and justice. He will come as a righteous judge and as a peacemaker. People from all over the world will come to him, and the place where he live “shall be glorious”.
“His dwelling shall be glorious”. We who know this story, we the church, hear the words of Isaiah, we hear these words echoed again by John the Baptist, and we know that the one coming from God to do these things is Jesus, the Christ.
We look to Jesus as our Messiah. We believe that he will rescue us from a world were inequality and injustice are everywhere. We hope and pray that he will rescue us from ourselves and from the things we know we are capable of. We hear the words of John the Baptist, calling the self-righteous of his day a “brood of vipers”, and we know that our piety and our fine religious traditions alone will not save us. So we look to Jesus, the Saviour who is to come, and we ask, where can we find him?
Where will we find this place, this dwelling that shall be glorious? How can we get there?
Is this glorious dwelling place here, in our churches that we decorate with such care and devotion for the Advent season? Is his dwelling in the wreath and in the candles lit week by week? Is it in the royal blue of the season’s paraments and vestments, or in the splendour of their white counterparts that come out for Christmas Eve? Is his glorious dwelling place in the candlelit reverence of a Carols and Lessons service? Perhaps, in our churches, we catch a glimpse of his glorious dwelling, but only glimpses. Advent says not yet. Not here.
Perhaps this glorious dwelling place is in our homes? In the Advent carol “People look east” we are told “Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table”, for “love the guest is on the way”. In our homes we may find the blessings of hospitality and joyful reunions, and we may practice Advent devotions that prepare us for the Messiah. Perhaps, in our homes, we may catch glimpses of his glorious dwelling, but only glimpses. Advent says not yet. Not here.
The truth is that his glorious dwelling place is much bigger than we can imagine. The Messiah foretold by Isaiah and John the Baptist will make his dwelling in all places. He won’t just be found in the beauty of worship. He wants to dwell with those who are estranged from church and worship, and with those who ignore him. He won’t just be found in the laughter of festive homes and family gatherings. He wants to dwell in homes that are dark with grief and loss, where there is no light or laughter. He wants to dwell with each and everyone of us, for as another John, the Evangelist, says in the first words of his gospel, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
As I understand it, the message of Advent is that God is coming to make his glorious dwelling here, with each one of us, in our hearts. If we understand the dwelling place in this way, then we can understand why John the Baptist tells us to repent. He’s not just trying to make us feel sombre and sorry at a time when we think we should be feeling joyful. He’s telling us to make room in our hearts for God, to create a space where God’s son can truly make a home with us. We need to throw out all the spiritual junk, all the selfishness and distraction, so we are truly ready for the one who is to come.
So where will the Messiah’s dwelling be? He will dwell with those who joyfully and prayerfully await his return. He dwell will with those who have scarcely the energy or the hope to believe any further. He will camp stubbornly at the doors of those who do not believe, waiting for just the slightest invitation to come inside. He will be in homes and churches bright with light and warmth and celebration. He will be in homes darkened with sadness and loss, where laughter has not been heard for a long time. He will be on the streets, and prison cells, in workplaces and barracks. He will dwell in places where once there was only violence, and poverty and hatred. He will be in all these places, and they will become glorious, for the one who comes is the Messiah, Christ the Lord, the God who dwells among us.