Second Sunday in Advent
Luke sets John's word context. As John was firmly placed in his context, the readings situate us in our world. The Good News came when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Tiberius Caesar had been Emperor fifteen years, Herod was tetrarch/ruler of a fourth of Galilee, and Caiaphas was high priest. And the Good News comes when world leaders met playing political roles in Glasgow for COP 26. In the past it was always thought that to know where God is in the world, we need to look to those in power and have power.
But Luke drops the names of those in power and upturns our expectations in claiming that the word of God came to an unlikely person in the desert. God did not show up in a palace or a temple, not in the political and religious elite, but in the outskirts of the wilderness. God’s word came to John the Baptist and in our day a teenager called Greta – religious and political outsiders. John proclaimed, as does Greta, that this world is about to change and we must change; God is stepping in to change the course of events and introduce a new way of living. And, God still steps into our world despite political leaders thinking it is their domain. John and Baruch tell us to take our places and rev up our engines. God is close and is preparing to show us who we really are, to whom we belong and that our true name is ‘the peace of justice’.
John’s ministry took place away from modern comforts and vulnerable to violence in the ‘wilderness’ (Luke 3:2). He lived on the margins, as do many people today: the poor, women, street people, people with mental illness, refugees and asylum seekers and many members of the gay community. These would have understood the vulnerability that he was exposed to. To claim one’s dignity can put one at risk. With John and Greta’s call for change, we hear Pope Francis’ call to develop a culture of encounter, mercy, compassion and tenderness towards all people and creation. The God of Peace comes everyday through Jesus and people who are marginalised, voiceless, powerless and considered unimportant - not through the powerful, privileged and wealthy. Jesus invites us to look in the direction of the margins …. and find God present there. Those margins exist now on the Belarussian and Polish border, The English channel, victims of white supremacist killings, Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen and refugee camps around the world – wherever justice is denied people who are.
Pope Francis has taken his cues from the poor. His encounters acknowledge the wisdom found amongst the people who are poor and socially disenfranchised because they stubbornly resist what is inauthentic in a society that is anaesthetised by unbridled consumption that Paul refers to; that uses the ‘language of exclusion’ and treats poor people as problems, recipients of aid and relief services, rather than as sources of insight. Did the last G20 meeting in Rome even dare to look, see and respond to the inequities of the world they represent? Francis tells us ‘that the path of Jesus began on the peripheries …….It goes from the poor and with the poor, toward others.’ He knows misery that ring the cities in his native Argentina, with its corruption, unjust distribution of land, lack of education and health care for the poor. God’s reign of peace will involve all creation where there will be right relationship between all created things. As we seek healing from the global pandemic, Pope Francis calls us to see this time as a turning point where we have devalued our sisters and brothers and God’s precious Earth, destroying or exploiting what was good and beautiful for the sake of short-term gain or profit. This has been part of a larger pattern where powerful interests ignoring the cry of the poor and the Earth.
John, like many prophetic people among us, challenged the existing power structures and called for those in power to behave fairly and justly. He did not hide behind the cowardice of cynicism but spoke with courage and hope. He called for change to corrupt economies and systems as does Pope Francis in Laudato si’. It begins with each of us, our hearts. This was how we stop being enslaved to unjust and wasteful systems and build a world where people build relationships with each other and creation rather than being enemies or rivals. This is to invest ourselves in making crooked places straight and smoothing rough ways.
The gospel today forces us to face the reality that the emotional pain and estrangement that marginal groups and ethnic communities face do not spring from the Gospel message of love and acceptance, but from a failure to truly follow the model of John and prophetic voices in our midst. Baruch speaks to people who have endured pain, exile and loss and encourages them to ‘take off their clothes of mourning and misery and put on: ‘the cloak of justice from God.’A world of hope is possible by attending to each other’s needs with our abundance, by removing the terrors of desperation and hatred among us.
What we do today – now - in our own land, our cities, our churches and at our altars, is inevitably a preparation for what is to come. There are voices that speak of the war of necessity and an endless war on terror. There are voices that speak of the necessity to build more nuclear weapons. There are voices that promote the market and capitalism as the only realistic way to live in the world. There are voices that tell us that arms sales are more important (e.g., Saudi Arabia) than the lives of Yemeni people. There are voices that euphemistically speak of foreign aid which is actually used to train the military in Indonesia that oppress the people of West Papua and the Philippines that kills their own people with impunity. But, there is the voice of John and many in our world like him with other voices that speak of renewal and solidarity; of generosity and service; of bigheartedness and hospitality; and of creating a ‘culture of encounter’ as the only way to peace and wellbeing.
What can we do? Do we demand that our governments, organisations, churches and parishes do what they are meant to do – to build relationships that serve all especially the most vulnerable? Do we confront religious and political leaders who talk about religious freedom as an excuse for discrimination? Do make consumption choices seek to avoid collaboration with human trafficking? Do our choices reflect behaviour where the necessities of the many come second to the wants of the privileged few? Do our consumption choices take into account the kind of world we will leave to our children? Do we dare put up a Christmas crib or Nativity scene yet justify ill-treatment and fail to raise our voices against the ill-treatment of asylum seeker and refugees? John’s voice continues its refrain across the stage of our privileged world: ‘Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.’
Baruch, Paul and Luke call for change. Baruch says ‘change your clothes.’ Get up, Jerusalem, Get up Israel, get up Australia, turn around and see. The high and the mighty will be flattened and the lowly, the marginal, the exile, the prisoner, the stranger will be lifted up in safety and equality.
The wilderness that John came out of is not too different from ours. Though we live in towns and cities, we live amongst wild beasts which we have to confront: beasts of aggression, racism, homophobia, sexism, clericalism, war, violence, competition, greed, and the lust for more property, privilege and power. We need to be signs that another way of living is possible where there are no hills, mountains, valleys or crooked roads to separate us from each other. We are invited to enter into the dynamism of conversion, to change. Humanity transformed is humanity reconciled and made equal, a humanity reunited.
We pray that this Advent 2021 will open our eyes to see the wonderful and new things God promises and makes present each day wherever we are. May this be a special opportunity to receive mercy and to give mercy. The heartache, misery, loneliness of this world can be transformed by the mercy of God in Christ — mercy that we receive and share.
during this Advent time of preparation,
help us understand the wilderness experiences of our lives
as opportunities to assist you
in your prophetic transformation of the earth, of all.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.