Fr. Bill Carroll – The Second Sunday of Advent, December 5, 2021
Let me tell you about some people I know. One is estranged from two of his adult children. Another struggles with forgiving her mother. Still another with life-threatening illness. There’s the family I prayed with as one of them left for rehab. There is a young adult who attempted suicide. There’s an older man who lost his job. And there’s a woman who was kicked out of her church after a divorce. And finally, there’s one of my favorite people, who just died at the age of 104. Ben had served in World War II and then in Korea. He had been a Japanese POW at Bataan. Into his late nineties, he marched several miles every year to commemorate the much longer “Death March,” which killed as many as 20,000 of his fellow prisoners of war. He did it in memory of his men who died.
All these people are friends of mine—brothers and sisters I actually know. And all of them tell incredible stories about Jesus and his love. All of them are highly flawed, imperfect people. But, then again, so are we. The Church is a mixed Body of saints and sinners. We are the little flock that Jesus gathers at the foot of his Cross. We are the ones he feeds at his Table.
All of these friends of mine were separated—or, in some cases, estranged—from people they love. Some chose their own exile. Others had it imposed. But, in every case, they found themselves far, far from home.
Today’s sermon is for these people and their spiritual kindred. Perhaps that’s some of us here. If you get to know us, people are often a mess inside. Even those of us who seem to have it all together on the outside are often a mess when you really get to know us. The longer I am a priest, the more convinced I am that we are all exiles in one way or another. Everyone has been exiled from something or someone we care about. And so, we need God (we need God) to show us our way home.
In the season of Advent, we cry out to God. We ask God to cleanse our hearts and get us ready for Jesus. Whatever burdens we are carrying. However far we’ve wandered or strayed. With our hearts burning with desire, we ask God to show us the Way.
Today, John the Baptist shows us the Way, doesn’t he? John is not the Way, but God sent John to us to show us the Way.
And, according to the Gospel, the Word of God comes to John when he’s out in the wilderness. The Word doesn’t come to John in the Temple or the king’s palace. It comes to him outside the city gates. The Word doesn’t come to us in our places of strength or security. Often, Jesus comes to us in the places where we struggle.
For it’s out there in the wilderness—out among the broken and the hurting and the lost—where John speaks God’s mighty Word of promise. It’s out there in the wilderness that John proclaims to us what God is about to do.
In today’s Collect, we ask for grace to listen to the prophets and forsake our sins, so we may greet the coming of Jesus with joy. God sends us prophets to help prepare the Way.
And, like the others before him, John comes to call us to repent. It’s not as scary as it sounds. Repenting means changing our minds and turning our lives around. But, with John, we see something new. What the other prophets announce from far away, John points out with his finger. He shows us Jesus, the Son of God. He shows us Jesus—here with us in our flesh.
Some of you may have been lucky enough to hear our Presiding Bishop preach. The last time I heard him in person was in Austin at the revival we held at our General Convention. He preached to a couple of thousand people that night. He preached for more than an hour, and he got a standing ovation. Imagine that, a preacher went on for an hour, and Episcopalians actually liked it. (I promise I won’t go on that long today.) From beginning to end, his sermon was all about Jesus and, what he calls, the Way of LOVE. That’s what our world needs right now—Jesus and his love.
Let me tell you something. This Jesus Movement that Bishop Curry keeps talking about is nothing new. It’s just basic, New Testament Christianity. It’s about following Jesus together, and letting his love change us. Jesus is the Way. He is the Son of God in our flesh. He’s the love of God in person. In Jesus, God has a made a living Way back home for us. In Jesus, the Mighty God makes “the crooked straight and the rough places plain,” so that we can find our way home.
The Way of Jesus is all about love. It’s about God’s love for us. It’s about our love for each other. It’s about turning our hearts back to each other, so that we can follow God and have that peace and love in our hearts that passes all understanding. In the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t just tell us to love other people. He shows us how. He shows us how to create loving relationships, where all around us are division and fear. He shows us how to break bread together. He shows us how to embrace and forgive those who’ve lost their way.
In our Old Testament lesson, we hear the prophet Baruch speaking to God’s People in a confusing time of rapid and frightening changes. He begins by quoting some familiar words from Isaiah, which John the Baptist also quotes to explain his ministry. Baruch is preaching to those of us who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Much of the Old Testament is written from this perspective. It’s written for people who’ve been conquered and carried off far from home. So often, in the prophets, we see God’s chosen People in exile. Many of the prophets live out their ministry, when the People have already been carried off to Babylon. How do they understand the shame and violence they’ve suffered, in light of God’s promises to them?
Baruch is speaking God’s powerful Word to all who suffer and find ourselves far, far from home. He is speaking to those who’ve seen their children carried off by their enemies. God promises to put an end to our exile. God promises to restore the peace of Jerusalem—and to bring us all safely home.
“Arise, O Jerusalem,” he says, “and stand on the heights.”
“Look to the east,” he says, “for your children are coming home.
My brothers and sisters, we are God’s children. We have been sealed by the Spirit in Baptism, and marked as Christ’s very own. And yet, we continue to practice the ways of sin and death. We continue to give ourselves, in large ways and small, to the things that are killing us.
But (thus says to the LORD to us) I am about to bring you home. I am about to break your chains. I am about to give you a new life. I am about to turn your hearts back to me—and back to each other.
And so, from the east and from the west, we shall come home.
From the north and the south, we shall come home.
At God’s invitation, we shall come home.
To fulfill God’s promise, we shall come home.
Through trouble and adversity, we shall come home.
Rejoicing and weeping, we shall come.
At long last, we shall come.
We shall come, rejoicing that God has seen and remembered us.
We shall come, rejoicing in the glory of his love.
We shall come all together, walking on the royal Way.
Jesus is the Way. Just as he is the Truth and the Life.
He is God’s own love in our flesh.
He is the One we are waiting for.
And, even now, he stands at the door and knocks.
Let every heart (let every single heart) prepare him room.