Dec 1, 2011

Advent II: The Baptist creates a storm!

"Make ready!"

The Word for 2nd Sunday of Advent:

Is 40: 1-5, 9-11
Peter 3: 8-14
Mark 1: 1-8

There is nothing like a powerful Midwest thunderstorm to get your attention.  Having grown up in the Chicago area my memories of the summertime are basically: hot –humid-thundershowers.  Exactly in that order and the repetition of that pattern for at least four months. Strange as it might sound, I do miss those thunderstorms. Our weather here in the Northwest, though exciting at times, is rather wimpy by comparison.
With powerful winds, rolling thunder and crackling lighting in a matter of about 30 minutes you may find yourself without electricity and taking cover in the ever present basements just in case a tornado would sprout from the dark clouds above. 
Yet, just as quickly as those storms would unleash their muscle, in a short time, they would be over.  The aftermath left you peering out the windows to see branches or something larger on the ground. You’ve got to pay attention and respond quickly before it’s too late.
Not unlike our readings as we look to the Second Sunday of Advent.  The Mass will still sound a bit odd to many, including myself, as we adjust to the tone of our new translation and more expressive English but the real star of the show this Sunday is the “voice which cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!”
Like a turbulent Midwest thunderstorm, John the Baptist rolls on stage and creates quite a ruckus.  According to the opening lines of Mark’s Gospel this Sunday, this enigmatic figure, John the “dipper,” appears like a thunderclap.  As the last and greatest prophet of the Old Testament, John acts as a hinge on the door from one Testament to the next as he cries out: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” (Mk1:1) Like a bulldozer or a powerful wind which can level tall trees, this guy will not be stopped.
But, who is listening to this crazy man dressed in “camels hair” who eats “locusts and wild honey?” Crazy he wasn’t.  Mark relates: “People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River . . .” (Mk 1: 5).  People could spot a false prophet pretty well but there was nothing inauthentic about John.  He amassed followers and moved the hearts of many to repentance. 
But his mission was single minded – to prepare the hearts and minds of the people for the imminent coming of Jesus among them. Not with the force of violence and fear but a cry that calls us to attention: “One mightier than I is coming after me . . .” (Mk 1: 7). Jesus himself will appear as John did, like a clap of thunder, but will be more like the calm after the storm which restores life and releases the power to change.
As Isaiah says in our first reading:  “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem . . . that her guilt is expiated.” (Is 40: 1-2).  
In a real sense, John was the evening news reported hot off the press, or hot off the high speed internet cable lines, that began the announcement of the Good news of God’s salvation.  Not in a body of laws, rules and regulations but in a person sent into our midst, Jesus the Christ the very Word of God made flesh. Like the signs in the sky of an approaching storm, the weather is about to greatly change!
Who is John for you?  A mere ancient biblical voice lost in the dust of history? Or, how and where does the cry of the Baptist happen today in this time and place? John called the throngs around the Jordan River to a change of heart and lifestyle; to a metanoia, to straighten out their lives and make the paths straight to recognize Christ when he comes.  In that way, we can be ready to let John go and be open to hear a new voice in Jesus. 
John’s voice is as essential today as in any age.  A few years ago, Forbes magazine entitled their 75th anniversary issue:  Why We Feel so Bad When We Have it so Good.” Various well known political and economic experts contributed to the issue.  One, historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, warned of our fascination with affluence and the unsettled discovery that, “economic and material goods are no compensation for social and moral ills.” Another writer, Peggy Noonan, speech writer for the late President Regan, commented that we have been formed as a people to expect endless happiness so our search has caused only despair.  
Powerful thoughts but not all together off the mark by any means. We hear this many times in our Christian faith and we go back to St. Augustine who recognized that his pursuit of happiness in sensual pleasure and material wealth was really a search for God who alone can satisfy us. “Late have I loved you . . .” St. Augustine admitted in prayer once he was brought to his own conversion.  
Advent is a time when we can step into the sandals of John the Baptist.  Since Christianity is a religion that speaks much about the future with great hope and longing, we can each in our own way not only prepare our personal hearts by the pruning and purifying and personal change that may be necessary to greet Christ among us at Christmas but become heralds of the good news as well.
In our Mass, we now hear at the dismissal: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”  So, let’s make a little thunder and lightning of our own this Advent season.
Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those

who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our leaning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company. 
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
(Collect: 2nd Sunday of Advent)