By the Rev’d Lucy Nguyen
Season: Second Sunday of Advent
Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11 | 2 Peter 3:8-15a | Mark 1:1-8
Last Sunday, Advent we had the word HOPE to guide us in our biblical reflection and we noted that Hope is something we seek, do, and share.
This week, our byword is PEACE, and in our Gospel reading, we have before us, as one writer described him, “a weirdo in the desert” (1) to guide us in our sabbath day reflection… The character, of course, is John the Baptist (1).
John the Baptist, prophesised by Isaiah, is Mark’s introduction to the advent of Jesus’s ministry. As we noted last week, no angels, no shepherds, or donkey or pregnant virgin … though we do have mention of a camel but only as a fashion choice.
The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son (2), happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah: “Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way (3), a voice shouting in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.'”
What is one thing NZ roads are NOT know for? They are generally not known for being straight. And these days they are definitely not know for being smooth, for instead they are filled with potholes…
What will it take to make straight and smooth the roads of Aotearoa?
Time, money, people, cooperation, a plan or clear vision… Some of the very things we may need as we seek to make clear the way for God’s love… And how’s it going with getting roads sorted? Not very well at all.
So, we may be wise to make good use of this Advent-pause to discern how we might respond to the task before us. What might need attending to, what needs to be reviewed, refreshed, discerned as we seek to make a way for Christ to come now and to come again in all of God’s fullness.
What may have once seemed useful but now needs chopping away? What has been discarded but now needs retrieving and nurturing?
There is a famous house north of Boston Mass (Marblehead, MA, USA) – the Lafayette House. The house is famous because at some point the corner of the house was simply cut away. The reason for this rather drastic modification is not certain. The theories all centre on the need to “make way”, whether it was for a general’s carriage; a retail entrance; the flow of water and sewage; or the passing of coal wagons we don’t know. The fact is change was needed and while the house could stay it had to be adapted to “make way” (3).
For the early prophets, a secure, straight road (presumably more difficult to construct prior to the advent of Roman public works) was an image for a future state of peace and well – being, for Israel and the nations (4). Adaptation for the sake of life in all its fullness.
And so, let us hear afresh today the “weirdo in the desert”, John the Baptist calling us to create “straight paths” or states of peace and wellbeing.
The Church calls us in Advent to consider afresh the coming of Jesus and be aware of how we prepare and live into the shaping of a world where, in the words of 2 Peter, righteousness is at home. And from the Jesus we find in Mark’s Gospel we have healing and liberation which often came through righteous anger and “confrontation” (5).
Jesus was, as we read in “Holy Disruption”, quite edgy and confrontational. His was not a false or plastic love that peels away and breaks by boxing day simply to be added to waste of hopes and dreams dashed by the reality of failed batteries and disenchantment. His is a love that overturns tables, crosses stormy seas and calls us all to repent and make way for God’s justice (5).
What might that look like today? Janet Hunt writes that preparing a way’ for Jesus is done by being sure that those who are cold are given a means to be warm; by making a way for that which causes disease and suffering to be removed and yes, by ensuring that nothing stands in the way of safety for all people.
In such ways we are called to ‘prepare a way’ in our own hearts, and the world – for Jesus to find a way into and to be at ‘home’ within us and in this whole wide world (6).
Now, to do this can take time and reflection. There is enquiry and there is listening and then responding. We do not need to have all the answers, we may not yet even fully understand the issues – but we do need to be of this world to listen and engage.
Renowned theologian Karl Barth said that we should “preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” I think the same is true for all of us as we ponder our way forward as people of faith.
And yes, today the Bible and the newspaper may well be on your phone which leaves one hand free to perhaps hold a coffee or better yet reach out for a friend to engage together in the conversation, reflection, prayer and action. Hunt interestingly notes that action leads to contemplation and contemplation leads to action and encourages us to reflect on our natural tendencies. Both are part of the same piece of work… And we will each have our natural starting place – action or contemplation.
As we are church – on this journey together, I’d like us to together take some time now to consider our styles of engagement and to wonder together how we might weave our responses to have impact both within and around us…
Firstly, what comes intuitively for you? Action or Contemplation? In other words, how do you best prepare the way? Do you start in your own heart and mind, or do you start in the world? There’s no right way … we need both and we need within ourselves to practice both.
Secondly, what are the things that need to be ‘removed’ or perhaps ‘added’ in you, in our community, in our congregation, in the world to “prepare the way?” How does doing so lead to greater health, safety, and shelter for those who need it — yourself included?
What ideas bring this Gospel to life for you (7)?
In this season of Advent may we go from this place, full of peace and seeking peace; knowing that the way may not be smooth, but God is already there.
May we go, as people of expectation, looking for that new thing God is doing, as people bearing good news for the disadvantaged, the oppressed – and the successful. Let us live as gospel people in this Advent season.
As the world once again looks for peace, joy and community, so, we shall share the hope, expectation, and good news with all those whom we meet (8).
- “A Weirdo Appears in the Desert,” Jerrod Mc Cormack, Modern Metanoia, 2017.
- Holy Disruption. Westminster John Knox Press © 2022. Daub pg 48; pg 52.
- Adapted from: https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/worship/weekly-worship/monthly/2023-december/second-sunday-of-advent-year-b-10-december-2023