Honking From Behind
This Second Sunday of Advent 2020, our theme is Those Who Dream Prepare the Way. In Mark 1, Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist picks up the mantle of the old prophecies. So, to a people languishing in isolation, we cry with John and Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Our protracted waiting and preparing, our suffering and even our losses will be redeemed by the miracle of the Incarnation. “And all flesh shall see it together.” This in-breaking of God is the promise of the gospel. Join us this Sunday, and heed the holy call to prepare for the birth of Jesus—and to dream.
Please prepare your bread and cup as this Sunday we celebrate the Lord’s Supper among the Calvary online diaspora. Let’s transform those cinnamon buns and cups of coffee into a homecoming of gratitude!
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Hope & Waiting
Today, we lit the Advent candle of Hope, what Emily Dickinson called:
…the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all
A Hebrew word for hope is tikvah, which means expectation, looking for something eagerly, from the root qavah, which means to wait for something, Now Qavah is also something physical: a strand of rope, something to hold onto. For people of faith, hope is not separate from waiting. The prophet Zechariah called us “prisoners of hope.” Perhaps you feel like you’ve been in a prison of waiting since covid happened, but this week, with the news of the British beginning vaccinations, our hope rope just got a little longer, and our waiting will not be in vain. Let the candle of hope lighten your heart.
Prayer for Illumination
The flower fades, the grass withers, but your word endures forever. Oh Lord, decrease me so that your eternal Word may increase. Amen.
Waiting. The only thing I hate more than waiting is preparing for things that might happen. Recently, I came across our family’s disaster preparedness bag—you know, it’s supposed to have water, food and medication. Not ours. Ours contained a flashlight, 20 glow sticks and an umbrella. If the Big One strikes on a rainy night during a rave, we are prepared. Realizing how not to prepare is sometimes essential for real preparation.
John the Baptist
In the opening verses of Mark, we meet a prophet from Jesus’ own family: Cousin John the Baptizer. Of all the Jewish movements that arose in between the time of the old testament prophets like Zechariah and the time of Christ, John the Baptist’s was one of the most popular. People flocked to him, way out in the desert. He wore a strange get-up and practiced a diet that would un-invite him to any Christmas party. Pass the insects, please.
John’s ministry capitalized on the popular apocalyptical thinking of the past few centuries. That what happens when the three evils of empire—militarism, poverty and racist xenophobia—supplant the communal shalom God intends for the people. We want to hear about hope as the way out of the current mess. It happens in every empire, whether Roman or American. People are drawn to the idea of washing away the bitter status quo. With all that cleansed, the Holy Spirit (aka, the Heavenly Dove) descends to make a home in our hearts. Singing the tune without words, the thing with feathers requires us to prepare God’s way. We do not prepare our way. We prepare God’s way. Big diff.
The dramas of the past, all the baggage has to fit into your one carry on. I firmly believe that God allows one carry on. Cull it all down to one. Let the tired scripts wash away, and behold how your spirit reunites with the One who prepares places for us in houses not made by hands, in heart-rooms with floor-to-ceiling hope. Is there room in your inn? Will you let go of enough to make space of God?
Another strategy that will prepare the way for God is humility, something in short supply here lately. In the fourth gospel, John the Baptist says he must decrease in order for Jesus to increase. Humility. And in today’s reading John says “I’m not worthy to tie the thong of his sandals.” That is quite a lot coming from a preacher who packed them in, out in the desert. Can you imagine a televangelist saying that? (Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, in the name of Jesus I pray for you to decrease.) What if churches and denominations tried that kind of humility? What if we sacrificed our institutions for the sake of the gospel? What if we decided to get out of God’s way so that people won’t see us but see what gives us hope, the grace that forgives us, the love that accepts us anyway. Prepare the way for Jesus? Lord, decrease me so that you may increase.
John the Baptist’s words today quote Isaiah 40.
A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all [flesh] shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
We will see it together. God’s word is hope.
A Wild Lesson from Geese
During this pandemic, I’ve spent time looking at the sky, daydreaming. Sunsets have become the daily art installation in our west-facing windows. And the birds. Who ever knew that birds were interesting! The random murder of crows, the occasional hummingbird at my nasturtium vine, a wayward hawk and flocks migrating in formation.
A special teamwork occurs when geese fly in V formation. As each flies, the movement of their wings creates an uplift for the bird immediately behind. By flying in this formation, birds can fly up to 71% further! This can only happen in a group that cooperates. If we wear our masks and resist the soothing outrage that stir-craziness ignites in each of us, we will make it through this long journey together.
There are geese at the back of the formation whose job it is to honk from behind, like prophets and preachers, saying:
“Make the way straight.”
“Keep up the pace and we will get there”
“Hey you, put your mask on.”
“Hang up and flap.”
“It’s not all about you, it’s about the entire flock.”
If a goose falls out of formation, the drag on its wings signals it to adjust. And when the lead goose gets tired of steering, it rotates back and honks unto others as they have honked unto it. The Canadian Community Network says that “when a goose gets sick…two other geese fall out with their companion and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen…”
Like the geese, we know the truth of our nature, to help the fallen, to work together. We know how to prepare the way, perhaps intrinsically. We know, deep down, that our highest goals are achievable when we unify behind common values.
“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
In the name of One who comes to set us free, Amen.