I have to talk about it this week,
because its all people are talking about this week, it seems.
But it is an emotional issue for many, so lets talk about it peaceably.
Like all of my sermons, I’m believe that you are asking the preacher to listen for God’s word
and offer it the best we can,
and leave it up to God.
Sermons are meant to inspire the work of Spirit in you, in your heart and your mind,
to aid in your thinking and in the formation of our faith
whether you agree or disagree with my meditation.
So no matter where you are, I hope that there is something in here
that your faith can hold on to.
But first, let us hear the word to us from the Gospel According to Luke:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was ruler of Galilee,
and his brother Philip ruler
of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,
during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the region around the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him,
‘You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bear fruits worthy of repentance.
Do not begin to say to yourselves,
“We have Abraham as our ancestor”;
for I tell you, God is able from these stones
to raise up children to Abraham.
Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees;
every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit
is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’
In reply he said to them,
‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none;
and whoever has food must do likewise.’
Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him,
‘Teacher, what should we do?’
He said to them,
‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’
Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’
He said to them,
‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation,
and be satisfied with your wages.’
As the people were filled with expectation,
and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John,
whether he might be the Messiah,
John answered all of them by saying,
‘I baptize you with water;
but one who is more powerful than I is coming;
I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing-fork is in his hand,
to clear his threshing-floor
and to gather the wheat into his granary;
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
And may God bless to us our reading,
and our understanding
and our applying of these words, to how we live our lives. Amen.
So what do you think?
Will God fix it?
Its been such a crazy couple of weeks, its hard even to know where to begin.
Some loons firing into a bunch of civil rights demonstrators in Minneapolis
that seems like forever ago
then there was a clinic in Colorado Springs
and a waffle house down in Mississippi.
They closed down my seminary Alma Mater
the University of Chicago
over active and credible threats on Monday,
and then there was San Bernardino
and the other one that same day we didn’t really hear about
in Savannah Georgia.
Those were the sensationalist moments of gun violence over the past two weeks.
Not to mention the others that go by quietly every day,
in the urban core or, often more quietly, in people’s homes.
“God Isn’t Fixing This:” that’s what a tabloid newspaper said this week
followed by the New York Times
publishing its first front-page editorial since the 1920s,
urging its readers to push to curb gun violence
and Gun proponents responded:
one particularly popular one
tweeted a picture of that New York Times paper
with three bullet holes through the editorial.
and the President of Liberty University,
used a convocation to urge its students to arm themselves.
“God Isn’t Fixing This.” What a mess.
If one reason for all of our Guns is that we’re pretty scared, as a people,
then we must be getting even more scared
with Gun Sales hitting a single-day record on Black Friday.
Never mind that actual violent crime is at almost 20 year lows.
Did you know that?
there are still 30,000 people a year dying from firearm related deaths
in our country—suicide being the most sizable portion of that figure,
but accident and homicide too.
30,000 people a year—one life every twenty minutes. About the length of this sermon.
Such a crazy painful difficult week. Its hard to know where even to begin.
This is a hard text for me to preach on.
Not because I don’t love it—I do. I love John the Baptist.
I love it in the middle of Advent,
I love it during a time of waiting and hoping and yearning.
If for that reason alone it’s a great text for us today.
But Its hard for me, because I preached on this very text in December three years ago,
just two days after Adam Lanza
walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School
another moment of national convulsion.
I thought about my own kids, my own elementary-school-aged kids,
and I recounted my own introduction to Gun Violence,
that time when Natasha Hudson took her life in High School.
I loved Natasha. She was my friend.
She was one of the first people to welcome me to a new school
to challenge me and laugh with me.
She had an inordinate love for Michael Jackson
and an uncanny ability to best me on our weekly algebra exams.
And then one day,
Natasha took her father’s legally purchased shotgun
and ended her life with it.
And all the images of that horrible experience come to mind:
the Baptist church where her funeral was held,
with the blue neon Cross
and the GOD IS LOVE banner
festooned across the chancel
classmates wailing, and gnashing teeth
our efforts to pull ourselves together
and to make sense of the whole thing,
all of that sticks with you all your life.
And I miss her, my friend Natasha, very much.
A thirteen year old shouldn’t have to wrestle with such profound things.
I still wrestle with it, truth be told.
With all of this, our violent society,
our fear and our lack of trust in God to keep us safe
our reactionary debates over things that matter
when people are dying in such high numbers.
Its too much. At some point, we just can’t take it anymore.
Too much grief. Too much heartache. Too much pain.
But talk we must. Even if it is through heartache and grief,
even if it is to acknowledge our pain and our sighs,
even if it is to seek a word of faith
that can give us bearings
help keep our feet on solid ground.
Year after year we come to John during advent,
and we hear his warnings and his anger and his pain
and we struggle to understand his angst.
What is he so riled up about, this John?
Why so angry? Why such a downer?
As he vituperates about broods of vipers,
as John paves the way
for the one who shall clear the threshing floor
and burn away the chaff,
so often we are merrily decking the halls
and getting into the Christmas spirit
wassailing and caroling and wrapping gifts.
There’s not anything wrong with that, really,
and if there is anything I want to be doing these days
its enjoying the joys of the season.
Its just that the usual message preached this Second Sunday of Advent
is an effort to get us to see what John was talking about.
The commentators almost all assume
that we are merrily moving toward Christmas day
so they start with words like
“No one wants to be chastised by John the Baptist
this close to Christmas.”
True. That’s the Harder Way to Christmas.
But THIS year, John’s words don’t feel like chastisement at all.
They ring true.
Brood of Vipers? Yes, I feel like sometimes we dwell among them.
Trees bearing bad fruit? They FEEL like they are everywhere today.
And sometimes I feel like I myself am among them.
Too often, its hard to understand why Angry John’s words
could possibly be good news.
Today, I think its far more obvious.
Back in 2012, after Sandy Hook shook us, Author Anne Lamott put it this way:
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it,
although this time, or at least right now,
it has come so very close.
My pastor talks often about our dual citizenship,
as children of God, and Goodness,
gorgeous and divine,
and we are also people with human biographies and wounds
living in a world of unimaginable suffering, brutality,
We are lighthouses of sacred love, and we are a violent species;
Cain is still killing Abel.
What do we do today? Lamott asks.
Where do we even start?
I wish there was a site called “Our Plan for the Next Few Days”
in the face of Newton.
I can’t find it, but I’ve realized a few things
and remembered a few things
and have decided to share them.
Is it okay to stay glued to the TV? Yes, if you need to.
Is it ok not to watch any TV,
and just do exactly what we had planned?
Yes, anything you are doing, thinking, blocking,
to get through these days, is ok.
Do we go ahead with our plans to make gingerbread houses with our little ones?
Do we make another visit to a seemingly uncomprehending relative
at the convalescent home? Of course.
Do we go through our neighborhood today picking up little,
even as we know there will be more tomorrow? Of course.
Do we plant bulbs in the cold rocky crummy earth? Always!
Do we light candles? Again—always!
John the Baptist, full of spit and vinegar
took upon his shoulders an incredibly difficult task:
In the midst of this hurting, aching world,
John cried out in the wilderness and proclaimed Good News:
Every Valley Shall Be Filled, John proclaimed,
preaching from the prophet Isaiah
Every mountain and hill shall be made low
The crooked shall be made straight
The rough ways made smooth
And ALL FLESH shall see the salvation of God.
And like those who heard John then, we too are filled with expectation.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready.
Come, Lord Jesus. Quickly come.
The prophet Zephaniah,
whose words today accompany John’s
offered a vision of the time
when God will save the lame, gather the outcast,
and change their shame into praise.
Yes, Lord. Do that.
This world has too much heartache, too much hurt.
We are ready.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Come today. Please.
In the midst of John’s proclamation,
he does something extraordinary.
When we ask John, in the midst of our concern about the world
what should we do?
John tells us to LOVE.
If we have two coats, share with someone who has none.
If our job is to collect valuable things from others,
do so honestly, no more than what is prescribed.
Be ethical, John says. Which is another way to say: be loving.
In our loving, we will do our part in preparing the way for the LORD.
In our loving, we will experience paths made straight
and catch a glimpse of the coming Kingdom.
In our loving, we will know that LOVE WINS.
John tells us: we have something to DO,
to make things better.
We have something to DO, as we wait for our Messiah to come.
It reminded me of something that came across my email once
during another act of violence and hurt and heartache.
Mother Teresa, in one of her more poignant moments,
once offered this encouragement:
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends
and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
What are we to say? The road to Christmas feels harder this Year.
My friend Jenny, when thinking about today and these texts
and this mess
offered me an important thought:
What are we going to do today? she asked?
Light the candle of Peace, with stubbornness, conviction,
and celebration that darkness does not win.
And she’s right.
With John, we can stand up and point at all this evil
all this misery
all this pain
all this hurt and say NO
God is coming.
God is LOVE.
And LOVE SHALL WIN.
Will God fix this mess?
What do you think?
Well, along with Roger Owens,
I think that God’s way of fixing things is through human beings:
I believe in a God who works in, with, and through us—
through the labors of those who have learned to love peace
as much as God does,
who have chosen to eschew violence in their own lives,
and who work in small and large ways to end violence in our world.
At Christmas we will be remembering that God came
as a weak, vulnerable child into our world.
And he came into this world,
not another world,
not a perfect world safe enough for a child God.
He came into our world, a dangerous world.
A world that has seen too many prayer vigils,
a world that knows how dark the darkness can be,
how deep the pain can go,
how gripping the fear can become,
how endless the grief.
This is the world he entered as a child.
And we call this child the light, the light that shines in the darkness.
And as hard as it is to believe sometimes,
the darkness did not overcome him,
and it has not, and it will not.
My brothers and my sisters,
we are a people who proclaim that the light shines in the darkness
and that the darkness shall not win.
I believe God is fixing it. And I believe God asks us to help.
So let us be led by the Light, let us be led by the author of Love.
Indeed, this Advent morning, I encourage you to love.
Love your family. Hug your kids or your parents or your partner.
Love your friends, and experience their love too.
Love your neighbors, all of them,
even the curmudgeon who bugs you too often
your weaknesses and your struggles and your flaws.
Love those who hurt, who ache, who mourn
Love those who are sick, in body or in mind.
Love God, and be inspired by God’s coming into THIS MESS
to redeem it and to make it beautiful
May it be so.
 From Anne Lamont’s facebook page accessed December 16, 2012: https://www.facebook.com/AnneLamott/posts/253442941452023
 According to EmergentVillage, accessed December 16, 2012: https://www.facebook.com/EmergentVillage/posts/449586255101874. EmergentVillage is no longer active on facebook.
Photo credit: copywrite Rosina Huber, found at http://rosinahuber.blogspot.com/2012/11/first-week-of-advent.html accessed 12/6/2015 and used pursuant to copywrite holder’s instruction: “Links to my articles are always lovely but if you would like to share a few of my photos on your blog or website*please* add a photo credit and a link back to me with use”