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Second Sunday of Advent C 13

Posted on 09 Dec 2013, Preacher: Kevin Maly

Isaiah 11.1-10
Romans 15.4-13
St. Matthew 3.1-12

STPjohnbaptistIn the Name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John the Baptizer comes into this world’s ever-widening wilderness and shrieks shrill: “You brood of vipers. The axe is lying at the root of the trees – ready to cut them down that their dead branches be thrown to the fire.” John has a not-nice job to do – to make ready for the Way-Who-Is-To-Come. “Repent,” cries John. “Change your minds! All the shopworn fables you hold close and dear, all the tawdry tales you’ve been told – as dead as these stones. Your birth names can gain you nothing, nor all your temple sacrifices, nor your ethical kernel, nor your idealistic background, and most certainly not your religious feeling. More stone cold than these stones: your conduct, poise, and race; not to mention personality, sexuality, and taste; and forget about good, forceful character – that’s an illusion that makes the angels of heaven laugh themselves sick at its combustible absurdity.”

It is the prophet’s horrible job, it’s John-the-horrible-prophet’s job to point it all out, what everyone knows but will pretend to death won’t ever be so. It’s John Prophet’s job to tell us that the world according to the world is more dead than even death. And it is to the distaste of the many that the prophet must say: “Kiddies, Cinderella will become a hag and her prince a frog and no amount of kissing will change either one of them. And as for Snow White’s pallor and her apple-rosy cheeks, consumption of course, and no matter how much she and Mimi sing out, both die – and not only will the prince not live happily ever after, but Grumpy, Sleepy, and Dopey – they’ll remain just as they are, though Doc will be sued for malpractice. But what about beautiful Belle? Well. She’ll sooner than later discover that: she can’t change the beast and his devotion to Jack – Daniel’s, that is.”

And while he’s on a roll, the prophet holds up an onlooker’s doll, Barbie, as luck or something would have it – “You think you can flee from the wrath to come? Look, Barbie’s hair – it’s fake and falls out, and her waist and ankles will thicken and grow, and as for all her perky parts, well, what cancer doesn’t get, gravity will. And as for you, buff boys of the gym, the marathon, and the Iron Man race, guess what? Your bodies and their parts will fail you as well; from dust thou art come and unto dust thou shalt go and perhaps even before the expiration date on that bottle of Viagra you keep hidden in your sock drawer. And all your proud houses and all your proud names can not put Humpty together again.”

Ugly-sounding prophet John. Ugly looking too. Clothing of camel’s hair, stinky and infested beyond the promises of the Orkin man. And a leather belt found in the alley-way, tied ‘round a waist not-so-chicly thin, the result of the not-so-widely-hailed-on-the-morning-talk-shows Dumpster Diet – and stacking provided by the cold and not-romantic nights spent out on the not-so-easy mean streets. But now why must the prophet hang out where we can see him and smell him? Why must he drool so near the Cheesecake Factory and feast his hairy eyeballs on my doggie bag? Doesn’t he know that 32 ounces of prime rib are too much even for me to eat at one sitting? And why must this dirty prophet tell me, “No, it’s not by the grace of God that you’re not here in my place – it’s just a dumb accident of history, and besides the hour is coming, says the Lord, when your heart along with your privilege will fail you and you’ll wonder where but for the grace of God you’re going now – hospital or mortuary?”

It must be granted, at this point, that: some types actually do hear such prophets speaking rather comfortably to Jerusalem. It must be granted at this point that: some hear the prophets and laugh with great joy. Among these types – the ones and many whom this world’s schemes and dreams have failed: the lame, the sick, the blind, the deaf, the non-white (at least in the U.S.), the wheel-chair bound, and those at rock-bottom – that is to say, all those who say, by desperation or inspiration – and this time by the grace of God – who say, “I can’t. But God can.” For them, the prophets’ words are not in vain – but speak their only hope – that: There is Something, Someone adventing, near-coming. The weak ones and they who mourn and those who suffer all sorts of things in the prisons of their own unknown-to-anyone-else selves do this time truly hear the prophet’s promising voice: “I only talk of the passing of the schemes and the dreams of the self-styled able, hale, and oh-so-hardy, but REJOICE for One is coming near, who . . . ”

There are those such as I, living under a life-long cloud of intractable depression, those such as I for whom even the most beautiful or most benign sight, smell, sound, taste, touch threatens permanent exile to the darkness of an outer space so cold that even fire freezes; there are those such as I who become sobbingly grateful upon hearing: “But a Greater One is coming than I – the One who is, who was, and who ever shall be: the Word Breathed Out, the Same that was in a beginning spoken, for whom from dust, in an instant of time-beyond-time, 300 sextillion star-balls of fire came to be.” Says the prophet to ones such as I and the many who dwell in a deep darkness unknown even to those most close to us – says the prophet to me and to them, “I only talk about life and death, but Rejoice! for That One is coming who breathes forth life from this primordial gunk and That One will with a Breath make ashen every notion that ‘might makes right,’ and That One will demand and command and promise for every time and place this – this: that that which is as yet unseen IS, WILL and EVER SHALL BE the most real of real, that the empty are really the most full, and the weak and the meek, the terrified and depressed – in the end, us, all of us – shall inherit – Surprise! Surprise! – not gold but this – this that is (and already) for all, this day on earth as it is in heaven, this – and finally only this – hear it:

‘The wolf shall live with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; they young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.’”

And the prophet says furthermore to the successful and strong to whom this so-o-o-o-o makes no sense . . . yet: “Fear not; for the day is coming when you in horror and disbelief and yes, ultimately relief, will finally say, ‘I can’t. Only you, my God can.’ And then the Already-Come-Near Realm of Heaven, will become, for you too, the Unseen Only-Real and you will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sees. And you too – yes even you – you too shall know joy in the Savior’s presence.”

In the Name of Jesus, who was, who is, and who is to come. Amen.