Scripture – Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8 – Second Sunday of Advent – December 10, 2017
You know you’re getting older when you start to repeat your stories. As I ruminated upon our passage this week, I remembered the story I am about to tell you and I had a funny feeling that I may have told it to you before. To rule out the possibility of a repeat, I looked back in my files and, sure enough, I had in January 2009 for pretty much this same passage! But I decided to share it with you again, not necessarily because it bears repeating, not because you may not remember it anyway, not because you may not have even been here that Sunday almost 9 years ago, but to illustrate that we can hear the same story, the same scripture passage, the same song, the same speech, even the same sermon, multiple times and each time it may hold new meaning for us …or…we actually hear it for the first time.
So this story happened close to 30 years ago (in 2009 I told you close to 20 years ago) when my husband Doug and I first began to blend our families together. We noticed that the youngest of our children, Nigel, seemed to be occasionally non-responsive. It would take several calls to the dinner table before he would finally arrive; sometimes our questions directed to him would be met with blank looks; when we called him in from outside play, sometimes we would have to physically go out ourselves and retrieve him. Our frequent question had become, “Nigel, are you listening?” At first it was quite frustrating, but then it became worrisome to the point that we suspected he might have difficulty hearing. He had had tubes in his ears as a very young child, multiple ear infections, and he was the one who would agonize in pain with blocked ears after a plane trip.
We made an appointment with our pediatrician for a hearing test to rule out hearing loss. After his examination, the doctor began a conversation with Doug and me in a low, somewhat subdued tone, in the examining room with his back to our son Nigel, and right in the middle of his remarks, without turning to face Nigel, he quietly said, “Nigel, would you like some ice cream?” “Yeah!” Nigel eagerly replied and the doctor looked at both of us and smiled and said, “There’s nothing wrong with his hearing. He suffers only from ‘selective hearing’ – hearing only what he wants to.” Well, of course, we were relieved, but only until we realized that now we had other issues to deal with, the immediate one being to take him for ice cream.
This morning both the prophet Isaiah and Mark the evangelist call our attention to, first “a voice” crying out and then “the voice” crying out in the wilderness. Prepare the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight! Sure enough, as Mark writes, as it is written in the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, crying out, proclaiming a baptism of repentance. Repent! The Lord is near! The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. You ain’t seen nothing yet. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. Prepare the way of the Lord! Repent!
We’ve heard this story before. We’ve heard this announcement, this warning, this voice, and we already know how it ends. Jesus is born. The Son of God comes into the world and dwells among us, Emmanuel, God-with-us, teaching and healing and using his voice to speak the truth, the kind of truth people who have anything to lose at all, don’t want to hear. Riches, power, position. They don’t want to hear Jesus’ truth. It threatens their wealth, their hold on the stuff of this world.
And as his ministry continues and closes in on his final days in Jerusalem, Jesus begins to sound a little like John did. Get your act together, folks. Get real. Get right. Keep awake, stay alert, keep watch for you do not know the day or hour. You do not know when the Son of Man will return. Only the Father knows that. It could come at any time and on that day…well, on that day…there’s no turning back then.
Voices crying out. My friends, we read these scripture passages annually as we prepare to remember the birth of Christ to remind ourselves that, yes, the kingdom of God has come near through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ but we are still called to follow the way of Jesus to help bring about the completed realm of God.
And on this second Sunday of Advent, especially, as we light the candle of peace and imagine what that realm could look like with the help of the prophet Isaiah’s images like the wolf living with the lamb and no harm, no destruction and the earth full of the knowledge of the Lord. We yearn for it. We pray for it. But, if we listen to the voice of John, if we listen to the voice of Jesus, we must do more than just wish for it. And we start by listening and discerning among the voices we hear today. There are voices crying out in the wilderness today…
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of sexual harassment, misconduct, abuse and assault.
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of racial discrimination.
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of transgender violence.
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of refugee camps.
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of child exploitation.
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of immigrant labor conditions
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of human trafficking
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of prescription drug addiction
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of out-of-control gun violence
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of college campuses where hazing and a culture of rape and the glorification of alcohol steal dignity and end lives
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of not enough money for food and rent and daycare and healthcare when the voices of a very privileged very few cry out for tax relief
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of international diplomacy as it takes a back seat to saber-rattling
• Voices are crying out in the literal wilderness of shrinking protected lands and habitats, fearful for God’s earth in the face of clear-cutting and bulldozing and drilling
• Voices are crying out in the wilderness of The Greatest Commandment which never ever suggested “me first”.
Make no mistake about it, there are voices, but are we hearing them? And if hear them, are we heeding them? Or do we need a man clothed with camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, eating locusts and honey to get our attention? Or are those voices getting lost in the constant din of the other ones: so-called breaking news, twitter accounts and prattling panelists?
Or maybe it’s time for our own voices to cry out. To cry out in solidarity with all those in the wilderness who wonder how long, O Lord, how long will it be before we witness true compassion and sincere efforts to bring about the realm of God, the realm of peace and justice and love.
A voice says, ‘Cry out!”
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
Get you up to a high mountain…
lift up your voice with strength…
lift it up, do not fear;
say… ‘Here is your God!’
My friends, we are called, not only to finally hear and heed the voices crying out, we are called to cry out with them, to lift our voices in solidarity, to be allies to those who face injustice, discrimination, danger and death. And thanks be to God we can do that in confident faith in the One who came after John, who taught us to cry out on their behalf, whose presence strengthens us through the Holy Spirit, and who will come again in glory.
This is our story, which does bear repeating. Because sometimes our Christian story, told to us throughout our lives, falls on our own deaf ears, however tuned in they may be to all the other noises in our lives, especially our own preoccupations. Amidst all that noise, God is constantly and quietly inviting us to listen…
…maybe if it was ice cream….? Amen.