Advent 2: A Clean Slate

Advent II is up for us today, see we have another candle lit.  Which makes me happy. I love advent wreaths but the lack of symmetry is like to kill me about half way through.

This candle is the candle of peace, also called the candle of “preparation”.   We started with hope and now we have hope and peace (or preparation).  This signifies for us that we really need to start getting our hands dirty preparing, not for the family coming in out of town, not for all the food we might be about to eat, but preparing our souls for an encounter with Christ.

The Gospel this morning speaks of the word of God coming in the wilderness to John the Baptizer and he then goes about preaching a baptism of repentance and telling everyone that the world is about to change, dramatically, as all are about to witness the salvation of God.  There are some important dynamics at work here, this is telling us something important about how God works.  Firstly, we don’t always have to go to God, sometimes God comes to us, even when we are in some strange places in life.  And when God does come, it turns things upside down, both by inspiration and by promise.

Now, when I say that we don’t always go to God, sometimes God comes to us, I mean just what it sounds like I mean.  Sure, life is a journey, sure sometimes things in life are more like the three wisemen or three kings wandering the desert, following signs to where God has shown up.  But sometimes God just shows up, just slaps us upside the head out of nowhere, and knocks us off kilter.  And if you don’t believe me, ask John the Baptist.  He got knocked off kilter, out in the wilderness no less.  I mean, you have to be a little off-kilter to go around wearing camel hair and eating bugs, which was kinda odd even for back then.  The Word of God came to John in the wilderness.  Now, this comes just after this laundry list of emperors and high priests, imperial governors and local kings.  They sit in palaces and temples, on thrones and in seats of judgment, they have all the earthly power and sway and make the big decisions.  But where does the word of God go?  To Rome?  No.  To the governor’s mansion?  No.  To the local assembly?  No.  The word of God goes to John, son of a nobody, who lives out in the middle of the wilderness.

Yes, the sure power of God works through some unlikely people.  The favor of God is not just for those whom the world values and considers important, it is for anyone, especially those who are a little different.

Now, should it happen that God just shows up in life and knocks you off kilter, remember, this comes with certain expectations…  God’s inspiration didn’t just come to John and he was like, “awesome” and just put it on his resume.  No.  Just like God telling Moses to go down to Egypt and face Pharaoh, God appeared to John in the wilderness and then sent him out.  God sent John out to give a testimony the divine work going on in the world, of the ways in which the Lord had touched his life.  There’s a lesson for us there, isn’t it.  Has God come to you before?  Has God changed your life?  Have you told others about it?  Something to think about.

John is moved by God to go out on a mission, to proclaim a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  Now, before I just leave it at that, we need to talk about the word “repentance” a little bit.  It is one of those words that folks throw around a lot like they know what it means.  Sometimes they do, and sometimes they obviously don’t.  So, let’s set the record straight.  The word we translate in English as repent literally means “a changing or renewing of the mind.”  A changing or renewing of the mind.  Now, most people have reduced repentance to a “sorry God” and moved on.  Or they focus exclusively on the negative aspect, acknowledging something bad that you’ve done or are still doing.  It isn’t just that.  Repentance is about naming the issues and then changing, renewing your mind, the place of thought the place of personality, and becoming something different, becoming someone better.  You don’t just say sorry and move on, you change your mind and then get to work.

That is what John is preaching in the wilderness as he baptizes folks and proclaims the forgiveness of sins.  He is proclaiming that God is forgiving and that we can be better, that we can change, that we can leave behind what is dragging us down, and embrace God’s salvation.  Renewal of mind and the forgiveness of sins — John the Baptist is preaching that God is offering us a clean slate.

And my Lord do we need it.

In a world where people will peddle anything to us for a little bit of money, where they will actively seek to get people addicted to things we know will kill us in order to turn a profit, in a world where people in high places are known not for their great service but for their corruption, where we fear that the justice system is anything but what it claims, in a world where people the world over fear the violence and death of crazed individuals and groups who will slaughter without mercy, in a world where people fall into spirals of depression, where they are told and encouraged to keep a calm exterior even though their bank accounts are dwindling or their homes are being taken or their families are being separated by immigration services or their children are being profiled or they are mocked and abused for being different, I’d say we need both a change of mind and a forgiveness of sins!  I say hallelujah God is offering this mess of a creation a clean slate!  Praise the Lord, if you ever wonder about the greatness of God’s goodness or the wideness in God’s mercy or the depths of Divine Love, just think about the fact that every day in church the priest tells us that in spite of it all God loves us and is willing to offer us a clean slate.

And just like John the Baptist we must go out into the world and proclaim this good news too!  We must say that the lowly are being raised up, and that the holes in our hearts and souls and societies are being filled up, that the crooked ways of the world are being made honest, and the bumps along the road are being smoothed over.  A lot of times people don’t change, they don’t turn away from what is ruining them or they just get lost in hopelessness because they believe that there is no turning back, that there is no hope, that there is no peace that can be found, but let me tell you church that just as with John of old the word of God has come, has come here, to St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in Oxford North Carolina and told us to see that lie for what it is.  We can be better.  We can move on.  There is hope in this world and in the next.  No matter the violence.  No matter the indifference.  No matter the oppression.  No matter the perceived power of those people or institutions or systems or things that keep you down, you can be free, you can be washed clean, you can be renewed and brought up and made whole!

All flesh will see the salvation of God! Cried John of old.  All flesh will see the salvation of God cries the church of today.

We are to help prepare the world for this, to make it ready, and also make ourselves ready, for the true freedom that comes with a clean slate.  Nelson Mandela famously quoted Marianne Williamson in saying “we are not afraid of failure, we are afraid of success.”  Too often we stick with the devil we know rather than the devil we don’t, but last I checked you weren’t supposed to be fooling around with devils to begin with.  God offers us something new, something outrageously amazing in this freedom.  But the thing is, we too often define ourselves by those things that bring us down.  God is going to change us from who we are to who we were meant to be, and that is terrifying.

Now, this clean slate doesn’t mean we just get to ignore the hurt or pain or destruction we’ve caused.  It means we get a chance to make it right and it also means that we are to support and encourage those who are trying to do so, and not hang their sins over their heads.  How would you like it if God did the same to you?

I don’t really know that the world is ready for this radical message.  It certainly wasn’t in Jesus’ time.  They killed John the Baptist and then they killed Jesus.  But, Caesars have come and gone, there are no more kings of Judea, no high priests in the temple, and here we still stand, those washed in the baptism of repentance, those freed by God of sins, those listening to John’s voice crying out in the wilderness and taking up his prophetic mantle to do the same.

No, this world isn’t ready, but it is our job to make it ready.  And that is why we read this text on the preparation day of Advent.  This day is also called peace because we prepare for that peace that comes, it is the peace we seek, it is the peace of God that we need and celebrate as we prepare.  Lots of people want peace, or so they say.  But don’t let them fool you.  We pride ourselves on being busy and seeming important, and we also go around killing one another for the sport of it as if we’d lost all good sense and virtue.  We are just as afraid of peace as we are the freedom of a clean slate.   So let the preparation begin with you, in your own heart, in your own mind that needs changing and renewing, and, once you’ve started to get serious about repentance and about the salvation that the Lord gives, take to talking, get to getting, move out and spread the word.  Work with God to turn our greatest fear into our greatest treasure.  Become the messenger of God crying out in the wilderness of our day.  Amen.

Hoy encendemos la vela advenimiento de la paz, también llamada la vela de la preparación. Encendemos después de la vela de la esperanza porque siempre debemos primero comenzar nuestra relación con Dios con la esperanza. Pasamos ahora a la paz, porque eso es lo que Dios nos ha prometido, la paz en nuestro mundo, la paz en nuestras almas, la paz en nuestros corazones.

Hay muchos en este mundo que no quieren la paz. Les gusta la violencia. Les gustan las guerras. Les gusta poner a la gente en el fin de tratar de hacer mejor a sí mismos. Incluso a veces no queremos la paz en nuestras propias vidas. Sabemos que esto es cierto cuando vamos por ahí comenzando problemas o aferrarse a la ira a un ser querido.

La vela de la paz es también llamada la vela de preparación para esa misma razón. A veces tenemos que tomar tiempo para prepararse para la paz de Dios. A veces tenemos que acostumbrarnos a la idea de que Dios está con nosotros y nos ama y quiere que nosotros descansemos en paz en él. Podemos hacer esto. Dios nos concede el perdón de los pecados para que podamos cambiar nuestras vidas. Les decimos a las demás personas sobre este maravilloso regalo para que ellos y el mundo pueden cambiar también. El Evangelio de Lucas nos dice hoy que “todos verán la salvación de Dios.” Es nuestra esperanza de que todo el mundo encontrará esta salvación y esta paz.



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