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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Advent II: Lessons from John the Baptist

Now John wore clothing of camel's hair
with a leather belt around his waist,
and his food was locusts and wild honey.”
Matthew 3:1-12
Advent II December 9, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Whatever to say about John the Baptist that hasn’t already been said? Except, I don’t know about you, but this wild man mirrors my spiritual and emotional state this day, midway through Advent.

You know. Advent. The quiet, contemplative season of introspection and waiting.

Right. Maybe if you lived in another time, on another planet, in another galaxy, far, far away.

Is this season exceptionally harried, or is it just me? There simply do not seem to be enough hours in the day. Or, for that matter, the night. I’m not getting much sleep these days. How about you?

This past Tuesday afternoon, just before the Advent Educational Series, I hit the wall. I had raced home from Denville, where I had dutifully (if not resentfully) attended a required session on Stewardship with the bishop. I had a few things to tidy up before I entertained my obsession (some might call it an addiction) with newsprint.

I find PowerPoint very convenient but just a tad too formal for an Adult Education Series. I like to get the information I’m presenting up on Newsprint so I can read it as I present it. No big deal. It's just the way I've always done it, see?

I had gotten the Newsprint the week before, so I confidently went in search of the easel. You guessed it. No easel. I looked everywhere. High. And, low. Nothing. Nada. Zippo. Bupkus.

I scurried around, frantically trying to improvise a solution. It was 3 PM. I had an appointment at 5 PM that would, no doubt, take me to 6:15 PM. Soup was served at 7 PM. My presentation was scheduled for 7:30 PM. What to do? What to do?

I stood in my office, and I looked down at my hands to discover they were shaking. Just as I was thinking, “Whoa! Wait a minute! This is just a wee tad over the top, don’t you think?”

Yeah, verily, I heard the voice of the Lord speak unto me, and Lo! The Word of the Lord was upon me, and I heard God speak a Word of wisdom unto the ears of my heart. And the Word was . . . . . . . . . ..

. . . .. . . . . .“Staples.”

“Staples?” I asked.

“Staples,” saith the Lord.

“Really?” I saith, thinking, “Jeesh, it’s not often that I hear the voice of the Lord so clearly and this is what God has to say to me?”

The Voice continued and, ye verily, spake these words unto me: “The parish coffers will not be diminished by $59.95 for a new easel. Get thee to Staples, Madam. Go!”

And, this obedient handmaiden of the Lord humbly said, “Gee, that was easy!”

Does any of this sound even vaguely familiar to you? If it does, then welcome to the Quiet, Contemplative Season of Advent! You are not alone. And, this gospel has a word of comfort and inspiration to bring to those of us who are find ourselves caught in the harried, frenetic pace of our modern day lives.

The image of John the Baptist reminds me of one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen. There is a way to read The Baptizer’s words from a position of fear. “Repent! Imagine this man, standing in front of you, dressed in camel’s hair and a leather belt. His hair is wild. He has just finished a lunch of locust and wild honey. John the Baptizer.

The prototype of the fiery evangelical preacher. “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show – Alle! Alle! Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone goes. Everyone knows. Salvation shows. Alleluia!” (You may remember those words from a Neil Diamond song).

If John the Baptist came into this church this morning and said these words to you, I suspect you would hear them from a position of fear.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

And, in these days of high stress and uncertain economic times, these days of war and rumors of war, who wouldn’t be fearful?

In his book,
(Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective), Nouwen writes: “We are fearful people. . .Fear has become an obvious dwelling place, an acceptable basis on which to make our decisions and plan our lives. Those we fear have a great power over us. Those who can make us afraid can also make us do what they want us to do.”

Nouwen goes on to say that we have a choice. We can choose to live in the House of Fear or we can choose to live in the House of Love. On the surface, that sounds so simplistic as to be easily dismissed. Don’t be fooled. There is great truth here, and I think it’s the message John the Baptist sends about the coming of Jesus.

To live in the House of Fear is to live with Scarcity as your constant companion. Scarcity always travels with Doubt and Distrust. Fear teaches you to think you will never have enough; indeed, you will never be enough – for others or yourself – so no one or nothing can ever be enough for you. Ultimately, living in the House of Fear teaches you to hate – others and yourself.

To live in the House of Love, however, is to know, in the very depths of your being, the Abundance of God. Love has its constant companions Hope and Belief. Love teaches you that you have been given everything you need to do that which God has given you to do. To know yourself as being loved teaches you to be loving and generous, compassionate and kind. To welcome the stranger. To live in the House of Love is to live in a humble manger, bathed in Light, swaddled in gentle bands of humility, nourished by the milk of human kindness.

In this Season of Advent, we travel between these two houses – the House of Fear and the House of Love. The good news is that we can make a choice. We can choose to live in one instead of the other. This is what John the Baptist came to proclaim. He came to proclaim it in his day; his ancient message lands on our expectant ears in this church, today.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

“Repent!” says that wild and crazy guy, John the Baptist. Turn around! That is what the word means. Metanoia, in Greek means Turn around! If you’ve been traveling on the road that leads to the House of Fear. Repent! Turn around! You don’t have to go there. Turn, instead, to the House of Love and prepare there a dwelling place for the Savior to be born again in your heart.

Be not afraid. Our God is an abundant God, full of mercy and loving-kindness. You have been given everything you need to do what God has asked you to do. You have enough. You are enough. Rejoice1 Emanuel – God-with us – is come again and is pleased to make his dwelling within you for you are made worthy indeed by his Love.

But, you have to repent. Turn around. It’s not to late. There are still two weeks left in the Season of Advent. These days are marked not by shopping days, but by days marked with Love. Abundance. Trust. Faith. Hope.

Welcome to the quiet, contemplative Season of Advent where you can find the indescribable insanity of trying to juggle holiday baking and decorating your house and home and yard and writing Christmas cards with the need to prepare a place in your heart to welcome again the newborn Savior. It’s the time of the constant journey between visits to the House of Fear and the House of Love. It’s an experience that can only be described as priceless.

And, for everything else, as we’re repeatedly told, there’s Master Card. Amen.

1 comment:

Tandaina said...

Thank you for posting this. A very good sermon, and a very good reminder for me right now.