December 10: The Second Sunday of Advent

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for December 10, 2023 was preached in response to Mark 1:1-8 based on the manuscript below.

In her excellent sermon last week,
Valerie said,
“some Christians throughout the ages
have tried to skip to the end….
They want to skip the wait,
and in doing so,
skip engaging with the world’s suffering.
If we KNOW the world is ending so quickly,
we don’t need to fight against things
that impact future generations,
like climate change or systemic racism.
After all, the thinking goes,
why polish brass on a sinking ship?
They seek relief
in skipping straight to the end they hope for.
But it is a false relief.
Skipping to the end relieves us of our responsibilities,
leading us to ignore the suffering of others and of our world,
or even see this suffering as God’s means to an end…
God’s means to THE end.”
This kind of skipping to the end,
avoiding the hard parts of life
and rushing to the good
whether immediate good
that skips present waiting
or eternal good
that rushes by those panhandling on 99
is called spiritual bypassing.

I first came across this term
listening to the podcast Conspirituality.
The Wikipedia article –
which cites and links to more thorough sources –
defines spiritual bypassing as
a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices
to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues,
psychological wounds,
and unfinished developmental tasks.”
The waiting that we do in Advent,
is the opposite of this skipping some Chrsitians do
and is the opposite of spiritual bypassing
that can be an unintentional hallmark
of New Age spirituality.

The waiting we do in Advent
as we hear stories preparing for Jesus’ birth
and his coming in final glory
is an active waiting,
a waiting with work that comes to it.
Isaiah offers words of comfort
and words of admonition.
“Comfort, comfort my people”
is followed with
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
The coming of Jesus at the end of time
is something that offers us comfort
because justice will roll down like waters.
The coming of Jesus at the end of time
is something that the prophets and apostles
bid us to prepare for –
both in our hearts
and in the world around us.

While we are comforted
that all the injustices of the world
will be righted when Jesus comes
in glory to judge
we’re also admonished
to prepare the way of the Lord.
Second Peter tells us
“The Lord is not slow about his promise,
as some think of slowness,
but is patient with you,
not wanting any to perish,
but all to come to repentance…
We wait for new heavens and a new earth,
where righteousness is at home.”
The waiting for a new heaven and new earth
is not a passive waiting.
That’s the falling asleep that we heard about
in last week’s gospel text.
Peter tells us today
that for God a day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years like a day.
I don’t entirely understand the logic of that
except to understand that God is outside of time
and has sent the prophets and sages
to call us to repentance
time and time again.

John the Baptizer’s calls to repentance
and preaching the forgiveness of sins
bring crowds to him.
I don’t think this is because
we want to be told we’re bad
and terrible
and better get right with God
or we’re going to be dissolved with fire
like the elements.
I think John’s message of repentance
and preaching forgiveness of sins
brings crowds to him
because we don’t want spiritual bypassing.
We don’t want to be told that we’re bad and terrible.
Rather we know that the world around us is broken,
that from time immemorial there have been problems.
We know that we fall short in our personal lives
and we actively and passive participate in systems
that don’t bring the fullness of life
to the whole human family.
John’s call to repentance
isn’t telling people they’re bad.
John’s call to repentance
as he prepares the way for the one mightier than him
God’s salvation for creation,
Jesus, God’s anointed one
is telling the truth.

In living memory
with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
in South Africa
we can see the necessity
of telling the truth about our sin
in order for there to bea peace or justice.
While we wait for all those hurts to be healed
and all these broken human systems to be restored
and their victims to be raised from their lowered stations
God calls us through the prophets
to prepare the way of salvation.
This active waiting
preparing our hearts,
making amends for our wrong,
having our sins forgiven!,
raising up the valleys of despair
and leveling the valleys of pride
is the church’s call to us in Advent.
We’re not skipping to the end
not skipping to Jesus’ birth
nor skipping to his final return.
We’re not spiritually bypassing,
not ignoring the problems of the world
to live in blissful ignorance
of the suffering that surrounds us.

The preparation we do
is because we know the end,
even if we don’t know the when.
A United Methodist Eucharistic prayer says,
“When we turned away,
and our love failed,
your love remained steadfast.”
Our Eucharistic Prayer C says,
“Again and again, you called us to return.
Through prophets and sages
you revealed your righteous Law.
And in the fullness of time you sent your only Son,
born of a woman, to fulfill your Law,
to open for us the way
of freedom and peace.”

God has come to us in love
in the person of Jesus
to show us God’s dream of a reconciled world
and to reconcile us and all of creation
to God.
Isaiah calls for comfortable words
as we prepare our hearts for Jesus
and prepare the world
for new heavens and a new earth,
where righteousness is at home.
The waiting of Advent,
the longing for the world to change
is not a passive waiting.
It’s not skipping to the end
nor bypassing the current unpleasantness.
The waiting of Advent
is a call to tell the truth
and to prepare the way of the Lord
that all people may see
the glory and salvation of our God. Amen.

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