By Bill Carroll
Let me tell you about some people I know. One is estranged from two of his children. Another struggles with forgiving her mother. Still another with life-threatening illness. There’s also a young adult who attempted suicide. And a woman who was kicked out of her church after a divorce…… And finally, two prisoners of war, one held in Germany, the other in the Philippines.
All these people are friends of mine—brothers and sisters I know. Friends I would have never met apart from Jesus. All of them tell incredible stories about Jesus and his love. All of them are deeply flawed, imperfect people. But, then again, who isn’t?. The Church is a mixed Body of saints and sinners. We are the flock Jesus gathered at the foot of his Cross. We are guests at his Table, where he feeds us with his Body and Blood.
All these friends of mine have been estranged or separated from people they love. Some chose their own exile. Others had it imposed. But, in every case, they found themselves far, far from home. I am convinced that we are all exiles (one way or another). And so, we need GOD to show us the Way home.
In Advent, we cry out to God. We ask God to cleanse our hearts and prepare us for the coming of Jesus. Wherever we are stuck in life. However far we’ve wandered or strayed. Whatever heavy burdens we are carrying. With as much longing as the Spirit puts in our hearts, we ask God to show us the Way.
John the Baptist shows us the Way. John is not the Way, but God sent him to show us the Way.
According to the Gospel, the Word of God comes to John in the wilderness. The Word doesn’t come to him in the Temple or the king’s palace. It comes to him outside the city gates. The Word doesn’t come to us in our places of strength and security. The Word most often comes to us in the places we struggle. For it’s here, in our wilderness places—here, out among the unwashed and the unclean—here, with the broken and the lost—that John speaks God’s Word of promise. Here, he proclaims the mighty thing God is about to do.
In today’s Collect, we ask for grace to listen to the prophets and forsake our sins, so we may greet the coming of Jesus with joy. God sends us prophets to prepare the Way. Like others before him, John comes to call us to repent—to change our minds and turn our lives around. But, with John, we see something new. What other prophets announce from afar, John points out with his finger. John is able to show us Jesus in the flesh.
Some of us have been lucky enough to hear our Presiding Bishop preach. The last time I heard him was at the revival held at the General Convention in Austin. He preached to a couple of thousand people that night. He preached for more than an hour, and he got a standing ovation. Imagine that, a preacher went on for an hour, and Episcopalians actually liked it. From beginning to end, it was all about Jesus and the Way of Love. That’s what our world needs right now—Jesus and his love.
This Jesus Movement that Bishop Curry keeps talking about is nothing new. It’s just basic, New Testament Christianity. It’s about following Jesus’ Way together, in the power of the Spirit of love. Jesus is the Way. He is the Son of God in our flesh. He is the love of God in person. In Jesus, God has a made a living Way for us. In Jesus, God (who is mighty to save) has made “the crooked straight and the rough places plain,” so we can find our Way home.
The Way of Jesus is all about love. (God’s love for us. Our love for God and each other). In the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t just tell us to love each other, He shows us how. He shows us how to create loving relationships, where all around us is division and fear. He shows us how to break bread together. How to practice God’s mercy and forgiveness – together. How to embrace and welcome those who’ve lost their way.
The prophet Baruch lso spoke to God’s People in a time of upheaval and frightening change. He begins by echoing some familiar words from Isaiah, which John the Baptist also quotes. He is speaking to those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Much of the Old Testament is written from this perspective. It is written for people who’ve been conquered and carried far from home. So often in the prophets, we see God’s chosen People wrestling with exile. How do they understand the shame and violence they’ve suffered, given God’s promises to them?
Baruch is speaking God’s powerful Word to all who suffer and find themsleves far from home. He’s speaking to those who’ve seen their children carried off by their enemies. God promises to put an end to our exile. God promises to restore the peace and glory of Jerusalem—and to bring us home.
Arise, O Jerusalem, he says, and stand on the heights.
Look to the east, for your children are coming home.
We are God’s children. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s very own. And yet, we continue to have one foot in the grave. We continue to give ourselves (in large ways and small) to things that are killing us…….But (thus says the Lord to us), I am about to bring you home. I am about to break your chains. I am about to give you life. I am about to turn your hearts back to me—and back to each other.
And so, from the east and from the west, we shall come. From the north and the south, we shall come. At God’s invitation, we shall come. To fulfill God’s promise, we shall come. Through trouble and adversity, we shall come. Rejoicing and weeping, we shall come. Together, we shall come. At long last, we shall come.
We shall come, rejoicing that God has seen and remembered us. We shall come, rejoicing in the glory of his love. We shall come, walking on the royal Way—following the One who IS the Way.
Jesus is the Way. Just as he is truth and life and love. He is God’s own love in our flesh.
Even now, he stands at the door and knocks.
Let every heart prepare him room!