December 5, 2022

2A Second Sunday of Advent 

Repent and Resist What is Evil

GOSPEL

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “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.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“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.” Matthew 3:1-12

SERMON

Advent is a summons and a call that comes from both outside of our self and from within our self.  It is a call to live our lives in ever-deeper intimacy and communion with God.  It is a call to live with ever more authenticity and integrity with one another.  In the words of the Advent hymn, “Sleepers awake, a voice is calling”.

Our faith in the incarnation, our faith that God became one with us in every nook and cranny of our humanity, gives us the where with all to say, “yes”.   It gives us all that we need to offer a hope-filled embrace to all of life, to all the relationships that constitute our lives, to all the ups and downs of our personal and communal stories and yes, even to our arch enemy, death itself.  Yes, brother death, I embrace even you with hope.   

Any attending to the mystery of our humanity takes us very quickly to the reality of what our tradition refers to as our fallen nature, to the reality of our brokenness.  In the words of Saint Paul, “The good that we will, we do not; and the bad that we do not want, we do.”  Advent then is also a summons to face our sinfulness.  And if anyone of us says, “I have no sin”, to that one, the scriptures say, “You are a liar”.

But even as our faith in the incarnation allows us to face and embrace all of life, even its pain and loss with sure and certain hope. So too it allows us to face and acknowledge our sin with sure and certain hope.  For as fear, pain, and death give way to life eternal, by the mystery of the incarnation, so too does sin give way to forgiveness and reconciliation. 

In Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, the forgiveness of God, which is beyond reason, meets the sin of men and women that is always beyond any excuse.

The word of God came to John in the wilderness.  Now the wilderness is a place where one can easily experience what it means to be lost.  Each hill that is climbed offers the same endless vista that was seen from the top of the last hill.   In the wilderness there are no signs and no markers, making it more likely that movement will be in circles rather than in a direction.  And so, the wilderness is a frightening place.

The Word of God came to John in the wilderness.  It came to him in the wilderness where he was lost, alone, without direction and where he was walking in circles.   Where he put one foot in front of the other, only to get nowhere.  The wilderness was that frightening place where he was thrown back on his own resources for survival and discovered himself to be so inadequate to the task. We all know the wilderness.  We have been in that place or very possibly we are in that place right now.

But as frightening as it is, the wilderness is also the place that is most fertile for grace.  Either John was most poignantly aware that he was absolutely, alone, or he knew beyond explanation, the sustaining presence of God. 

It seems that John emerged from the wilderness, powerfully aware of the presence of God and his connection with God.  And he addressed the crowds from this place of intimate connectedness in full possession of his self, and certainly in full possession of his prophetic self.

Now, in the time of John, when royalty came to visit a city, a messenger was customarily sent ahead to alert the people that it was time to repair the roads for the king’s arrival.

John emerged from the wilderness in full possession of the Spirit of God. He called the people to repair the roads in their hearts.  He called the people to repentance.  “Prepare the way of the Lord”, he cried.  Does our preparation for Christmas involve any roadwork?

Now you and I don’t make excuses for our sins.  For example, we don’t blame someone else for our failures to communicate with courage. 

Or we really believe that our casually giving thanks is sufficient, because in all truth we deserve to have much more than we have and are always settling for less than would really make us happy. 

I was not able to make time for an intimate communion with my God this Sunday morning, because I had something else to do.  I mean, I really can’t be in two places at once. 

I don’t feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned because I work nine to five, and all I really have are my weekends.

Now since you and I don’t make excuses for our sins, if we can really call them that, they are mistakes, indiscretions, stretching the truth, having some fun, or family time;  since you and I don’t make excuses, the voice crying from the wilderness, the voice crying from my own wilderness (you know there is a little John the Baptist living in our inner wilderness) that little John has got to be talking to somebody else.   I don’t have any valleys to be filled, any mountain or hill to be brought low, any path to be made straight, and any rough way to be made smooth.  I’m afraid, John, that I don’t even have a single pothole to fill in advance of the coming of the King.

Sadly, when we don’t acknowledge our personal sin and our communal sin and repent, more sin is sure to follow.  And where there is sin, death is never far behind.  

On a societal level, in the present moment, this country has not just a pothole to fill, but some gaping sink holes to fill. You don’t fill a sinkhole with a bit of asphalt and without great cost.   We commit grave social sins, even crimes against humanity.

In 2016, 74% of white evangelicals revealed themselves to be damnable hypocrites. And six years later they appear to be holding fast to this identity. In 2016 too many so-called Christians revealed themselves to be capable of electing as leader of the most powerful nation in the world someone who can, without much makeup, easily pass as a personification of the mythological biblical antichrist.   And to the hypocrisy, they added the blasphemy, by which they have hailed him as “God’s Anointed One”.  

Last week their idol embraced and broke bread with two anti-Semites, a Holocaust denier, and a leader in a white nationalist Satanic cult.  In his persona the shadow of the demon, even while waning, continues to hover over the political and social landscape and holds sway over the minds and hearts of far too many of those who identify as members of the party of the right, to make any choice to continue to identify with this group, morally excusable.  

While their would-be messiah may be characterologically beyond the possibility of repentance short of an exorcism, the majority of the party cannot exonerate themselves from the urgent need to repent of the evil that they continue to actively or passively support.  Their choices make them complicit enablers of past, present, and future expressions of the very worst in us.  If John were to enter the Houses of Congress you can be sure he would cry out, “You brood of vipers”.

And while the middleclass white male may rightly feel that the system has let him down, no amount of whatever pain or dispossession one feels gives one the right to make a choice for what is clearly evil incarnate.  And while the wealthy white male may be enjoying more profit than ever before, identifying with the party that continues to nurture greed as a virtue, again is morally repugnant.   

A continuing failure to take radical action with regards to climate change, the continuing escalation of gun violence, the increase in public expressions of fascist hatred and invective, the sustained abuse of immigrants and refugees, the escalation of poverty and the transfer of more wealth into the pockets of the privileged few, the increase in homelessness, and the rise in food and health insecurity are among the crises we face.

As to our past sins, this nation has yet to publicly acknowledge and apologize for its inhumanity in the genocide of its native-American peoples; the internment of its citizens of Japanese descent; the American war on Vietnam; and the continuing enslavement, thru mass incarceration, of Black people.  The caging of children and the separation of families being the latest iteration of our frightful capacity for inhumanity.  

Oh, how this supposedly exceptional nation stands in need of the forgiveness of God, which is beyond reason.  The sinkholes in our communal reality are indeed so very wide and so very deep.   But the possibility of and capacity for national repentance appears to be remote to non-existent. 

All this must be confronted, and it is we who must be the agents of that prophetic confrontation.   There are many ways to be part of that resistance.  Inaction is not one.  Or we can simply deck the halls and get on with another round of eggnog.

In Jesus the forgiveness of God that is beyond reason, meets the sin of men and women that is beyond excuse.

If I and we don’t acknowledge and repent of my and our sin, but rather stand by my and our excuses, then we will not know the forgiveness of God that is beyond reason.   How sad, when forgiveness is there as soon as sin is acknowledged – to forego the grace, the healing, and the peace.  How sad that the future will be as the past.

The Mystery of God is respectful.  It does not invade unwelcoming space.  It does not crowd out what we will to hold inside and hold between ourselves.  Each time we face a sin and fill a pothole and repair a sinkhole there is more room for the mystery of God within us and among us.  Advent, John, and the One Who Comes summon us to make more room.  Make more room for God and less room for excuses, less room for sin and no room for evil.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna

December 5, 2022