Second Sunday of Advent – December 9, 2018
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126:1-6; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6
Here in this season of Advent, in this time in which we move toward Christmas and the celebration of the birth of our Lord, of the birth of God-made-man—in this season of Advent our attention is drawn time and time again to one simple fact: we are not the ones in charge of history; there is Another who is at the source of it all and we never did anything to deserve it. It is that simple. Sometimes, we tend to think that we are the ones that are in charge of our own destiny, that we can take care of ourselves. Sure, we think that God can help us, or give us a few favors, but not that he is really, deeply entangled in our lives. We tend to think that he only shows up when we prove that we’re worthy for him to show up, or when we pray enough, when we prove ourselves worthy. But that he is entangled in our lives, taking care of us, even when we think or feel that we are far from him? How can that be? And this is what Advent gives us the chance to ask: how can that be? How can God come and be entangled in our lives even when we don’t deserve it? And how can I begin to see his entanglement in my own life?
I’ve tried to explain this over and over again, but so often words are not enough. It isn’t something that you can just explain. I could stand up here for hours trying to explain it, and I still couldn’t force you to understand: We have been given a great gift, but we have done absolutely nothing to deserve it! And because of this, all we can do is turn to Him, turn to the Lord, convert; all we can do is give thanks and be filled with joy. All we can do is give our entire life to Him.
Look at our first reading. The prophet Baruch foretells a day when the people will return from their exile in Babylon. Now, at first glance, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the people being taken off into exile—at first glance this seems to be something the people deserved. They had betrayed the Lord time and time again; they had sinned and done many stupid things. And so there is a general idea that they must deserve this; because of their sin, they deserve to be attacked and destroyed and captured and sent into exile. But then, even then, even in the midst of this terrible situation which we all think they deserve—in the midst of this—Baruch the prophet presents the Divine Vision.
Baruch tells the people who are mourning and in misery, in the misery which their own sin and betrayal had caused, “Look to the east…rejoice, because you are remembered by God…God will bring you back!” (c.f., Baruch 5:5-6). Baruch is telling the people, “Yes, based on human reasoning and because of your sin, yes, you deserve to be in exile. You deserve nothing but the consequences of your own sins. But look! The Lord is going to give you more than you deserve. The Lord will set you free. The Lord will take you back to Jerusalem. And even more, he will take you back in glory and in joy. This is the Lord’s mercy, this is the Lord’s justice: to give you, to offer you more than you deserve.”
And this is exactly where the story we hear in our Gospel picks-up: a prophet proclaiming that the Lord is going to give us more than we deserve. Like Baruch, John the Baptist proclaims that the Lord is, once again, going to give us far more than we deserve. John the Baptist, the Prophet of the Most High, the forerunner of the Messiah—John is proclaiming a baptism of repentance. Literally, John is proclaiming, calling out, “Turn around! Look to the east! Look! The Lord is again about to do something we do not deserve! And this is greater than anything before and anything after. Even those who are in darkness and in the shadow of death (c.f., Luke 1:79), even those who are suffering the worst consequences of their own sin (c.f., Romans 11:32)—the Lord is once again about to give us all far more than we deserve.”
Even in the midst of our unworthiness, in the midst of our nothingness, in our own pettiness, even in the midst of all of the consequences caused by our own sin, the Lord recklessly and unexpectedly entangles himself in our lives, giving us more than we deserve. Let me say that again: even in the midst of our unworthiness, in the midst of our nothingness, in our own pettiness, even in the midst of the consequences caused by our own sin, the Lord recklessly and unexpectedly entangles himself in our lives, giving us more than we deserve. That is what we celebrate at Christmas.
But do we see this entanglement? Do we see the Lord giving us more than we deserve? Usually we don’t, because we’re too focused on other things. We’re focused on work, bills, school, entertainment, dances, what people think about us, what other people are doing, streaks (i.e., Snapchat streaks), and so many other things. We don’t see the Lord’s presence because we have not listened to the message of Baruch and John the Baptist: stop looking at all of that other stuff; stop looking this way or that way; turn around, look to the east, look! Look at what the Lord is trying to give you! Both Baruch and John are trying to tell us to wake-up, to look-up, to just stop and look at what the Lord is doing.
Ok, but what exactly are we looking at? Well, when we stop and look, the first thing we see is how little we deserve because of our own sinfulness, our unworthiness, our pettiness. I look back on my life, on all of my sins, on my own pettiness and unworthiness; I look at my life and realize that I am a sinner, that I deserve nothing but the consequences of my own sins. But then, as we continue to look, we begin to see that in spite of our unworthiness, in spite of our sins, the Lord has given us more than we deserve. I look back on the events of my life, I look around here in this church today, and I see that in spite of it all, the Lord has given me more than I deserve; the Lord has given me blessings far beyond anything I deserve. But it all begins by first realizing how little we deserve because of our own sinfulness; it starts with conversion, with turning away from sin and toward the Lord—that’s why Advent is such a good time to go to confession, especially if you haven’t been in a while. Because once we realize our sinfulness and that we should only deserve the consequences of our own sins, then we begin to see the inexplicable goodness of the Lord, we begin to see that the Lord has given and continues to give us more than we deserve. We begin to see the great gift that is God-made-man.
Remember those words of John the Baptist when the Messiah finally arrived. John cries out, “Behold the lamb God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world!” And we respond, “Lord, I am not worthy. I am not worthy. You give me more than I deserve. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed. Only speak your Word, and I will see.”