Enter the Wild Man
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA, Advent II, December 4, 2016.
The hope of the people of Israel… the anxious yearning for a wise ruler, an understanding king, a righteous leader… had carried God’s people through centuries of hardship and heartbreak. In the mind of the people the gold standard of kingship was King David, a complicated character who was both strong and flawed. The memory of David’s powerful reign lingered with the people as the memory the king’s rough edges faded over time. The good old days were long gone. In their hearts God’s people carried the heaviness of grief for the golden age that once was, but that was no more. Alongside their aching grief, the people carried a flickering flame of hope… hope for the arrival of a savior who would restore the kingdom, a monarch who would unlock the royal gates of and welcome the people truly and deeply home… a just and wise protector who would usher in a reign of unending peace. God’s blessing would be upon the promised one who would set all things right… in every corner of the earth. The vision of this powerful kingdom-come… carried in the hope of the people… was glorious, and rooted in the memory of a tribal bloodline that coursed back to King David’s father Jesse. The royal lineage had been interrupted, truncated, broken, and the people wondered how the past glory could ever be restored. The prophet Isaiah had a word and vision of good news to rekindle and revive the hope of the people. God’s promise was so powerful, the life force so strong, that out of the sad static remnant of past glory, new life would make its way out of a seemingly lifeless stump. Out of the barrenness… of what felt like clear cut desolation… a new shoot, new life, a new king promises to appear. The prophet Isaiah tells us that the promise is beyond imagining, for not only will relationships be restored but they will be reordered. Predator and prey will coexist peacefully. The wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid goat, will live in harmony… the lion will learn to feed like the ox…and all shall be well. No mother or father will panic to see their child play in places that were once potentially deadly, for the poison of the asp and the adder would be rendered harmless. Toxic behavior would be extinguished and disordered relationships would be set right. The dream, God’s dream, is that all will be well for everyone. As waters cover the sea, the wealth of the promised reign would be peace, stability and well-being for all of God’s creatures. “The full knowledge of the Lord” is to reach to the far ends of the earth. “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples: the nations will inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.”
The vision is held out for all whose lives have been disrupted… disrupted by loss … shaken by the receipt of an unexpected pink slip, the painful ending of a marriage… the traumatic end to a relationship… disrupted by illness, loss of ability, or the searing pain of the death of a loved. Amidst the disruptions of our own lives, and the countless distruptions of war, poverty and violence in the world, the feeling of a true “home” is but a distant memory.
In the course of time, at the right moment, out of the wilderness came a word of renewed hope as and the camel haired, locust and honey eating baptizer arrived on the scene. John’s voice was vivid and sure. Just when we thought we were getting into the flow of Advent… just as we are settling in to Isaiah’s vision a peaceable kingdom… just as Advent’s star is rising and a tender, quiet scene of a family in a stable is beginning to come into focus out in the distance, the disruptive nature of this season is making itself known once again. Out of the wilderness John comes stomping into the scene, seizing our attention. The wild man recalls the promise of old and announces an imminent arrival. “Prepare!” John says. “Prepare the the way of the Lord!” The time is near. You who are stuck in the old ways. You who have forgotten the dream will be reckoned with. There is work to do. Preparation has little to do with trimming trees or tying bows. Out of the wilderness John calls us to “repent,” to stop and prepare for our hearts to be touched and opened and turned around because the fulfillment of the ancient dream and promise of a reign of prosperity and peace is at hand. To repent means to be participants in the unfolding of this cosmic dream that seeking come to life with us and in us.
John is calling us to repentance, to “metanoia” which is the turning of our minds and our hearts towards the new life into which we are being called. Our hearts are to be made ready for a new depth of compassion to be born in us. In the languages of both Hebrew and Arabic, the word “compassion” is derived from the word for “womb.” The raw, basic material of the new reign is compassion, compassion that is ripening and preparing to be born in us and in the world. Are we ready? We anticipate the birth of one who is going to make all things right again. We look forward to Jesus coming to us to reign victorious and change the world, to do the heavy lifting for us. It is much more challenging, however, to open up and prepare for Jesus to be born in us… more difficult to set out the welcome mat and invite God inside, to turn our hearts around, to change us and make us new, to help us to see ourselves differently, to view our neighbors in new ways and to experience the stranger, not as a threat, but with new levels of compassion… to bear fruits worthy of conversion and new life.
John tells us that one who is far more powerful than he is coming. Relationships promise to be reoriented, reconfigured, made new. Wisdom is on its way. The true character of strength will be revealed. The promise is that the wolf will live side-by-side with the lamb, domination will be a thing of the past… no one will “win” or “feast” or “survive” at the expense of another. Success will be measured not in dollars and cents, but with a scorecard that shows that the least among us are cared for, nurtured and thriving. The health of God’s people will be fully realized when all are seated at the table feeding one another, thriving in the bonds of fellowship in which compassion is the common currency with wealth that shared by all.
“It is one thing to ask Jesus to come and change the world. It is a much more difficult thing to ask Jesus to come and change us.” writes the 20-something Episcopal priest and urban missioner Lee Curtis in his blog “Modern Metanoia.” John the Baptist is making his presence known with a word to wake us up. He preaches a word of true liberation as he challenges us to do the hard work of letting go of our old entrenched ways that we may welcome the birth of Christ in us… to participate with our active consent to be worked on and changed, pulled apart, and put back together again… that we may invite God to break into our ordinary lives and into our hurting world to remake and reform all that is disordered and broken and make all things new.
I would like to end with the words of the late Jean Vanier the priest and founder of the movement of L’Arche communities. The first L’Arche community opened in 1964. There are now over 80 communities around the world. L’Arche is a place “where folks with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers, create inclusive communities of faith and friendship, seeking to transform society through relationships that cross social boundaries.” Vanier has written:
Our brokenness is the wound
Through which the full power of God
Can penetrate our being and transfigure us in God.
Loneliness is not something from which we must flee
But the place from where we can cry out to God,
Where God will find us and we can find God.
Yes, though our wounds the power of God can penetrate us
And become like rivers of living water to irrigate the arid earth within us.
The we may irrigate the arid earth of others
So that hope and love are reborn.
And so… the work of Advent continues… to examine the barren stump that has occupied our imaginations for far too long… to look with new eyes for the ancient promise that is stirring to life. May the booming voice from the wilderness grab our attention that we may rise to the challenge of truly preparing and opening for God’s grand dream come to fruition… a dream seeking to be born in us, and in our world, to change us, to free us, and to make all things new.
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
 Jean Vanier, The Broken Body (1988, Paulist Press)