Advent 2

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Readings: 

Sermon: 

When I was a parish priest, we were wondering how to get a small grant for extensive repairs to the church and church centre’s forecourt – almost a complete replacement. Both civic and church regulations meant that it had to be replaced like-for-like with materials which were far more expensive than you would use for relaying your own driveway. We looked for grants, but in vain. Until the church centre was chosen as the best venue for refreshments during a royal visit. Prince Edward, it seemed, needed to be greeted by a nicely refurbished set of smooth cobbles. Suddenly we could get a council grant for half the costs, and the work got done in record time. The Queen, someone once remarked, must go around believing Britain smells of fresh paint.

The prophecy of Isaiah which Luke uses to interpret John the Baptist’s ministry conveys a similar idea on a very large scale. Roads need preparing for royal processions: potholes need filling in, and bumps need levelling. When Isaiah applies this image to God, he does so on a planetary scale: the mountains are uneven bumps in the royal highway, the valleys are potholes in this cosmic road. Originally this prophecy was uttered about the return of the exiled Jewish people from Babylon to their own land after Persia defeated the Babylonian empire. But Isaiah’s prophecies were so extravagant, they made the slow, straggling return, the hard struggle to rebuild, seem a very poor reflection of what had been promised, and so people kept hoping for a greater fulfilment, for a future that would do justice to the cosmic scale of the hope Isaiah’s word pictures described.

Nearly two centuries before the birth of Jesus, a Jewish resistance movement became a full blown revolution against the then occupying power of a Greek dynasty led by an emperor Antiochus, who liked to style himself as Epiphanes – the same as our word Epiphany – meaning the manifestation of God. The Jewish revolution was both politically and religiously motivated. In the light of its success, new hopes for God’s kingdom began to grow. Sometime after that revolution, an anonymous prophet penned the book of Baruch, from which our first reading came. He takes Isaiah’s prophecies, and reinterprets them for his own time, promising a new restoration.

Again, a prophet promises more than the harsher realities of history deliver, and by the time Jesus is born, the revolutionary government has torn itself apart in power struggles, and Rome, initially brought in to help settle the dispute, is firmly in the driving seat. But Isaiah’s prophecy still haunts the people, and John the Baptist picks it up. He raises people’s expectations again that the transformative power of God is about to bring about this kind of cosmic change to the political and social order. So people need to get ready themselves. Our word “repentance” has got so identified with being sorry, that we don’t hear the idea of thoroughgoing change of life – of mind, heart and action – that John is demanding.

And yet, again, the prophecy appears to promise more than Jesus in his incarnation delivers. The political order of Rome continues, and the imperial juggernaut appears to roll right over him. But those who encounter him risen have a new reason to hope in the transformative power of God. The Roman Empire has been unable to put Jesus down. His followers will go everywhere in and beyond the empire proclaiming that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord: Lord of earth and heaven, Lord of life and death.

And so the church still lives in hope looking for the completion of the cosmic transformation promised by Isaiah, and reiterated by Baruch and John the Baptist in their time. We do so because we have encountered Jesus transformed by resurrection. We do so because we receive his life in bread and wine transformed by prayer. And we ask for God to transform us, so that we might work with God’s Spirit for a transformed world, governed not by the love of power, but by the power of love.

As the Advent Carol, People Look East, based on the words of Baruch, says:

Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

Questions:

  • In what ways do you most hope our society could change to reflect the power of love instead of the love of power?
  • In what ways would you most like to see God’s transforming Spirit working in your life? In Paul’s words in the second reading, what will help “your love overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight”? 


Page last updated: 24th November 2021 9:44 AM
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