Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
Year B, Advent 2
I chose a very hard time to decide to start blogging again. I thought Advent would be a wonderful time to ease back into writing non-fiction (the last two months have been spent on fiction), and picking up blogging again. When I made this decision two grand juries had not decided that police officers murdering unarmed civilians did not need to be held accountable for their actions. When I made the decision protests against systematic racism and the abuses and injustice that comes out of our refusal to see how white privilege and the systematic structures we white people have built to make sure we stay at the top of the food chain had not started. I was living in my nice, quiet, white, middle-class bubble, and that was where I planned on writing from. And oh how I tried to stay there. Tried to “spiritualize” this Sunday’s lectionary readings for my own private, personal use. Anything to admit that I am not part of the problem.
But I am part of the problem. I am white. I am educated. I am privileged. I live a very privileged life. As an Episcopalian, I am well aware of the social injustices in our world. I hear about them every week at church. We talk about them most weeks at church. Then I go home. And I do nothing. And that’s what this week’s Scriptures are about: what needs to be done to make way for God coming into our world. In Isaiah, our Psalm reading, and according to John the Baptist, God does not just come. We have to make God’s path ready for her to come into our world. We have to flatten mountains and fill in valleys. We have to make the wide road that God will march into our lives on. It’s not enough to sit and wait for God to show up in our lives. We have to do the work of preparing the way for her to show up in our lives.
In her well thought-out and timely reflection on Isaiah, Rachel Held Evans writes:
If paying attention to the prophets aligns our dreams with the dreams of God and drives us to prophetic action, then the cries of Isaiah today are a reminder that sometimes this means getting in the demolition business. Sometimes this means flattening the mountains of privilege and power, clearing away the obstructions of legalism, and leveling the uneven ground of racial, economic, and religious inequity. After all, the sages have long told us that there is a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to mend and a time to rend, a time to build and a time to tear down.
Maybe this Advent season should be a season of rending and uprooting, of tearing down and leveling the ground. Maybe this year we prepare for Jesus not simply by hanging up wreaths but by pulling down the broken, unjust systems that tend to obscure God’s presence among us by obscuring God’s image in our brothers and sisters. Maybe we prepare for God-with-us by marching with the protestors rather than watching TV, by “shutting it down” rather than lightning it up.
I often hear people lament about where is God in our world. I think we Christians need to remember our gospel reading from two weeks ago, The Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. God is in our world when we feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit prisoners, and work for justice for everyone and not just people who look and act like us. The church is the body of Christ–God–in our world. If we wonder where God is, then we only need to look to our own lives to see where we are not being Christ to those who need the good news.
In her commentary on this year’s lectionary readings, Theology from Exile: The Year of Mark, Sea Raven gives an alternate translation for our Psalm reading that drives this point home as well. She points out that Priests for Equality in The Inclusive Bible translate Psalm 85:10-13 this way:
Because love and faithfulness have met; just and peace have embraced, fidelity will sprout from the earth and justice will lean down from heaven. Our God will give us what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Justice will march before you, Adonai, and peace will prepare the way for your steps.
God comes when we have prepared the way with love, faithfulness, justice, and peace, working for the good of all and not the few.
With the prophet in Isaiah 40 when told to “Cry out!” I also ask: “What shall I cry?” (Isaiah 40:6). Then I ask: What shall I do? I don’t have an answer yet. But I will find one. I will be marching in a peaceful protest with my brother and sister Episcopalians tomorrow, and I’m going to be asking what can I do beyond that? I will be calling my diocese headquarters and seeing where I can, not just pray for peace, but work for peace in my city, in my country, and in my world. Because in the end it’s not enough to cry out. It takes a lot of work to level mountains of hatred, suspicion, privilege, and racism, and it takes even more work to fill in the valleys of poverty and inequality.
This Advent instead of waiting for God to just show up and make your life magically better, ask yourself: what can I do to make a way for God to come into my world? Instead of simply praying “Your will be done on earth as in heaven,” ask yourself how you can help God’s reign be realized in this world right now? God is waiting for us to build that highway. Pick up a shovel and start digging.