“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.”
It is less than a month since the terrorist attack in Paris and not even a week since the senseless murder of innocent people in San Bernardino. Take off the garment of our sorrow and affliction? These first words from Baruch ask too much of us. We mourn. Many of us are still in shock and challenged by thoughts of fear and a desire for vengeance. How can we put on forever the beauty of the glory from God when our hearts are breaking and anxiety is residing like an unwelcome guest in our minds? What, if anything, can this season of Advent, offer to us?
Please “Come, O Come Emmanuel” and ransom captive Israel. Raise up for us a mighty Savior born of the house of David who will set us free and save us from our enemies. In your tender compassion, let your dawn break upon us and shine among us in these times of darkness and in the shadow of death. For you alone know how to guide our feet into the path of peace. We are searching for what is good and right.
Some us are even demanding to know where you were when bad things were happening to your children. O come, please come Emmanuel, we are in a terrible wilderness and we are crying, crying for your presence.
In today’s Gospel, John tells us to prepare for you by turning from our sins, do we have to be “good” before you will protect us? In the lesson, Paul tells us to let our love be so great that it will help us to determine what is best, how to take the next right action so that we may be pure and blameless when you come to be with us. Do we have to be righteous for you to claim us? How can we practice great love when we are in the midst of so much fear?
To be honest Lord, it is not a comfort to know that you were a homeless baby born far from your ancestral home, amidst strangers in a strange land. It is not a comfort to think about you as a refugee who for the first two years of your life hid from a despotic ruler who sought your destruction. We want a fierce warrior to take our side. Yet in Advent, this is how we come to know you. A voice, a cry from a babe in the wilderness, who is defenseless, dependent and trusting. You trust us to care and to do what is right, out of love, not fear; out of mercy, not vengeance; out of compassion not anger. Throughout your life you showed us how to be vulnerable when we wanted power, showed us how to be merciful when we wanted vengeance and showed us how to be forgiving when we wanted to burn hot with righteous anger.
For whatever reasons the early Christians decided to celebrate your birth during the darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, it was and is a powerful statement of how the light, your light, overcomes the darkness. How your light can illuminate what lurks in the shadows and calm our jangled nerves. How your light can warm our hearts and cheer our souls. How the light of God, true light, brings us hope and feeds the spiritual flame in our hearts.
Some say it was John’s voice crying in the wilderness, calling us to your side. I wonder. Is it you, our Savior, crying in the wilderness? Calling us by name and asking us to remember that all is not dark and that we are not alone. Is it your voice reminding us that we have You and we have each other? You know, we forget. We forget that You, O Lord, are always present. Waiting. Waiting for us to remember and turn to you. “Come, O Come Emmanuel” we sing. We forget that You never left. You have always been with us since the first moment you drew breath into your brand new lungs. Your first cry told us, “I am here, I am with you, I love you”.
Advent, then is not the time we wait for you, it is the time you wait for us! Wait for us to find you, embrace you, and surrender to you. Emmanuel, God with us, the light in the darkest of times. You save us from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us. All the days of our life we are free to choose to worship you and to do what is holy and righteous in your sight. We are free to choose to love in Your Name; to be merciful in Your Name; to be forgiving in Your Name; and to be compassionate in Your Name.
These past few weeks have been difficult. Events have challenged our way of life, how we see the world and how we see one another. It is a time of darkness and, because of You, it is a time of light. Yes, there is a voice crying in the wilderness, it is reminding us that the rough ways will be made smooth, it is reminding us that salvation is at hand, it is reminding us that we are all children of God and it is reminding us to ready our minds, our hearts and our souls for the greatest love of all.
We will sing the Song of Zechariah, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty savior, born of the house of his servant David. Through his holy prophets he promised of old, that he would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us. He promised to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life. We shall be called the prophets of the Most High, for we will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of (our) sins. In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in the darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the way of peace.” We will sing this song of Zechariah with joy because we are singing a song of hope. Yes Emmanuel, we have heard Your voice crying in the wilderness and we come to You, holding each other’s hands, sharing in Your grace and giving You glory. We come Emmanuel, we come. Amen.