Sermon Archives

Sunday, December 6, 2020
The Second Sunday of Advent (Year B)
The Reverend Walter Brownridge, Associate
The Good News

May I speak in the name of our ever-living, ever-loving and ever-leading God. Amen.

Here’s the thing about Holy scripture, the Bible, that sacred word of God that we rely upon as Christians as somehow a guide, for some a rule book, for some nice stories. The thing about Holy scriptures is that for example, when I was in seminary, in fact, before I got to seminary, when I was an applicant, I was interviewed by the professor of Old Testament, who in fact just recently died into his eighties, Father Richard Corny was a great teacher. And I asked him what I thought would be an erudite question at the time of the interview, when you know that your expected to give a sharp question and I wanted to impress this professor. And so I said, “Well Father, do you here at the General Theological Seminary, you teach what they call I guess what I hear is called the critical historical method.” And he says, “Yes, of course we do, with the understanding the nuances, as well as how the church, as the body of Christ, as the people of God, understand and have interpreted throughout the centuries.”

And so for us who are quote, mainline Protestant, but even Roman Catholic and even Eastern Orthodox, we tend to accept some of these understandings that came up in the 19th century about how do you reconcile Holy scriptures with the discoveries in science, in the various disciplines, to make sense of it? And on the other side of the Christian world, there is this, of course more literal, not fundamentalists, I would say, but more literal perhaps sometimes said to be evangelical, but many evangelicals who have been educated in certain schools, still understand the historical and critical method, but there is this sense among evangelicals that the Bible is the errant word of God, completely, completely every word in it inspired by God and must be adhered to as a code in the US code of laws that govern our federal government or our state laws and so on.

And I would just say that both camps or both sides of that Christian divide about how to deal with scripture are somewhat missing the point. We both don’t get it. We both can get some things correct, but we don’t get the big question, I think, right. And that is because we have tended to use scripture, to read scripture in a way that is quote, self-justifying. We’re more inclined to have scripture fit into our theological or our philosophical, worldviews and beliefs and so parts of the scripture that support that, we affirm wholeheartedly. I am as guilty as anyone else. I don’t think any preacher cannot be acquitted of that charge. But those who listen as well, tend to let those things that may make them uncomfortable or what they wish to avoid, let that slide off as you will like water off a duck’s back as opposed to grappling with it. It is a sense of self-justification.

On our side of the ledger. The more main line, if you want to use that phrase or traditional way of reading scripture, we tend to read scripture critically, looking at those things that don’t make sense for our 21st century eyes and ears and minds. And on those who are more literal, they tend to avoid those contradictions, those nuances that will clearly show that scripture is a lot more complicated and you might not be able to read it as a legal code. The problem for both of us is that we don’t understand if what we are called to do as Christians is to read the scripture as a lens to read ourselves. If you will, scripture calls us to be self-critical, to be self-aware, to be able to go into it and says, “Where do I fit into this story? Even if it’s a part of the story that makes me feel uncomfortable.”

And likewise, as we are now into this season of Advent, this season of hopeful expectation, this season when we hope to rely upon the promises of God, this season when we talk about, “Yes, we are waiting for you, Emmanuel God with us.” Meaning to be watchful and expect it. Not necessarily somber, but serious enough to then when the joy of Christmas comes, to revel in it. And we who are in these liturgical churches today, we have Mark’s words. Mark’s words that are aligned with that idea of hope and promise. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. The very first words of Mark’s gospel, which means the very first words of any written gospel. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God. And then it says, “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, see, I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way. The voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight.” John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

I’ll stop there. It is this idea if we read that in a liturgical season like Advent in 2022, this time of a coronavirus pandemic, where millions around the globe have contracted this virus. Over a million and a half have died in our own country. The numbers are staggering. Edging over 275,000 deaths in our own state, over 400,000 confirmed cases and as we know from our own law and the countless number of flags representing the nearly 10,000 deaths. We could use some hope and some promise couldn’t we? We have it scientifically, if you will, that there is yes, vaccines. A light at the end of the tunnel will come in 2021 and if we could just muster up enough trust in our institutions, people will participate in this, this too shall pass, as scripture says.

But I wonder in fact, if when we hear the words of Isaiah, through the pen of Mark, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his path straight.” How do we read ourselves through that lens? You might want to say, “Walter, this year, this season, maybe we need to be a bit more easy on ourselves.” And I could agree with that. I do. So many people have suffered medically, emotionally, psychologically, economically. It’s been hard. Whether you’re worried about losing your job or you’ve lost your job or you’re working from home and your kids are at home and you’re trying to teach as well as work and all of that craziness. What do I have to do to prepare the way of the Lord this year? How am I supposed to make God’s path straight?

That of course is our habit as humans. This idea that it’s all about us in that so scripture needs to sort of justify, affirm where we are today. And God indeed does welcome us and accept us where we are. No exceptions to that. But scripture does comfort us. Comfort us in the traditional word that would have been used in Isaiah’s time and throughout the ages, when you would translate that from Hebrew to Greek and Latin into English. The comfort is like that shepherd who comforts a sheep who’s gone astray. They get that sheep back with the herd, with the flock. Scripture comforts us to understand that yes, just as in the first century, when people would have read and heard Mark’s words, the good news they would have said, “Yeah, we could use some good news. Roman occupation, corrupt religious and civil leadership, economic precariousness all around us, suffering, illness, death. We need the good news of yes, a Messiah.”

And in that time of the first century, it was a deeply divided population, mixed in religion but even within the Jewish religion, there were factions and differences that sometimes led to violence. Sounds familiar to us in a way, the way we in this country are divided.

What is the good news? What is the hope or the promise? But again, I think that’s because the title, the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the son of God, is meant to read ourselves critically. It’s meant to look at ourselves. To the Gentiles, to the Roman citizens who would have heard that son of God, that would have been the first thing they would have noticed because on coins of Roman Empire, the emperor’s face and visage would have been on it and it would have used the translating from the Latin, “This is the son of God, felice deo.” Felice divini, the son of the divine. That was what many of the emperors, the Caesars would have called themselves. That would have made some folks uncomfortable.

And then you have John the Baptist who Isaiah doesn’t quite predict, but Mark makes an analogy and sees how John the Baptist is fulfilling this role and calling all of us to repent. To repent for our sins through the ritual and sacrament of baptism is for us to say, “Ah, we’re called to look at ourselves, to change, to turn around, to understand that going back to normal might not be the thing to do because going back would mean going back to some of the sins and the ways we separated ourselves from each other and from God.” Instead, the baptism of the repentance of sins, for the baptism through the repentance of our sins, the forgiveness that comes from baptism is the opportunity to participate. To join in the work of God who comes in the form of Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah, the son of God.

That is our opportunity. That is if you will, the hope and the promise of the season of Advent. And by that, I mean that we have hope, yes, that Christ who is come once, comes daily and will come again. That’s a hope and a reality. And the promise is that despite what is going on now and despite the difficulties, it’s not some blind and sort of airy fairy optimism, but it is an assurance of things that are not quite seen yet, but that you know, that you have a somehow a deep seated knowledge that God will be there with us. And the opportunity for us is that we can participate in that right here, right now, particularly in our own communities, we can provide hope. Hope through the promises of God to others who are struggling. To provide hope through the promises of God for each other as we struggle. Yes, indeed to provide hope and promise that God’s word is true. Amen.