Sermon Archives

Sunday, December 10, 2017
The 2nd Sunday of Advent (Year B)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Waiting in the Borderlands

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

The scene for today’s Gospel passage takes place by the River Jordan. No river figures more prominently in the Bible than the Jordan, which is mentioned more than 75 times.[1]

The River Jordan starts in the Lebanese mountains, flows into Lake Tiberias (also known as the Sea of Galilee), and then travels about 100 kilometers to the south into the Dead Sea.

More often than not, the Bible refers to the Jordan River as a boundary.

In the Old Testament, the Jordan is referenced in battle narratives as a boundary between nations. Even today, the river operates as a border; the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism, is located in the country of Jordan, right across from Israel.   

Take a moment to turn to one another, preferably to someone you don’t know, and share a time when you traveled somewhere and crossed a border – could be a county border, state border, or a country border – describe what was that like for you.

Thank you! Most of us have probably had the experience of crossing a border – maybe even crossing county boundaries today to get to church. I think  

Boundaries are liminal places, places that have fluid identities, places that knock us off our center a little bit and creating space for the unexpected.

Possibly the most important biblical story featuring the River Jordan as a boundary is in the book of Joshua (Joshua 3-4). After 40 years in the desert, Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan, and as they crossed, the water miraculously piled up in a heap, just as the Red Sea had done at the Exodus.[2]

The Red Sea separated the Israelites from the Egyptians, marking the boundary between captivity and liberation, just as the River Jordan separated the wilderness from the Promised land.

This liminal place, is the place in our Gospel passage today where people from the whole Judean countryside and all Jerusalem gathered to receive what John had on offer.

These people were yearning for hope, yearning for something to quench their spiritual thirst and to soothe the emotional turmoil caused by their political circumstances and the fractures in their society, as they struggled to figure out how to deal with Roman occupation. 

John straddles a boundary – he harkened to the past, and pointed to the future. Dressed up in his wild outfit, eating a desert diet of locusts and honey, and framed by the evangelist with the words of Isaiah, he would have appeared to the crowd to be harkening back to the prophets.

Just as the prophets did, he called the community to repentance – he called the community to face the truth about themselves and their world. The crowd would have understood his lifestyle in the tradition of the Prophet Elijah, who was said to mark the end of prophecy – until the coming of the Messiah.[3]

Jesus himself blurs the boundary between the human and the Divine – entering the ambiguous territory of the borderlands by the Jordan – turning that arid landscape of uncertainty into a place of divine revelation and promise.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was living down in Arizona. While she was down there, she took the opportunity to learn about ministry at the border with Mexico.

Her church was partnering with an immigrant aid organization, called Kino Border Initiative, which is co-sponsored by six U.S. and Mexican church groups.

The wall at the border in that particular location looks like a big fence with steel bars forming slats that one could easily reach through, although that is forbidden.

The staff person at Kino Border Initiative told her about a family that gathered at Thanksgiving that year at the border. Part of the family was on the U.S. side, and the other part was on the Mexican side. Each side of the family brought tables, chairs and their own food to eat that they set up on either side of the border – to share a meal in the best way they could. 

This same organization has an initiative called Kino Teens, which are clubs based out of mostly Catholic schools, intended to encourage high schoolers to befriend migrant people and hear their stories, to educate people about migration, to share the teaching of the church on migration and to support the ministry of the Kino Border Initiative in their service to deported migrants.

In 2015, a group of students wrote to Pope Francis describing the plight of undocumented immigrants who are deported from the U.S. to Nogales’s sister city in Mexico.

To their immense surprise, the Pope wrote them back!

He told the youth that they were presenting to “the world a church, without borders, as the mother of all … a church that extends to the world a culture of solidarity and care for the people and families that are affected … by heart-rending circumstances.”[4],[5]

As faithful Christians in Advent, we inhabit the borderland between the promise of Christ’s divine in-breaking into our world, and the reality of the world we live in.

Lest we should fall asleep while we wait, perhaps lulled into believing that what we see is all there is, God gives us those voices crying out in the wilderness, calling us to stay awake and to prepare the way.

Our Advent mission, should we choose to accept it, is to actively live in that holy spiritual state of waiting. We are called to lean into this season of longing and yearning for God, and to do what we can to make the path of the Lord straight.

The good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is that God comes to find us in the wilderness of our world, transcending the boundaries we place around and within ourselves.

God comes to find us even when we ourselves don’t really know what we’re looking for, shedding the light of truth to cleanse us from the illusions that we cling to, baptizing us with the Holy Spirit, renewing and restoring us at the table and sending us back out into the world to prepare the way, by blessing others in word and deed, with the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

[1] Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J. C., & Longman III, T. (Eds.). (2010). Dictionary of biblical imagery. InterVarsity Press. Jordan River.

[2] Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J. C., & Longman III, T. (Eds.). (2010). Dictionary of biblical imagery. InterVarsity Press. Jordan River.

[3] Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration. (Exegetical perspective)