Sermon for Sunday, December 9, 2018 || Advent 2C || Luke 3:1-6
God calls each one of us into relationship. God calls us because God love us. And God calls us to love. In love God calls us to take part in God’s mission of healing and reconciliation in this world. In love God calls us to serve others, to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, and to speak the good news of Jesus Christ. God calls us. God calls you and me.
In today’s Gospel lesson, God calls John, a person who lives out in the wilderness, a person whose birth bewildered many, a person who willed others to remember the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” We call him John the Baptist because he prepared the way of the Lord by ritually washing people in the River Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
John left the wilderness when the word of God came to him, when God called him into service. John became the herald of his cousin Jesus, the arrow pointing to the one who was coming after him. “All flesh shall see the salvation of God,” says John, again quoting Isaiah. And here comes the person who will help us see that salvation.
God called John to bear witness to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This call from God happened at a specific time, in a specific place, for a specific people. That’s what I’d like to talk about today, for our calls from God follow the same pattern.
Notice how Luke, the Gospel writer, sets up the story of John the Baptist. Luke painstakingly locates John’s call in a specific time and place. He does so by listing out all the important people whose names were likely to be remembered by history: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
Luke doesn’t have the benefit of a standard calendar since every culture had their own way of keeping time. So instead he lists seven proper names to help locate the story he is telling at a particular moment in history. It would like if I described the time of my birth like this: “Near the end of the Cold War, during the first term of President Ronald Reagan, in the year Return of the Jedi hit theaters, during a blizzard in Maine, Edna Thomas was delivered of a baby boy.”
Luke gives us so much detail because he desires to remind his readers that the story he is telling did not happen, “Once upon a time.” This is not a fairy tale. This is the story of God happening to creation in a new way. This happening took place there and then. And guess what, Luke seems to say: God’s presence continues to happen to the world in new ways here and now.
There and then was the region around the Jordan in the fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius. Here and now is Mystic, Connecticut in December 2018. Here and now is our workplaces and schools and neighborhoods and communities and country at this moment in our common life together.
God’s call on our lives is never vague. Yes, we might have a general notion that we should be friendly to others, respect them, and try to be fair. We teach our children thusly, and we should always engage such actions in our daily lives. But if we mistake such generally “good” activity for God’s specific call, we might never think to listen for how God is moving in our particular circumstances.
God’s call is always time, place, and people specific. A call from God might last a bare moment as, for example, something compels you to take a minute to chat with someone living on the street, acknowledging your common humanity instead of walking by in willful ignorance. Or that call might last a lifetime as you join an organization that works to prevent homelessness and to remake the system so homelessness is a thing of the past.
A call from God might draw you to a certain place, a place a great beauty that helps you remember God’s movement in your life, or to a place of great pain that helps someone else remember God’s presence through your own presence. A call from God might bring you into relationship with a certain person for your own continued learning or for mutual support or for that little push you need to change for the better. A call from God will enliven you, challenge you, and initiate a new thing in your life.
This Advent, I invite you to listen for God’s call in your life at this moment in time and in your current spaces. Over the last few years, I have found a series of three questions to be so fruitful in discerning God’s call. They come from another Adam, Adam Bucko, who works with homeless youth on the streets of New York City. Instead of quizzing the youth about where they’re staying and what drugs they might be on, Bucko hits them with these questions that have the potential to turn lives around. The three questions, along with two others, form the backbone of our new youth formation time here at St. Mark’s, and they made a recent cameo in Confirmation class, too. The questions are these:
What breaks your heart?
Who inspires you?
And what makes you come alive?
This week, sit down with your spouse or a close friend and ask each other these questions. Give space for truthful answers to bubble up from the Holy Spirit’s home in your gut. The confluence of your answers will point you toward God’s call in your life, for the intersection of your heartbreak and your aliveness is where God yearns for you to be. And those who inspire you will give you the push to go there.
God calls everyone into God’s mission of healing and reconciliation. In love God calls us to serve others, to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, and to speak the good news of Jesus Christ. Like John the Baptist, God calls us. God calls you and me. At this time. In this neighborhood. Here and now.
Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash