The Second Sunday of Advent - Bishop Jeff Mello
Good morning, saints of St. Andrew’s Church, Milford!
What a great joy and blessing it is for me to be with you this morning to celebrate with you this second Sunday of Advent.
I love the second Sunday in Advent, for it is when we get to meet John the Baptist each year. And in Year A, the liturgical year we are currently in, we get to hear of John’s appearance through Matthew’s Gospel. In Matthew, as in Mark, we get the added gift of the details of John the Baptist’s sense of fashion and quirky eating habits.
John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. It must have been odd enough of a fashion choice to be noticed. His food, Matthew tells us, was locusts and wild honey.
Anytime scripture is that specific, I have learned to take notice. There must be something important enough about these details for the author to have gone through the trouble of including them.
So what are we to make of this character of John the Baptist? Well, he was certainly outside the norm. He was not an expected figure to be charismatic enough to have large crowds follow him into the river to be baptized, before baptism was a thing, at least before Jesus was baptized.
John doesn’t come from the center of the people, he does not come from their midst, he is not one of their own. He is an outsider, a stranger, a figure appearing in the wilderness preaching repentance and renewal of life.
And, yet, wilderness living, camel’s hair clothing, locusts and wild honey notwithstanding, we are told that “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
It is hard to imagine such a scene today. It’s hard for me to imagine John the Baptist would get equal traction were he to appear to us today, somewhere along the seventeen and a half miles of shoreline here in Milford, Connecticut. Can you imagine, a man dressed like John the Baptist was, feasting on locusts and wild honey screaming an invitation to get in the water, to repent, “for the kingdom of heaven has come near?”
I don’t see the throngs of the surrounding region of Milford getting in the water at his invitation. I have an easier time imagining his removal, perhaps with the assistance of law enforcement, perhaps followed by a mental health evaluation and intervention.
Today, voices from the edges are harder to hear. Voices from the margins are seldom the voices that get a large following.
We are a culture of celebrity and status. We are a people who cater in influence and popularity.
So, who is to be our John the Baptist? Who are the ones who will call us to repentance and point us out of our self centered-ness and toward the one we call Christ, as John does?
When John the Baptist is depicted in art, he is always shown with his finger pointed toward Christ.
It is as if he is saying to each observer who looks upon him in the painting, “no, don’t look at me, look over there. Look for Christ. Look at Christ.”
Who will be our John the Baptists?
Well, people of St. Andrew’s, Milford. That’s you. That is your job. You are to be John the Baptists in this world pointing those around you toward the one who restores all things into right order.
You, with your whole lives are to point those with whom you come in contact away from the distractions of their lives to the one who is life.
You are to be John the Baptists in Milford, CT.
Now, you may not wear camel’s hair coats, and I don’t expect you to feast on locusts and wild honey, and I pray you don’t expect me too. But there are other ways that I think God does expect us to stand out in a crowd.
The way you love your neighbors ought to draw attention. The way you put the Way of Love as your primary way of being ought to make people notice. Your dedication to transforming your lives over and over and over again, more and more and more into the likeness of the one whose birth we prepare to celebrate, and whose return we eagerly anticipate, that ought to make you stick out like sore thumbs pointing to the God of love.
Here is a place that is committed to doing things differently. Here is a place where seekers are invited to come as they are. In a world where people work tirelessly to be acceptable; to wear the right things, hold the right jobs, move in the right circles, to have their lives together and everything in order, here you cry out in the wilderness of their lives, “Come. Come as you are.”
Here is a place that is committed to providing shelter to the homeless or to provide books for children who desperately need them. Here is a place that sees people the world would rather look past, or look over.
How else might God be calling you as the community of St. Andrew’s in Milford to be so wildly different from the world around you that people are drawn in and transformed in their own lives to do the same?
We used to have a banner outside of the church where I served in Brookline, Massachusetts. It read, “God love you. No exceptions.” People loved it. Newcomers and neighbors consistently commented on it. It was a critical message to be made known in a world where love feels all too often conditional and fleeting.
“That banner’s only the first half of it, though” I would tell people. Yes, God loves you. No exceptions. AND God loves you too much to leave you where you are.
The church might not look like it did when you were a child. St. Andrew’s has probably changed a great deal in its 98 years of being a community of faith here in Milford. And I’m here to tell you that’s okay. And it might just be the best possible news. God loves St. Andrew’s Milford. No exceptions. AND god loves St. Andrew’s Milford far too much to leave you alone.
The dream of the restoration of all the created order to right relationship with one another and with God does not come from a place of perfection, or even a place at the center.
The hope of God imagined by the prophet Isaiah comes as a tender new shoot coming out of an old stump.
The way toward Christ does not come from the mouth of those in positions of power or those who sit comfortably at the center of their society, but from this wild and wooly wild man with wild honey and locusts caught in his straggly and unkempt beard.
I won’t be asking you to follow me to the banks of the Housatonic this morning. But we will renew our Baptismal vows. We will bring the river Jordan here for our own repentance and renewal.
I pray that, as the familiar words of the Baptismal promises flow from your lips, you might just feel your heart stirred. I hope you are encouraged to make yourselves more and more into the likeness of the Baptist; into ones who will cry out from the wilderness of this world in which we live to those who long to know what it is you know, to find what it is you have found. Point the way,
show them the way, show me the way to Christ.
Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ be our light! Shine in our church gathered today.