The Second Sunday of Advent, Year B, 2017 – Isaiah 40:11; 2 Peter 3:8-15; Mark 1:1-8
A voice says ‘Cry!’
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass;
Their constancy is like the flower of the field. (Isa 40:6)
The day of the Lord will come like a thief…
This is the sound of Advent.
And it is nothing like everything else we are hearing in the city as we get ready for Christmas. It’s a holly, jolly Christmas….Jingle bells, jingle bells…Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer…Santa Claus is coming to town. The stores are full of the tunes. We are so jolly! It’s Christmas ti-i-ime in the city, and we are all ok.
But from the ancient prophets and from the great apostle of the early church, a cry comes to our ears. All people are grass, and the mountains will be made low and the valleys a plain and the heavens will pass away with a crash.
This is the cry of a people who knows that it is not yet Christmas, and everything is not o.k. Advent is for a people who need hope. Advent is for the people who hear a cry rising from the land—through all the tinned and happy music, a cry rising: “All flesh is grass,” and
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
(The Hollow Men, T.S. Eliot)
That is T.S. Eliot, who knew about everything not being o.k. in life; who dedicated his first collection of poems to a friend, a medic killed in the Dardanelles in WWI, while caring for a wounded man on the battlefield. He was not quite 25.
All people are grass. A voice said, ‘Cry!’ What is interesting about T.S. Eliot is that (in spite of living through two world wars) it is not chiefly death, or war that he laments. It is a kind of aridity, the diminishment, the mis-purposing of our lives.
Do you huddle close together because
You love each other?
What will you answer?
We all dwell together to make money from each other?
That is Eliot in “The Rock,” 20 years later. He saw very clearly the character of our cities, and what he saw was prescient:
O weariness of men who turn from God
To schemes of human greatness thoroughly discredited,
Binding the earth and the water to your service,
Exploiting the seas and developing the mountains…
Engaged in designing the perfect refrigerator.
The stores are full at Christmas-time and the tunes are jolly, and there is no time and no silence in which we might hear the cry. But in El Salvador Rosa Martinez sews the clothes that we buy and gets paid 33 cents an hour. A mother makes Liz Claiborne jackets for 77 cents apiece; you can buy one this Christmas $178 USD. The mother gives her 3-year-old daughter coffee to drink, because they cannot afford to buy milk. (these stories from William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed)
A voice says, ‘Cry!’
There is a terrible disjunction between the holly jolly Christmas rush and what is going on in our world—and what is going on in our hearts.
Do you huddle together because you love each other? What will you answer? Advent is a time for people who need hope. Advent is a time for people who know that all is not well, who feel it in their heart of hearts, who wake in the night sometimes with a cry. All flesh is grass! My life is dried up; I do not know what it means anymore. Our lives are gone astray in all the holly jolly, and I cannot hear, I cannot see what is good. And the child drinks coffee while her mother works 12 hours a day in a compound enclosed in barbed-wire. If your heart is crying, this Advent, it is speaking true. This Advent is for you. This Advent is for the child and her mother, for the people who cry out, and for the people who hear and know the harm that we do, and who are broken-hearted.
For it is in the darkness that the light is seen. “The beginning,” Mark’s gospel says, “of the good news of Jesus Christ.” Advent is a beginning of hope.
Advent speaks to a people who know that things are not as they should be, that there is much that is awry, that our mouth is dried up like a pot-sherd and our own hearts too are crying.
Advent says, your heart speaks true, and it promises a shake-up. The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and the heavens will pass away with a crash; the mountains will be made low and the rough places a plain. For those who know that all is not well, these are words of promise. The earth and its deeds will be revealed, for there is one coming who speaks truth.
There is one coming whose heart is not dried up, who brings to our dry voices whispering together a new word, a true word, God’s word, the word of power. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals, the great last prophet cries. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. He will bring healing in his hands, and so he will overturn the world.
Advent is news of hope for those whose hearts are crying, and so it is a glad and fearsome thing.
It demands from us honesty, the readiness to face the truth about ourselves, the readiness to be overturned.
If the first word of Advent is Mark’s “good news,” the second word is John the Baptist’s “repent!” It is necessary to hear the sorrow of the world, to hear and to own it as our own, the work of our hands. It is necessary to hear the dry voices whispering, or clamouring, shouting more often than not now but nonetheless empty, loud voices lost in the world without God and meaningless, rat’s feet in the dry cellar. All flesh is grass and our constancy is like the flower of the field. This is true. In the light of Jesus Christ—in the love of Jesus Christ, that love that comes so tenderly, with healing in his hands—how can we not cry “Forgive us.” Forgive us our dry voices, the loss of your word. Forgive the harm that we do.
And then…and then…the word of hope. For it is to the people who know they need hope that Advent comes as good news. “Comfort, O comfort my people.” This, too, is the word of the Lord. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term.” There is one who is coming in truth and in love; there is one who is coming to overturn our world. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light; on them light has shined.
This is Advent’s word. It is spoken to a people who know they sit in darkness. It is spoken to a people who long for the light. Where shall the word be heard? Not in the malls. There is not enough silence. Give yourself time this Advent to hear the cry. It is the cry of your own heart. Give yourself time to know your need, the longing of all our hearts. Give yourself time, and silence, and prayer; give yourself the Advent wreath. Its candles are the sign of our hope. Each week a candle lit, a candle against the darkness, each week in your homes together, lighting the darkness with Advent hope.
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.