The Rev. Dr. Edie Dolnikowski
Advent is a season for a great feast. The celebration of the coming of Jesus into the world. The word made flesh in the body of Jesus. Each week in the season of Advent has its own sort of theme, its own part to play in this process of preparation. The theme of the Second Sunday of Advent is to heed the words of the prophets and repent of sin. It is an important part of the process of preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. I want to make a little bit of an analogy between this kind of preparation and the preparations that we may have experienced in another part of our lives very recently. How many of you, last week, at Thanksgiving, had the primary responsibility for making the meal? In particular, preparing the turkey? Raise your hand. And how many people among you, like me, had the pleasure of having somebody else prepare the meal, primarily the turkey? Ok. So, I can assure you, I was not the primary turkey maker, but, whoever of you did that didn't think at five o'clock on Thursday afternoon: "Oh, I think it is time to go make supper." That is not what you do when you make a turkey. You have to go and get it way ahead of time. If it is a frozen turkey, you have to give it adequate time to thaw. You have to treat it with particular care because you don't want to give any of your beloved house guests any kind of diseases as a result to your lack of attention to the work of preparing this turkey. The fact is that it is not something that most people do every day. Therefore, people have to study up on it. Now, I knew I wasn't going to be the primary turkey preparer so I had time in the week or so, actually a couple of weeks, before Thanksgiving looking at the news to see how many articles there were in the paper about the 25 best ways to make your turkey, the 37 different things to do with your turkey leftovers, the main thing to do to avoid a dry turkey, or a burned turkey, or a raw turkey, or a turkey that was frozen in the middle. People start to share their advice about what it takes to prepare this meal because it is more than just the turkey. It’s the people coming together on this day to give thanks. It is a national offering of thanks for the blessings that we have received and the attention that we place in this meal is a reflection of how we, as a community, not just as individuals, take seriously what this day means in the life our community, in the life of our nation. When you get close to Thanksgiving Day, Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the news shifts a little bit to what to do if you have a disaster with your turkey. The turkey hotline. You can call it and get on the spot advice from people about what happens if it all seems to be going wrong in your midst. That is not so very different, if you think about it, to what it is that is offered to us in our scriptural tradition about preparing for something really important, the coming of Jesus into our midst, in a new way, that we celebrate at Christmas. There is kind of prophetic tradition that takes a long view, and then there is a prophetic tradition that focuses on something that is a lot more immediate and urgent. So when you hear the readings from the prophet Isaiah or as we heard today the prophet Baruch there is a kind of balance between the trials and tribulations that people are experiencing their daily lives and the hope and joy that will come in the future. There is a looking forward to a time when all of these things that are troubling us now will all be resolved and God's reign will come and we'll live in a state of righteousness, and joy, and peace. We have these words: rejoice, righteousness, everlasting peace. Very often we hear the special poetry, the hymns of Advent, in that light because we are thinking forward to when we are going to be together celebrating again the joy of Jesus’s coming into our midst. But today, on the Second Sunday of Advent we have a different kind of prophet. We have John the Baptist, and John the Baptist was not a prophet who said very much about how great things were going to be in very distant future. He talked a lot about how bad things are going to be in the near term future. He famously said to his congregation at one point "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" That's the kind of the tone that John the Baptist takes all the time. "You brood of vipers." My husband who is sitting back there, who has been part of this community for a while, will tell you that is one of his favorite scriptures passages. It is not because he is someone who has strong believe in the wrath of God. It is because he secretly thinks some creature, someday, will stand up and call their congregation a nest of snakes. I'm not going to do that. You are not a brood of vipers; you are not a nest of snakes. When John the Baptist was saying these kinds of things to his congregation he wasn't really trying to irritate them or insult them. What he was really trying to do was to get them to recognize that big important things were going to happen and things were going to get a lot worse before they could possibly get better. Within that community there were a few people were just beginning to have the capacity to face those things that were about to happen because they were preparing. But, there were a lot of people who were not prepared in any way for what was going to happen. So, did you see the proportion of the people who took primary responsibility for the turkey and the people who just showed up for dinner? He was speaking to the people who were just showing up for dinner, the people who were just there looking to see what was going to happen. When he speaks to us today, as the prophets continue to speak to us, we have to ask ourselves what kind of person are we? Are we the person who is taking the steps to prepare to engage the mission that Jesus as entrusted to us, that God has given to us to fulfill in his world? Or, are we just waiting around to see what happens? We had this week another occasion of wondering what it is that is happening in our world with people who seem to fit in the community, you would have no way of knowing that they had any kind of violence in them at all, committing a terrible act of violence. How would you prepare for that? You can't prepare for that. It is impossible to prepare for all the things that will happen to us. So, the kind of vague anxious, nervous, worry, about all the things going on around us is not really the kind of preparation that are prophets are asking us to consider. It is not really about the bad things that will happen. It’s finding ways to see what is new and what is good breaking into the world even in the midst of these things that seem to be tearing it apart. When John the Baptist talks about the wrath that is to come, and this is picking up on a theme that Ed has been developing through his sermons all through the fall, at least since I've been here. It’s not because John the Baptist said that God is full of wrath. It is not God that is angry. Anger, wrath, violence, destruction are things that happen when people sin, when they turn from God, they follow their own will, they do what they think is right for themselves in the moment. That is the wrath that is to come. That's the wrath that was. That's the wrath that is. That's the wrath that will be. Our prophets tell us that we are called to be a people who can see new life and hope, and respond to the things that are happening around us even in the midst of those things. We are called not to be distracted by the calamities around us but, to be open to the possibilities that those calamities present to us. To think about things in a new way. To offer ourselves in new ways. To serve in new ways. Ways that wouldn't have occurred to us if we are only thinking about preserving our own lives. So, I bring this up, not only in the context of the larger mission we are, the whole society are, our whole world, but also in the context of what is happening in this congregation right now. This is a new time for you, you are going to be celebrating the ordination of a new priest, not many days from now, it's on Friday. It’s a new thing. A new thing that happens. There is a lot of preparation that is going into this process and there are a lot of things that we are not going to know what they are going to be like until they are actually over. You know, Ed has his list of things to do. People are not necessarily going to do exactly what is in that leaflet. People are like that, we're are going to respond as we feel we are called to respond in the moment and there is only so much preparation that we can do to make things flow the way we want them to flow. But, if there is not preparation - you forget to order the food or the Bishop forgets to come. You know, that can lead to problems. So, I encourage you, in this time of Advent, when the lessons are specifically asking us to think about different times of preparation, different kinds of ways of looking at the future, to pay attention to what the prophets are really saying about opening ourselves up for the coming of God into our hearts at Christmas. I have three pieces of advice for you, three suggestions. The first is to pay attention. Pay attention to the things that are going on around you. Pay attention to the people around you. Make it a little more about what might be happening out there then what is going on in your own head, your own experience. Pay attention. Step it up. That is the second thing. If you are the person who just showed up for dinner, think about how you might participate a little more in the common work of celebrating Gods love in the world and sharing that with the people in your immediate circle, in your community, throughout the world. How do you respond to the things that are happening in our society that call upon people to stand up for justice and peace? And the third thing, is to consider the possibility of doing the same old thing in a new way. Think of ways that you are engaging your ministries right now and what's really strong about those things and what kinds of things you can let go. If you are person who has always been the turkey maker and you think there is only one way to make a turkey and no one else can do it maybe the new thing for you is to invite some new people into the turkey making process. Who knows what can happen? And if you are the person who never makes the turkey because you are afraid of it, because you are afraid you're one of those people who might end up on the hot-line Thursday morning: take a risk. The risk to be engaged in something new, because that is what the prophets are asking us to do. Not just in the season of Advent but every day. To look at the world as a place that is at the same time, full of sadness and calamity and danger and also, full of God’s abundant grace. The way that we can lift up that grace and share it with the people around us is to prepare ourselves us to see it, to engage it, to be inspired by it, and to offer it in new ways to the people around us. So just as St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians had a prayer for his congregation, I have a prayer for you. That you will be able to engage that work, not just in the season of Advent but, in this coming week as we help to prepare for the ordination of a new priest in our midst and also in this new ministry that we all share together both, in this congregation, and in the diocese, and in the church, and in the world. AMEN.