Isaiah and John the Baptist have a lot of company in the wilderness. Have you heard any of these voices crying out: Tarana Burke, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, Malala Yousafzai, Krystal Two Bulls, William Barber, and countless other? We have not paid much heed to the prophets of yesterday. Will we listen to the voices of today’s prophets? The cry is ever the same.
Isaiah told us everything we need to know about responding to the cries in the wilderness. If we are to make way for God, create a holy highway for all God’s people to travel, the process is unmistakable. Bring good news to the oppressed. Not just words, words cost nothing and achieve very little. What do oppressed people want? Justice. It shouldn’t be that hard. Doug Jones shouldn’t have barely one the Senate seat in Alabama; he should have won by an overwhelming majority. But there is something in U.S. culture that resists listening to those wilderness voices and whatever it is has permeated our churches as well. If we are God’s people, then we are supposed to be creators of justice. We must be the good news oppressed people seek.
Bind up the broken-hearted. There really is no binding for a broken heart. We cannot undo death. However, we can stop killing people. We can stop allowing police officers to get away with murder. We can change our healthcare and mental health care systems so that illness does not result in death for those who live in poverty. We can admit to racism and white supremacy that permeates every system and institution in the U.S. If we are God’s people, then we are to be agents of healing. We must be the binding for the broken-hearted.
Proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. Again, proclamation without action is meaningless. Until Congress passes a clean Dream Act, too many young people are at risk for deportation. The path to citizenship is ridiculously complicated and divides families. People risk their lives to enter this country without documentation, not because they are seeking something for free; they want a better life. Why is the U.S. response so often arrest, imprisonment, and deportation without regard for the well-being of individuals or families? Xenophobia flows through our streets and causes us to turn away immigrants and refugees, forgetting that most of our families were once one or the other. Forgetting that Jesus and his family were once refugees. If we are God’s people, then we are to be advocates for liberation and release. We must be the way to liberation and freedom for all God’s people.
Proclaim God’s favor and comfort all who mourn. Imagine a just world for all. This vision is the comfort for those who mourn now. For everyone who is dismissed and devalued by those with power, there is hope for a different future. In this future, all those marginalize voices will be re-membered, re-joined to communities of love and grace. Moreover, these will be our leaders, our strength. Only then will the breach be repaired. If we are God’s people, then we are to be creators of a new future. We must be the hope for those who mourn.
Isaiah goes on to describe the day when God’s people are liberated and filled with praise. Isn’t this what we, as church, want? We have fooled ourselves into thinking that faith is all about the individual. We want to know that we are “doing it right” and feel comfortable in our sense of righteousness. However, the prophets, old and new, aren’t speaking to individuals. Isaiah spoke to the nation of Israel while it was divided and held captive by Babylon. The words about good news and liberty were not empty. They were followed by action.
Today’s prophets speak to a nation divided and held captive by a Babylon we created. Our liberation and re-membering will only happen when we stop thinking only about ourselves and start thinking about our neighbors. You may not be affected by the current tax bill, but is your neighbor? You may have access to excellent education, does your neighbor? You may be able to choose your doctor and get the best healthcare, can your neighbor do the same? There may be enough food in your pantry, how about your neighbor’s?
Sunday is the third Sunday in Advent. The Sunday of Joy, the Sunday when we turn from active waiting to joyful anticipation of Christ’s arrival. The joy faith seeks holds hands with justice. It will remain fleeting in our lives as long as we think faith is personal and private. (Ask Mary about what it means to live a public faith and realize that faith leads us to serve others and how joy fits into that.) When we risk living our faith out in the world, we draw closer to the joy of life in the Spirit. When we pause to listen to the prophets, hear their cries to prepare the way of the Lord, joy might begin to take up residence in our communities once again.
Christ is waiting to enter into all the broken places in our lives, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our nation, and in our world. The prophets are crying out, telling us what is needed to prepare the way. Isn’t it time we move toward Joy?
RCL – Year B – Third Sunday in Advent – December 17, 2017
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46-55
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe