Every year during Advent, as we wait in anticipation of God entering our world as a child, as we live the hope that God is going to come and set the world right, we encounter this guy.
John the Baptist.
We follow a prescribed set of Bible verses for Advent, verses that are used by millions of Christians around the world.
And every year, we all together read about John the Baptist, calling out from the wilderness the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight the paths for him!”
Repent! Jesus is coming!
One of the unique things about living in 2017 is the amount of information we get, and how fast we get it. Between social media and 24/7 news channels and all of us having cameras in our pockets, what’s going on comes at as fast and hard. Whereas some of us remembering having to wait til the 6 o’clock news, and some of us remember waiting until the next day’s newspaper, and still some of us remember town criers shouting in the city square, others of us have Twitter.
And it can at times feel a bit overwhelming, can’t it? Or that our world is taking a turn towards something dark?
We read about climate change, and how the world will fundamentally look different for our children and grandchildren. And since climate change exacerbates existing weather patterns, we see storms stronger than we’ve seen before. And, we read about how some of those affected, like Puerto Rico, are still struggling to recover months later.
We see videos of white supremacists and Nazis marching with tiki-torches in the night.
We read about wealth inequality in our world, and how the top 1% of the rich, control 50% of the world’s wealth and how they influence politics and change the rules to favour them.
While most us are aware of media bias, the idea of fake news and wondering what’s true and what’s not and what’s political spin and whom can trust is all a little bit destabalizing, isn’t it?
We read about the global refugee crisis, from Syria, to where 1 in 4 civilians killed are children, to the plight of Rohingya in Myanmar.
And we’ve read, and shared, in #metoo, where thousands and thousands of women in all walks of life have shown great bravery and vulnerability and courage in telling their stories of how men have sexually assaulted them. And we’ve believed them, and there’s been a bit of a long overdue public reckoning.
And all of this doesn’t even include a few unstable individuals who have access to nuclear weapons.
When we encounter all these stories, over and over again all day long, I get why jokingly some of us jokingly end up using apocalyptic language.
One of the ways that I understand the word “apocalypse” is simply this: Uncovering. The great revealing. No zombies. No end of the world prophecies. Just a really truthful naming of what’s present in our world. A revealing of what’s already there.
And when we stop and ponder, we know that everything I just named has been around for thousands of years.
For generations, we as human have been leaving the environment in worse shape for our children and grandchildren.
Natural disasters have happened before.
Empires and global super powers have neglected their responsibility to the poor and vulnerable and marginalized.
From Nazis to the KKK to the injustices done to indigenous people around the world, racism has flourished for centuries.
The rich and powerful have always tried to create propaganda that benefits them, and work to bend the rules in their favour.
Humans fleeing from war is as old a story as war itself.
And men have used and abused their wealth and status and power to exploit women for too long.
None of this is new.
What is new, however, is how all the darkness in our world is being revealed. It is quick, it is widespread, and it is unfiltered. And given the globalization of our world, we ponder our own roles in all of these things.
Advent is about waiting. Waiting and longing for God to come and set the world right from all the darkness.
But we don’t wait passively. We wait actively. And part of actively waiting, part of waiting expectedl is for us to ponder our role in the world.
From how we respond with our money to the world’s crises, to whether or not we have believed the women’s stories about sexual assault, to our own role in perpetuating racism or climate change. Actively waiting for the Lord means that we have an opportunity to confront our own frailty, our own selfishness, own brokenness, our own fragile humanity.
And sometimes, I’m okay with a bit of a call for repentance. Of preparing the way for the Lord. Because clearly we need it. We’ve needed the call to make straight our paths for at least as long as John the Baptist has been saying it.
And I’m also grateful that John the Baptist quotes Isaiah 40.
There is the call for repentance.
And then there are the words offering comfort. Comfort, comfort, O my people, says your God.
Your sins have been paid for, and you have received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
And when we read about God’s paying double for sin, we often conjure up images of God’s wrath being poured out on humanity. Punishment for our sin.
But as Christians, we don’t believe that God treats us as we deserve. We believe in grace.
A quick aside:
Grace is the free and undeserved gift of God’s favour that is always there, always available, even in our times of failure. And even sometimes offered in double doses. It’s the gift of God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness that reaches out to the sinner at the saint.
But Grace is not freedom from any consequences of sin. Or freedom from public accountability. Goodness no. One of the worst phrases in the English language is “Forgive and forget.” Forgiveness is a journey that we all work at, yes, but forgetting means that we’re just setting ourselves up for a repetition of the negative action. If our 16 year old kid trashes our car, we don’t just go buy them a new car. Rather, we send them back to Driver’s Ed and tell them to have fun walking all winter. Also, we don’t just shrug aside allegations of abuse and call it forgiveness… We work very hard at making sure destructive patterns aren’t allowed to continue.
Okay. Back on track.
As we wait, we say yes to repentance, and we say yes to God’s comfort, because we are in need of both.
The Lord is coming to set the world right. And we get the joy of not only waiting for Emmanuel, God with us, but also actively participating in setting the world right.