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Posted on Dec 10, 2017

The Messengers—sermon for 10 December 2017, Advent 2

The Messengers


Sargent, John Singer, 1856-1925. Frieze of the Prophets – study, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 10, 2017]. Original source:

December 10, Second Sunday of Advent:

Psalm 85:1-2,8-13;
Isaiah 40:1-112 Peter 3:8-15aMark 1:1-8

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.


Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

God sends messengers.

God sends a messenger…a prophet…Isaiah…to a people in exile.

Toward the end of the 6th century BCE, Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonian empire.

Much of the leadership was marched off to captivity in Babylon.

Where for more than 80 years they lived in exile from their home, knowing only about Jerusalem from the stories Isaiah and other prophets remembered and told.

The picture these prophets paint of Jerusalem before the exile is not a pretty one. It’s a world where only a few prosper through wickedness, oppression, lies, and injustice.

It’s a world a tremendous insecurity…a world where the leaders are bent on feathering their own nests, and maintaining their hold on power at any cost…Especially by currying favor with the wealthy—and those with military power.

These prophets portray Jerusalem before and during the exile as a society that is lost—as a people who had forgotten who they were, and whose they were…It’s not even really a society, more like a collection of forlorn individuals who barely remember the covenant that God had entrusted them with…Who had abandoned their obligations to carry out certain divine responsibilities…caring for the poor, welcoming the stranger, enacting justice, showing mercy…

But, the prophet says, all that is about to change…”Prepare the way of the Lord.”

God sends a messenger…a prophet…John…who appears in the desert calling people to repentance.

Jerusalem has once again been conquered.

People again live under the oppression of severe economic disparity and political corruption backed up by military force.

But all that is about to change….

And the prophet calls people out into that desert…into that hopeless wilderness and joins those earlier voices echoing…“Prepare the way of the Lord.”

In the midst of the darkness of exile, Isaiah emboldens a community to remember who they are really called to be…and to live differently than everyone around them.

To live as a community that proclaims—from the mountains to the cities—“Here is your God.”

John gathers a community around him who repents—who turn from the unjust and unsustainable ways they are living…and who proclaim that there is a different way of being in the world…a way of living with God at the very center…real and present and here.

The prophets call us to turn away from the shallow divisiveness of the world and proclaim that there is a way of living in community that is grounded in hope not corralled in fear…

A way of living as a community woven together by the strong persuasive bonds of love and not simply shackled together by mere coercive power.

A way of building community through sharing resources and celebrating difference rather than hoarding and squandering and dividing…

A way of living with God at the center, and God’s image visible and reflected in each face.

God sends messengers…prophets…to call us to repentance…to remind us who we really are, and what we are called to be.

And here we are…in another (or maybe it’s the same) wilderness…in the midst of world that also seems intent on tearing itself apart.

And the big question for us in this second week of Advent is…can we hear the voices crying out…do we recognize the prophetic messengers in our midst?

Because God into every desert…into every wilderness and experience of exile…God sends messengers…to say, “look around you…It doesn’t have to be this way…it shouldn’t be this way…something better is possible…And not only is it possible… it’s on the way.

Look! Here it comes.

I hear those prophetic cries…in the voice of every woman (and a few men) who have spoken out against sexual harassment and violence…through the #metoo movement—through the Silence Breakers—the brave souls who call us to repent the sinful and systemic evils of sexism.

I see those prophetic beacons in all those who take a knee at football games to raise awareness and remind us that Black lives matter, in the students who walked out of high school classes here in Brookline…and all those who call us to repent of the sinful and systemic evils of racism.

I hear those prophetic messages…from scientists and activists and all those who continually remind us that climate change is real and a pressing moral issue…

I hear it from all those who advocate for the poor, the marginalized, the refugee, the grieving…

Into every wilderness God sends messengers and the questions for us always is…can we hear them?…Will we we hear them, repent—turn and join them…in proclaiming “Here is your God!” ”Prepare the way of the Lord”?

From Isaiah to John and to today…this has been our calling as the people of God—to be the constantly-correcting, ever-hope-filled alternative to whatever system of oppression is in power at the time.

The biblical witness of our Jewish siblings, and the history of the Christian church has shown that the People of God have not always done a bang-up job of this…In fact, we’ve always had a difficult relationship with earthly power…and we’ve gotten it wrong more often than we’ve gotten it right.

Very often our religious institutions fall into the trap of blessing the status quo (however horrible and twisted it is), rather than doing the harder—but more faithful work—of actually being a health alternative to the toxic cultures we find ourselves in.

The prophetic voice always calls us back to our true purpose….to proclaim boldly in word and in deed, that there is a different way of living in this world. A way that rejects fear, and vengeance, and hate, by generating faith, and justice, and love.

There are thousands of prophetic voices around us. And they are growing louder…calling us deeper into the wilderness…deeper into those places that frighten us, deeper into the places where we feel most vulnerable.

But remember…That’s where God meets us…That’s where God surprises us…That’s where the impossible always arrives…

We are called to be the people who follow those prophetic voices into the wilderness…who are transformed, through repentance, into brave souls who turn away from all that is death-dealing and destructive in our culture…who find the collective courage to stand in the face of all that frightens us…and proclaim with the prophets that, “God is coming!”…“That God is here!” That another world is possible…It’s coming…we are living proof. Join us…Prepare the way of the Lord…