4 December 2022 – Second Sunday of Advent
by Seminarian, Michael Thompson
Sermon preached by Seminarian, Michael Thompson
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Let the words of my mouth and the collective mediation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer and set our hearts on fire with your love. Amen.
Advent is a season of expectation and preparation. The word “advent” comes from the Latin word advenire, meaning literally “to come” or “to arrive.” The word, though, has a connotation much deeper than a simple arrival. It connotes the coming or arrival of a person or event of importance. To be at an advent is to stand at the edge of a breakthrough or dramatic shift.
In the Christian context, Advent focuses on two arrivals: the Incarnation and Second Coming of Christ. We tend to focus our preparation on Christmas, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. We prepare to receive the mystery and meaning of the Incarnation: that God’s love for us runs so deeply that, rather than abandon us, God emptied Godself and become as one of us.
But there is that second arrival we are also supposed to be preparing for: the Second Coming. Episcopalians, like many mainline Christians, avoid talking about this advent, which is ironic because we affirm belief in this Second Coming every Sunday. In fact, after the sermon, we will affirm our belief in all that God has done and that Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”
Last week, Tammy offered insight into why we are uncomfortable with this Second Coming. She spoke about being raised in a context in which the Second Coming was imbued with fear. We describe it with foreboding words, often in a foreboding tone: the Second Coming, Judgment Day, the End Times. Our popular image of what this looks like involves the pouring out of God’s wrath; horsemen bringing pestilence, war, famine, and death; stars falling from the sky; and all manner of strife on earth and in heaven. Christ’s promised return does not seem a renewal and restoration of God’s creation but a destruction of that creation. We focus not on wolves living with lambs and leopards lying with kids but on “evil” people being subjected to eternal torment.
You can derive comfort from those images only if you are sure that you are one of the “good” people. For “evil” people, Judgment Day is not a good day. For those who are not sure where they stand, Judgment Day feels like a torturous wait for a divine coin toss. I’d much rather Christmas with the shepherds and angels.
People who ascribe to a fire and brimstone view of the Second Coming seem awfully sure about where they stand – and where everyone else stands. They are the righteous saved. God will take care of them. Others, though, are sinners who will get what is coming to them. This version of the Second Coming too often gives us permission to judge and categorize others. Me? I’m saved. Heaven here I come. Her? She steals. Him? He cheated on his spouse. You know where they’re going. . . .
I happen to be a member of a group of people who tend to receive the short straw in the fire and brimstone judgment. Now, we here are good progressive Episcopalians who love everyone and would never tell anyone that they are condemned to Hell. But a large and vocal group has advanced the view that LGBTQ+ people are sinful. For them, LGBTQ+ people are condemned to Hell unless they abandon their supposedly sinful ways. For too many, LGBTQ+ people are worthy of the double whammy of death here and now and then Hell. We would love to dismiss anti-LGBTQ+ Christians as a minority, fringe position, but it’s time to face the hard facts.
Violence against LGBTQ+ people is on the rise. I and my LGBTQ+ siblings are not safe. Every day, even in the most liberal of places, we face the threat of verbal assault, at best, and physical harm and death, at worse. I read a Wikipedia article called “History of Violence Against LGBT People in the United States.” The article offers a list of incidents of violence against LGBTQ+ folks from 1969 to the present, and the list is astounding, especially when you consider that it is woefully incomplete due to underreporting.
We must face the fact that Christian anti-LGTBQ+ rhetoric is a key motivator of this violence, and that rhetoric is inextricably bound up with views of the Second Coming. Too many Christians teach and learn that being LGBTQ+ is sinful and that the Bible requires that LGBTQ+ people be subjected to unspeakable violence and even death. I am not talking about Christians elsewhere in the world. I am talking about Christians right here in America. Our faith has been and continues to be used as an excuse to marginalize, oppress, harm, and murder.
Two weeks ago, a shooter entered Club Q in Colorado Springs, killed five people, and injured about 20 more. I am, unfortunately, not terribly shocked by the shooter’s family’s anti-LGBTQ+ views, but the comments I saw from others made me shake with fear, anger, and sadness. Comments like “Well, that’s what they get for being gay” and “They shouldn’t be gay, then.” Many supported the killing of LGBTQ+ people here in America. Nearly all these comments came from Christians using Bible verses as justification. It’s no wonder that Christian churches are not safe for many LGBTQ+ people. We have been told that there is no place for us in the Church and that we do not deserve to live. This is the message of repentance too many Christians believe our God and the prophets preach.
Then there is John the Baptist, Mr. Brood of Vipers. The John we get in Matthew’s Gospel is not the cousin of Jesus whose birth is foretold by an angel. Matthew doesn’t give us John’s backstory; he just bursts on to the scene. He is in the wilderness, apart from everyone else. He is a wild looking man in wild clothes eating locusts and wild honey. John does not live in the cultural mainstream. He also has a simple and compelling message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The kingdom is much nearer than they know. Jesus is about to begin his ministry in the world. Jesus is here – now. God is with us – right now. The call to repentance is energetic and urgent. Repent now because God is here now.
John is also triggering. The image I have of him looks too much like street preachers with signs elaborately depicting Hell issuing stern warnings of eternal damnation. The signs they carry seem to come from a Doomsday sign emporium. Some are innocuous enough with a simple “Jesus Saves” or “Repent.” Many go in full bore. A Google search brought me to images of signs saying “Judgment is coming. Are you ready? Hell & Fire for Sinners. Repent!”; “Ask me if you deserve Hell”; and “Hell is horrible. No warning is too strong.” There are also the signs that provide a helpful list of all the things God hates, among them “homosexuality” or the famous “God hates [F-words].” You know. The ones with a hurtful slur against LGBTQ+ people. These are John’s successors, aren’t they? I think John has been misunderstood.
John called for repentance, not self-righteousness or for us to judge others. He calls us to examine ourselves and repent of our stuff. John sees the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, but he knows what’s going on here. These folks are not coming to confess and repent of their sins. They are coming because of their own self-righteousness. They have nothing to repent of. They are Children of Abraham, the chosen of God. They are keepers of the law. They are not like the others. If these sinners are being baptized, surely, they, the righteous, are more worthy of baptism. John has no time for that. The call to repentance is for us all. It is not about resting on our self-righteousness, but about coming in humility to rid ourselves of the things that separate us from God and one another and removing the stumbling blocks we put others’ ways.
John’s message is not that we should condemn others. That is not repentance. That is judgment, and judgment belongs only to God, the One who was in us in creation, dwells in us now, and is coming to dwell with and in us again. God does not need help with judgment, nor is it our place to help. When we judge in God’s place, we get it wrong because, as Isaiah tells us, God judges not by what God sees and hears, but “with righteousness [God] shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”
What is for us, what John calls us to, is repentance. We prepare for God’s presence in and among us by asking God to take an axe to the things that separate us from God’s love. We prepare for God’s presence in and among us, not by condemning others, but by asking God to burn away the things in ourselves that do not come from God’s love. Repentance is about hope, not condemnation. Repentance is about trusting that God’s promise and highest hope for us is that we “not hurt or destroy on all [God’s] holy mountain,” that “the earth will be full of the knowledge of [God] as the waters cover the sea,” and that we will all stand together in God’s glorious dwelling.
Repent, do not condemn, for the kingdom of God is here. Amen.