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Forerunner

Second Sunday of Advent

Mark Chapter 1

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Intro to Scripture
Scripture
Sermon

As I was doing some reading in preparation
for Midweek Midrash and to preach this weekend,
I learned about Private Sarah K Evans.
Who? Exactly.
I know who Rosa Parks is.
The woman whose arrest prompted the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955,
which in turn catalyzed what would become known as
the Civil Rights Movement.
But I’d never heard of Sarah K. Evans,
who was arrested in North Carolina for the same reason
(being black on a bus) three years earlier.

Sarah was a forerunner.
Her action didn’t make the headlines,
but what she did was crucial to the eventual emergence
of the then and still ongoing quest for human justice,
particularly for people of colour.

Forerunners are not the heroes,
they’re the hidden figures
that make a future possible that would
not have happened without them.
They’re the advance crew,
plotting the route,
clearing the rubble,
preparing the way in the wilderness.
They are the “antecedents of change,
setting the stage for an alternative future.”

There’s absolutely no doubt that Mark
wants us to see
John as the forerunner for Jesus.
He stacks up not just Isaiah,
but also the prophets Malachi and Elijah
to make his point,
dressing John in Elijah’s
distinctive, prophetic garb
of camel skin,
so we’re in no doubt that
John is the last of the prophets
sent by God
to prepare the way,
to be the forerunner,
for Jesus.

Cool!
We finally know why it is John shows up every
Advent to interrupt our Christmas preparations
with his wild-eyed “Repent! Repent!”
stabbing the silent desert air,
as a crowd stands ogle-eyed at the spectacle;
He’s the opening act before the main event!

Normally we’re not that keen on his interruption,
he’s a bit too odd, a bit too blunt, too wild,
a bit too honest about the state of our hearts,
and the heart of our society.
He’s the sort of person
we’ve been taught to be leery of,
tattooed, pierced, unfiltered,
you know the type, who heckle the parade
with placards proclaiming inconvenient truths.

In a normal Advent,
we get his intrusion out of the way early, week 2,
so we can get on with the business
of ‘real Christmas’,
but this year feels so very different.
A pandemic has already cancelled
the party-side of Christmas,

and we’re left with an awkward Advent
where there is nothing to distract us
from this wild figure
and the discomfort his presence engenders.

If he’s a forerunner,
what does that tell us about the Jesus
who comes after?
Cutting to the chase,
John tells us…
what you see in John
you’ll get triple of in Jesus.
Jesus is the fulfillment of all those prophets,
including John,
who called Israel, God’s people
back to the covenant with God.

And if John did that through a call to
confession of our waywardness,
a change of heart,
and a dunking in the river,
then Jesus will plunge our heads,
no, our whole lives under the water
until we come up, gasping,
reborn with the power of the Holy Spirit.

I think he walks into every Advent
for another reason too.
He is a model for us. (Yep!)

You’ll often hear me and others calling
my fellow disciples to “Follow the Way”
of Jesus as the shape and compass
for our living. That’s good.
But what if John stalks our Advent time,
to call us not merely to follow the way,
but to prepare it?
To make straighter the paths of living
that we as a species have made so
convoluted and crooked?

Now more than ever before I think the Baptizer’s
camel skin fits the moment we’re in.
We are all in ‘waiting mode’ aren’t we?
Waiting for the numbers to go down,
for the ones we know who are sick to recover,
for the vaccine to be approved,
for the roll-out plan.
And some of us are waiting for
“everything to go back to normal.”

But some of us are not.
I don’t want to go back to normal
sometime next year
when the Pandemic finally loosens its grip.

Not a normal where all the systems
we’ve put in place for centuries
protect the privileged and condemn non-white people
to permanent outsider-hood.
Not a normal where First Nations peoples
can’t access clean water.
Not a normal where individualism
trumps the common good.
Not a normal where 20.4 million people
are displaced (doubling in the last 10 years)
Not a normal where riches and accolades
are considered more worthy than kindness.
Not a normal where the planet
is commodified into climactic catastrophe.

No, I am not waiting for that normal.
I want there to be New Way,
a different Way in that wilderness.

I want us to own up to the sins of our society,
to confess them and somehow wash them off
in a Jordan river baptism,
so that we, our society can come out
gasping for the sweetness of fresh air, clean water,
and kinship with all humanity,
I want us to re-covenant with God and one another
to live in a society founded
on compassion, and kindness.

I really do believe that this is the moment,
our moment,
for us as a global community to do that.
To get out into the wilderness and
plot a new highway,
a straighter one that is wide enough
for all creation to walk in the Way of God’s Dream.

So, I don’t know about you,
but I guess I’m going to have to be prepared
to put on the camel skin of the prophet,
to stand waist deep in Jordan’s water,
and look decidedly odd,
and yes, proclaim the inconvenient truths
in order to do my Sarah K. Evans
forerunner bit to prepare the Way
for the Dream of God
to come near.

We can do this.
We start right here,
right now.
Where we are.

Who is with me?

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