Second Sunday in Advent: 5th December 2021
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight– indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
The Song of Zechariah Luke 1: 68-79
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old,
that he would save us from our enemies, *
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, *
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
What all the readings today share in common is the change that will or is happening to people, that leads to salvation. Here we might thinks of salvation as healing and cleansing process that restores, or even creates anew, the wholeness and goodness of life.
In the words of the prophet Malachi it is God’s messenger who will so categorically refine and purify us that we will feel that we can’t withstand the change it makes in us. But we will come through, changed utterly so that what we have to offer will be completely pleasing to God.
In the words of another prophet – and father to be – Zechariah, the message is one of freedom: freedom from fear, freedom from enemies (and here we might think not only of people, but of big businesses, institutions and even governments). We will be saved, we will be healed and made holy, and it will be by God’s own doing, by God’s compassion.
The passage from Philippians echoes the message received last week from Paul, that there is so much joy and happiness that arises from being part of a growing fellowship of Christians, active in telling the good news and in their love one for another. Such a group of Christians is seen as producers of a rich harvest of righteousness!
And finally the message of the prophet John, John the Baptist, who will be telling everyone who hears what they must do – and it is a totally transformative process if we are to travel along God’s way – to see God’s salvation at work.
We know from the gospel stories that salvation included both physical and mental healing; it included food for the hungry; restoration by those who had gained too much, the repayments of debts, the challenging of unjust laws and social practices, the humble reassessment of life that understood that humans didn’t have all the answers, that we must have faith in God and in the innate wisdom of creation, it valued the lowly and marginalised, and put love at the heart of everything.
If we truly believed that salvation was coming to the world this Christmas, how would this new world order look like? Here are just three examples:-
Justice for refugees and migrants meaning that they would not fear persecution, or hunger, or ill health or disrespect either in their home land or in their new home.
Justice for birds and animals, for plants and insects meaning that their natural habitats would not be destroyed, that they would not be diminished by pollution and other poisons, by over consumption or poaching.
Justice for those who are persecuted because of the colour of their skin, the sound of their voice, the shape of their face, the texture of the hair, their sexual orientation, meaning that everyone would be valued as unique and equally important individuals.
The world could indeed be a wonderful place! Yet I think the prophets were right to suggest that to get humankind there would be hard graft. Humankind, people and societies, individuals and organisations, need to be overhauled and purified,; the means and systems for getting things done need to be straightened and levelled up.
Where do we come in? What can we do?
As with last week’s epistle, we should aspire to match the example of the early church. We should be zealous in loving one another and in building up that fellowship produces boundless joy. That would be good of itself and will witness to good news of following Jesus. We need to come together, to stand together and to be a visible -large and numerous – body that speaks out for justice.
We also need to be messengers calling people to turn their lives round and to live according to God’s ways – ways that involve the examples of justice we have just imagined and more. More often than not the people to whom we must call out are businesses, organisations, and governments. This we will do more effectively as one body. Whilst as individuals we can both set the example of how one should live, and then with greater effect talk to friends, family and neighbours.
Now is the time for change!