The Second Sunday of Advent E. Bevan Stanley December 6, 2021 Year C, RCL Baruch 5:1-9 Philippians 1:3-11 Luke 3:1-6 From the Gospel: The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen. The Greek of this verse is interesting in three ways. Well, at least it is interesting to me. First, the word translated by “word” is not the λόγος (logos) as it is in the prologue to the Gospel of John, which starts, “In the beginning was the Word.” Instead, the word is ῥῆμα (rhema). The word is related to our word rhetoric. It means an utterance, something spoken to be heard. As something to be heard, it could also be translated “message.” Second, the word translated by “came” has nothing to do with arrival. It is ἐγένετο (egeneto), which means “happen” or “become.” The word of God did not simply come to John like a piece of mail. John had an experience of the utterance of God. Third, the preposition of this word happening to John is not “to” as we might expect if the verb were “came”. This is how our translation has it: The word of God came to John. Instead, it is ἐπὶ (epi), which if followed with the dative case would simply indicate place: “on.” However, in this case it is followed by the noun in the accusative case. The accusative case indicates directionality, so in this case “upon.” Taken together, a more literal translation would be: The utterance of God happened upon John, the son of Zachariah, in the desert. It is not that John received some insight while in the desert. John did not get some new idea. No, something happened to him. He had an experience of God’s intentions and purpose that so fired him up, that he came back to tell everyone to get ready for the coming Messiah. He urged people to repent of their sins and get clean by ritual washing, so that they would be ready when the Messiah showed up. The other metaphor for getting ready used in today’s readings is that of making a smooth road. The Gospel says that John’s preaching was a fulfillment of a prophecy of 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.’” It is not clear who will be traveling on this road. Is it “the way of the Lord” in the sense that God will be using it to come to God’s people? Or is it “the way of the Lord” in the sense that God is providing this road so that the people of God may return home? Our first reading from Baruch understands it in this second sense. For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command. For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him. Baruch is writing in the time of the exile, and his words are words of hope that the day will come when God will build this road so that the exiles can return home. How do these texts touch our lives today? They offer two ways of thinking about our condition and what we might do to prepare for the coming of Christ. One way is to consider how our lives, our commitments, our choices might be at odds with the kingdom of God offered by Jesus. What are our attitudes about possession, about our enemies, about welcoming people that frighten or repulse us? Do we have any cleaning up to do? Any washing? Another is to consider in what ways we are exiles. How are we far from home? What relationships are strained? How have we departed from our ideals? How have we allowed our surrounding culture to change our principles? Do we long to return to some home or to travel to some promised land, where we can be whole and at peace? Do we seek a road of God that will take us there? And how might we find a bit of desert in which there might be enough silence, enough room for an utterance of God to happen to us, to come down upon us? The busyness of this season, the shopping, the travel, the social engagements, the decorating, the cooking, all of it can be overwhelming. How might we carve out ten minutes here, an hour there, to sit and be quiet, to take a walk with God, to reflect on our lives and what is most important in them and who is most important in them? We here at St. Michael’s have a precious resource to help us. This building is open everyday. Any one can come in and sit or kneel or walk for a time. It is a place of quiet. It is a place that has been marinated in prayer for a century now. It can be an oasis, a place of rest and respite, a place of peace and shalom. Come and let go of your burdens. Place your concerns in the hands of God. Lay you fears and regrets on the altar. Listen for the utterance of God. Open yourself to the breath of the Holy Spirit. Or just come and sit and rest. Take the road home. Get washed up. Whatever you need to get ready for the coming of Jesus.