Audio transcript available at https://youtu.be/M-OdQoVO6hA.
Advent 2 C 2015
Song of Zechariah
“Prepare you the way of the Lord!” calls John the prophet sent by God, as we enter into the second week of Advent. Before him comes Malachi, and Zechariah and we will look at each of them today.
I love this passage from Malachi- of course it brings on an attack of the “Messiah”s. This time it’s the Alto, or sometimes the Bass, singing “But who may abide the day of his coming, who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire”. These words circle around and around in my head, with their picture of judgement. And who of us could stand, if we were called to account? We might think that we are pretty good- we might ask, as does the questioner in the passage, “How are we robbing you God?” or “How have we spoken against you?” We are skilled, in our world, at self justification. One of the most effective ways we have of justifying ourselves is to point to someone we perceive as much worse than we are. “Lord, just look at so and so- he/ she/ it is doing terrible things.” And at the moment we are spoiled for choice, aren’t we? First and foremost we can point to ISIS, and from there the list goes on. Depending on our personal and political convictions we might have different people on our list. If we are Climate Change Deniers we can point to all the people who protested last week, if we are advocates for Climate Action we can point to the deniers, and the coal industry and others! If we support the release of refugees from detention we can point to the government, and for that matter the opposition, and blame them, and if we don’t want refugees in our country we can again point to the protestors and to the whole Muslim community- it doesn’t matter who we are, we can find someone to blame. But the prophet Malachi tells us that we are all in the same boat.
The people, in particular, that Malachi thinks need reformation are the priests, and that once they have been reformed they will be able to present their offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Now, before you get all excited at the prospect of me being refined like silver and gold, that is being heated in the furnace until my dross is burnt away- (a very uncomfortable thought!)- let me remind you that we are now a ‘priesthood of all believers’! We are all called upon, in the new covenant, to make offering of ourselves, to “present ourselves, holy and blameless,” to quote St Paul, “as an offering to our God”.
And let’s just look at the things that the prophet Malachi names as being criteria for God’s judgement. “I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of Hosts”. Well, are any of you sorcerers? Perhaps not, but some of us make bits of our income disappear before they pay the taxman, and as we discovered on End Exploitation Sunday we may be inadvertently oppressing the workers, widows and orphans by buying goods produced by slave labour. And what about the aliens, that is, people not of our race living in our land, how are we towards them? Then the prophetic voice moves on and God says, “You are robbing me… [i]n your tithes and offerings… Bring the full tithe into the storehouse”. This is challenging isn’t it? God says he will reward the nation when they give him what is due. And what does God want with the food? It is to feed the hungry. In our world there are millions starving. And we have said, “It is vain to serve God”. Does it not seem to you that we, and our nation (because this is not so much about individuals but the nation) have fallen short? This is the human condition, selfishness and greed, ignorance and a lack of generosity. This is that from which we are called to repent.
And then we have Zechariah who was normally a priest but here called upon to prophesy. He brings us a word of hope that God has raised up a saviour for us. This is what we refer to as the ‘Gospel’, or ‘Good News’. Salvation, healing and hope, has entered our world in the person of Jesus the Christ, so that we might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days. And John, Zechariah’s own son, is the prophet who will go before the Lord to prepare his way. “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace”. This beautiful imagery of light in the dark gives us hope and when we think of our world and all the trouble in it we know that it is necessary for the light to shine.
John, for all the hope he brings, does not say only that which is comfortable. John calls us to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This is in order to prepare for the coming of Jesus, and Bob will talk more about this next week, I imagine. For now let us just think about repentance, for a moment. Repentance is not simply saying you are sorry, though that might be the first step, repentance, metanoia, is about a change of direction. We need to change not just to apologise and then do the same thing again. The latter, apology and then repeat, is not growth, is it? But a change in direction is the first step in growing to be the people that we are called to be.
Why are we called to this change of heart, or direction? We are called to the baptism of repentance in order to prepare ourselves, and our world, for the coming of the Lord, and through that, “all people, (or all flesh) will see the salvation of God”. Everyone will see salvation. Jesus is the saviour for all humankind, whether we or they know it or not. This should help us in our change of direction, if we know that Jesus is the saviour for everyone we should more easily repent of our failure to treat everyone as precious children of God.
And when we repent and turn from our hardness of heart we will be the people God has raised up to bring the good news of salvation to our world. We are all called to be prophets of salvation, as prophets are people who name God’s presence in the midst of what is going on around them. We are bringers of the truth of God’s salvation. And that salvation is much less about sin, dying and going to heaven than about healing and wholeness and what the bible calls “shalom”, the deep peace of complete acceptance. The deep peace that comes with the knowledge that God, our judge, knows and loves us. The peace of being in relationship with God.
So as we journey through Advent we need to first confront in ourselves and in our society the things that need to change. As Judith Jones says,
“Preparing for God’s arrival means rethinking systems and structures that we see as normal but that God condemns as oppressive and crooked. It means letting God humble everything that is proud and self-satisfied in us, and letting God heal and lift up what is broken and beaten down. The claims that the world’s authorities make often conflict with God’s claims. Paths that seem satisfactory to us are not good enough for God. John calls us to let God’s bulldozers reshape the world’s social systems and the landscape of our own minds and hearts. God’s ways are not our ways.” Judith Jones
We, you as well as me, are called as prophets to name and to act. We are called to metanoia, a change of direction. And then with John the Baptiser we can cry out to our world that Salvation is here!