The Rev. Dr. William Heisley
Lessons: Isaiah 6:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8; 19-28
If you’ve heard me preach over the last two weeks you will not be surprised that I long ago grew tired of talking about Advent as a time to prepare, a time to simply wait.
I don’t mean that dislike the season. I love it. I love the cold weather here in New York Advent. I love the huge umbrella of darkness off of which the lights of the city and the lights of the heavens reflect. I love the hymns and the prayers. Especially the prayers.
“Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.” You might remember that I’ve said that there was a time in England when women would go home from church on the first Sunday of Advent and stir up their fruitcakes. It was time to stir up. “Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.” The priest had said so.
Last Sunday we prayed, “Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son.” We moved from praying that Christ would be stirred into action, to praying that we would be stirred into action.
And today we pray, “Stir up the wills of all who look to you, Lord God.” We pray that God will give us the power to not only believe with all our hearts but also that God will give us the strength of character to do something about it. Not passive preparation. Doing something. Being transformed in our daily lives.
I guess it’s a little bit amusing and a little bit sad that we sometimes think that preparing the way of the Lord is a feeling, a way of thinking, a way of looking at things It’s much more than that. It’s a way of being alive. A way of being different. It means that we have to be transformed.
John, the hermit who ate bugs and lived in the wilderness, stirred up people. He promised transformation, people transformed by witnessing the advent of the Christ into their midst and returning to their workaday jobs. Hands still bleeding from mending nets, backs still aching from tilling and reaping. Nevertheless, transformed lives ablaze and active with the Holy Spirit.
For ages he has been called John the Baptist, and in later years, John the Baptizer. That’s OK because he baptized innumerable people, and he baptized Jesus. But the central act of his career was to witness to the Christ. “He came as a witness to testify to the Light.”
John was in the village of Bethany, far outside of Jerusalem, and a delegation of authorities was sent from the Temple, from the government, to find out what he was up to. They asked question after question and he denied everything. “Are you…?” No. No. No. Then this: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”
Here, in the wilderness. Here, shouting the truth. Here, seeking not that the road the Lord would take would be tidied up for his arrival. Instead, seeking that the road would be made straight, rebuilt, made into a new and a very different thing. Transformed from what is old and crooked to what is new, young, noble, straight. Transformed for life.
I was already an old ordained guy when those toys called transformers became popular. I don’t know if they’re still popular, but I remember visiting families whose children had them and the kids loved to show me that they could make one thing into another. Maybe it was a car into a person. Or a robot into an airplane. Just a few deft and quick twists here, a turn there, a snap on the other side, and what was one thing became another. Pretty nifty.
I don’t know how designers figured them out. But one thing I do know. They could transform back to what they were. There’s always that danger in transformation. We deftly twist and turn and snap our lives, trying to live as the holy people we have been made and when we aren’t paying attention we suddenly snap and turn and twist back to what we were. Our old, sinful selves.
Our example, our holy teacher, needs to be Jesus. He came from heaven. He was a cosmic being, at home everywhere in every time. And he came to our lives as light. Snapped on the light that doesn’t stop shining. Light that is not transformed back into darkness, but instead fills the darkness of our nights with hope for and confidence in every one of the mornings of our lives. Time is transformed. And so are we. Not just our hearts and our minds, but also the bodies we inhabit. We are embodied as God’s love for the earth, as God’s Son was embodied just like us. One of us. Incarnate. And that means we’re in a special relationship with him. His transformation is not reversible. He became one of us, lived, taught, agonized, died. And now he lives.
That truth is what transforms us over and over. Twists and turns and snaps us out of our lethargy, out of our greed, out of our selfishness. Twists and turns and snaps us into new beings. God’s beings. Children. In a relationship. We’re not the Messiah or Elijah and we’re not even prophets. We’re just – us. That recognition doesn’t mean that we can get away with snapping, turning, twisting back to our sinful ways. It means that God accepts us as we are and then launches us on a journey by baptism, expecting us to move from transformation to transformation.
And we are made witnesses. “Look at what’s happened to me!” Are you the Prophet? No. No. No. Just William. Just me. Just God’s beloved. Transformed to bring transformation through repentance and forgiveness and healing and peace to a world that grimaces with pain.
St. Paul wrote about how this works to the young Church in Thessaloniki, on the northeastern coast of Greece: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit…hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” Be transformed and be transformers. Here, in our own bodies, in our own embodiments, we can’t do it.
But it is God’s gift to us, to be transformed. We’re outsiders, outsiders who go against the grain of the world. Advent is not so much about what we do to prepare for the Christ. It’s about what Christ does in each of us. Transforming us into witnesses to God’s mercy and presence and gentle might. It’s about making straight the way of the Lord. Amen.