Sermon for Sunday, December 6, 2015 || Second Sunday of Advent, Year C || Malachi 3: 1-4; Canticle 16; Philippians 1: 3-11; Luke 3: 1-6 || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
“GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS!” screams the front-page headline of the New York Daily News in all caps. “Prayer isn’t working,” declares the first sentence of the accompanying article lambasting politicians for offering prayers for the victims of gun violence while consistently opposing legislative efforts to end it.
It’s Thursday, and I’m reading all of this on my laptop, as I click back and forth between CNN live, scholarly commentaries on this week’s scripture readings, Google News, and my email— in which I follow the goings on of all the amazing volunteers preparing for the Village Fair and learn about an upcoming interfaith initiative clumsily called, “National Gun Violence Sabbath Weekend.”
Frankly, it’s all too much for me to take in: As emotional as I get every time innocent people are gunned down by weapons that by design are engineered to violate the sacredness of human life, I am infuriated by the declaration for partisan purposes that, “God isn’t fixing this” or that “prayer isn’t working.”
“God already fixed this with his crucifixion and resurrection,” I want to retort. This part is our job.” And how dare you tell me — or anyone else who knows the anguish of grief and the life-giving power of being held in prayer by others– that prayer doesn’t work?
I tap the keys to re-read my favorite verse of the beautiful words of Zechariah in this morning’s canticle, and to savor their promise: “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.”
The words linger and echo: tender compassion…dawn from on high…way of peace. Surely these words were written for us, I think to myself—we who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. “Guide our feet,” I silently pray….”dear Lord, guide our feet…”
A quick click back to read more about Gun Violence Sabbath Weekend—and I learn that it’s an annual event co-sponsored by the National Cathedral that commemorates the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown three years ago. I follow a link to the event’s website, and a page titled “Christian Resources” with prayers and sermons written in December of 2012 in the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook.
I read one exceptionally fine sermon titled, “Agents of Advent” by Episcopal Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee of Chicago, and I almost weep with the realization that by simply changing the location and day of the week, Bishop Lee could preach the exact same sermon this year.
“The world as we know it came to an end on Friday. Again.” Bishop Lee wrote three years ago. He continues:
The horror in Connecticut brought to light again the fragility of our carefully constructed worlds. Lots of people here and abroad are living with a sense of apocalypse, a heightened awareness of the inevitable coming undone of things as they are, the ending of the familiar world. Unspeakable violence erupts in schools and shopping malls, the fiscal cliff looms, wars and rumors of wars abound, it’s too late we are told to avoid massive climate change, employment may have stabilized to some extent, but lots of lost jobs are not coming back. Those among us who are attracted by the more lurid interpretations of biblical prophecies (or ancient Mayan ones) are finding every day a lot of new material in the daily news feed.
Then Bishop Lee goes on to remind his listeners that, “The worst that human beings can perpetrate will not be the final word. This world is God’s. And so am I. And so are you…and until we learn to treat one another as though that were true, the world will continue to implode.” I’ve never heard of Bishop Lee before this, but now I want to write to him, tell him how much the sermon he wrote three years ago has helped me today.
My fingers click across the keyboard and now I’m reading an LA Times piece about Farook and Malik, the murderous couple who presumably felt entirely righteous shooting indiscriminately into a room full of people who had just months ago thrown baby shower for them. I’m reading about how they had this incredible armory of weapons and explosives in their nice little suburban home that included a dozen pipe bombs and five-thousand rounds of ammunition for their various semi-automatic weapons.
And I am incredulous. How can this be? How is it that in this day and age– when even the highly esteemed and famously understated BBC refers to this deadly violence as, “Just another day in the United States of America”–how is it that one can shop for assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons almost as easily as for baby clothes? Surely Jesus weeps.
But there I go again…
So I click back to scripture, to Luke’s gospel, and meet John the Baptist in the midst of the wilderness proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance: metanoia. John reminds me that it means so much more than “confessing that we have sinned against you, in thought word and deed; by what we have done and what we have left undone.” Metanoia, one commentator writes, “means a change of mind and heart, the kind of inner transformation that bears visible fruit.” Visible fruit. Yes, I think to myself, the kind of inner transformation that owns not just my personal failings in light of God’s dream, but how we, as a people, have failed God—how we continue to fail God as a people by enabling these perpetrators of violence. By not acting. By making excuses. By politicizing the issue. By not fixing this and then blaming God for it.
“’Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” the Baptist quotes from the prophet Isaiah. “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low…the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth…all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
Alive now in my mind and as fiery as ever, I hear John challenging us with these words. “Prepare the way of the Lord, humankind. The dawn from on high has broken upon you. Now make things right. Be the Body of Christ that you are. Work and act and advocate for the way of peace for which you long.”
The LA Times is reporting now that all the victims of Wednesday night’s killings have been identified. They have names now, and faces. Families, and stories. “A father of six,” reads the latest report, “a free-spirit who befriended strangers in the grocery store checkout line… A mother of three who made a life in America after the Iranian Revolution… The youngest was 26. The oldest was 60.”
I read the list of names out loud: Shannon Johnson, Bennetta Bet-Badal, Aurora Godoy, Isaac Amanios, Larry Kaufman, Harry Bowman, Yvette Velasco, Sierra Clayborn, Robert Adams, Nicholas Thalasinos, Tin Nguyen, Juan Espinoza, Damian Meins, Michael Wetzel.
Advent came early for these 14 men and women, I think to myself. And then I thank God for the scripture’s assurance that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Let us pray:
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.