When I was growing up there was a rather popular commercial that featured a group of people busy at chatter and then seemingly out of nowhere a clear, strong yet distinct voice could be heard above the clamor. Then the announcer would say,” When E.F. Hutton talks everyone listens.”
On this Second Sunday of Advent we encounter the voices of two ancient E.F. Hutton’s crying from the wilderness.
The first from our Hebrew scriptures proclaims a message of hope, those words immortalized by Handel’s masterpiece, The Messiah. “Comfort, O Comfort my people.” The second from the gospel shouts a summons, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Different words that although separated by a gap time, yet both proclamations carry a similar message.
Isaiah speaking to a people who were taken captive in 587 B.C by the Babylonians are bereft of hope. The promise of delivery from despair and oppression seem only to be a fairy tale. No doubt this is due to the fact the fall of Jerusalem brought not only a great social, political and theological tragedy, but it causes the Jews of the land to cry out in anguish.
The people of Israel thought they were immune to chastising of a just God and thus could behave like naughty children. Isaiah’s response to then is to remind the people that they were warned to turn from sin and return to God. The prophets warned that unless Israel acted like the people of God they were created to be, God’s protection would not hold.
This prophecy as you can imagine was not very popular. Despite the words of insight they did not heed the warning.
The pattern is all too familiar.
Tragedy strikes and the question rings out, “Where is God when this happened?”
Yet, in the midst of the distress caused by their defeat in battle and deportation to a foreign land, God hears their cry and summons Isaiah to call out, “Comfort, O comfort my people. It is in this word of God that the people are reinvigorated to return to Israel with the knowledge that they will be ultimately be redeemed.
This was the message of Isaiah and it was the message some five centuries later with John.
John who picks up on the words of the prophet Isaiah says, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
Prepare the way for the liberation of those who not unlike the original recipients of reading from Isaiah are also suffering under the captive rule of a foreign power. This time it is not Babylon or Persia but the Romans.
John’s whose liturgical dress set the trend of extreme natural fibers and whose culinary preference of locust and wild honey would make any quick fad diet seem appealing, heralds a message to his hearers. The message is simple: repent and prepare.
Repent for the one who will be greater than I is on the way!
Prepare for the fulfillment of all things!
But, we must ask the questions what are we preparing for? Who will prepare for them?
What are we preparing for? No less than the kingdom of God. John the Baptist exclaimed that “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” This kingdom is not like the temporal kingship of mortal man. The realization of this kingdom is experienced and will be totally realized when justice, love and mercy will be experience be and for all.
But, it cannot become a reality unless we answer the next question, “Who will prepare it?”
Isaiah and John have become the stuff of legends. The disciples are history. But we are gathered today as a community of believers. We believe that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to redeem a world and society held captive to sin. And that ultimately nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Like John the Baptist and Isaiah we are not the way but we know who is the way. It would seem therefore as today’s prophets we have a obligation to proclaim, shout and cry out.the message, “Get ready for the Kingdom it is right at hand. It is right here, right now.”
Advent asks: Who of us will echo his voice? Who of us will respond?
~Fr. Joseph Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church