By Rev. Kevin Porter
For the Second Sunday in Advent (Based on Luke 3:1-6)
I had the opportunity to touch base with an old college buddy not too long ago. He was ending several terms in the House of Representatives and was in town for a bi-partisan gathering of legislators seeking to find a way out of the polarized public discourse in which we find ourselves as a nation these days. It had been years since we had spoken face-to-face, so I didn’t know how much or little his world-view had changed as a result of being in the “Washington Bubble” for so long.
After determining that (besides the every hair-in-place haircut he now sported) he seemed to be as down-to-earth as ever, I took the opportunity to ask him what I had been dying to ask someone in power: “Why do we so seldom hear points of view that reflect nuance, compromise, and respect of ‘the other’? That’s where most people I encounter live—but we don’t hear those voices from our leaders or in the media.”
His answer: “In the noise of the hundreds of channels, blogs, etc., the only voices that make it above the chatter are the most outrageous ones. Nuance does not make news.”
This second week of Advent finds us on the brink of an election year, with the candidates ready to shift the already-over-the-top rhetoric into even higher gear. By the time you read this, the latest mass-killing in California may have already given way to some other shocking act of violence dominating our headlines. Is there anything followers of the Prince of Peace can say that can capture the attention—let alone the imagination—of a world dominated by fear and demonizing anyone whose difference we perceive as a threat?
John the Baptist’s answer: “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.’” Luke 3:4-6
We are so far removed from John’s era to know the specifics of the context the gospel writer took time to document for us: What was going on in Judea? What kept the Galileans up at night? How did folks feel about Tiberius as the emperor or Caiaphas as their high priest? I don’t know the answers, but I do know human nature—and so do you.
Several centuries before John the Baptist, Aristotle reportedly said, “A common danger unites the bitterest enemies.” Successful political strategists have been winning campaigns on this principle ever since. Whatever can be done to increase the gulf between those in the valley and those on the mountain must be done, otherwise “they” will be able to jeopardize “our” safety, way of life, etc..
John the Baptist takes this maxim and turns it on its head. What if the all-powerful One were to level the playing field; make straight crooked paths; tear down walls? What if the other became your neighbor—and there were nothing you could do to keep this from happening?
Despite the media hype which would have us think otherwise, truth be told, it is already happening. Relationships of kindness, compassion, and justice across the lines of race, religion, age, class, gender, sexual orientation, or political persuasion are being forged and strengthened every day.
They just don’t get the headlines.
We may want to shout above the hysteria of those who seek to divide us. But let John do the shouting, and instead let our actions speak for us that we hear and believe his cry: The reign of the Prince of Peace has already begun through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Let our actions shout for us, giving “feet to our prayers” as we lead our congregations one step further into neighborhoods around us that may seem less familiar than they did when we first joined the church. Let our actions shout as we dare to listen to the experiences of fellow presbyters across the race or class spectrum from ourselves. Let us proclaim our unity across the diversity we claim as Christians. Let us live as a people—no, as a single Body of Christ— bound together from every race and nation as blood-brothers and sisters; sinners saved by grace, bearing witness to the world as a community of faith, hope, and love.
May the God of peace make you holy in every way and keep your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—free from every fault at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23