The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

The JBap Conspiracy -- Luke 3:1-6


This week's texts:
Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6
"I Will Wait," Mumford & Sons

I looked at this week’s Gospel text with fear and trembling—seminary doesn’t exactly offer a class in ancient pronunciation. And then I looked at it with total confusion. What does it matter, to us, today, who was the tetrarch of whatever so many centuries ago? The details don’t matter a whole lot, but what matters is that this Gospel author wanted us to know who was in charge, so that we could know just who exactly John the Baptist was up against, and just who exactly he chose to challenge with his message.
His message of the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin had relegated him to the very margin of society and of Judea—the wilderness. And every word he said flew in the face of every decree made by those powerful men. And his words were just the warning for the words of Jesus! He was just the warm-up act! These wilderness guys were not welcome to spread the good news among the rich and powerful.
Were we to take this Gospel text into our own context, it might start out with some more familiar names, though not necessarily easier to pronounce.
In the fourth year of the Obama Administration, when John Boenher was the Speaker of the House, when John Hickenlooper was Governor of Colorado and Mark Udall and Michael Bennet were senators, and Debbie Brinkman was the mayor of Littleton, and as Mark Hanson was the presiding Bishop of the ELCA, and Jim Gonia was the newly-elected bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod, and Dave Palma-Ruwe was the senior pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church…the word of God came to John, in the wilderness.
This man John lives in the wilderness not of Judea but of, say, Boulder, and eats not locusts and honey but, say, a strictly vegan diet. And he proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ to the masses.
This John, like the John who came before, has been telling his friends and neighbors the good news of Jesus. He’s been selling what he has and giving it away to the poor; he’s been volunteering at a soup kitchen; he’s been working at a local HIV/AIDS clinic; he’s been worshipping with the women at New Beginnings; he’s been advocating for justice on the steps of the capitol.  And some of those big names I mentioned earlier would prefer he stuck to the status quo.
And this John, like the John who came before him, has been telling his friends and neighbors about Advent. About the coming Christ child and all that the hope of a God come to dwell with us will mean for us. This John preaches not a gospel of prosperity, not a gospel of consumption of goods for the celebration of Christmas. Remember, this John is following in the footsteps of John the Baptist, who proclaimed the original Advent Conspiracy.
You’ve heard those words around here, probably. The Advent Conspiracy seeks to bring Advent back to basics. To remove the power of our culture of buy-buy-buy instead of give-give-give. God, the original giver, started big. God gave us the whole earth we live on. And God gave us each other, and God gave us freedom from tyranny, and God gave us God’s own self in the Word made flesh. The coming of the Christ child is what we’re preparing for in these weeks. There is, of course, a certain amount of preparation for modern celebrations of Christmas that we are doing, too. Putting up trees and lights and baking a lot of cookies and crossing things off a lot of different lists.
We get pretty excited, in these first two Sundays of Advent, for it to be the third and fourth Sundays of Advent and for it to just be Christmas, already! We’re a culture that’s very good at getting ahead of ourselves. The anticipation of the coming Christ child is a four-week season in our church. And then the season of Christmas is the 12 days that begin on December 25. But in our nation, Christmas begins at 9pm on Thanksgiving.
In order to fully experience this season of joy and light and anticipation, we have to step back. We have to actually wait. If the first Sundays in Advent are already Christmas, where’d the anticipation go? Where’d the preparation go? The preparation begins with waiting. Slowing down. Reflecting. Breathing deeply. Taking time out of each day to do more than just read the few words on that advent calendar before scarfing down the chocolate from each square and going on our merry way. Honoring those we love with valuable experiences, time, and energy, the whole month of December instead of just spending our hours shopping for gifts to give them on December 25th.
Yesterday was our Advent Quiet Day. What a beautiful example of these things. We slowed down. We walked the labyrinth, pensively. We prayed, we read, we journaled, we painted, we breathed. If you weren’t here yesterday, you can have quiet Advent experiences of your own. There’s an Advent buffet table in the narthex with plenty of resources to try.
One of the things I’ve been doing is talking to my friends and family about Advent, instead of just about Christmas. I sent out Advent cards this year – blue, instead of red and green! – and have been encouraging my loved ones to light advent candles at home, and take some quiet time together in their busy lives. There are plenty of ways to let Advent be Advent.
The psalm for this morning actually comes from the Gospel of Luke, and it gives us some insight into this whole “prepare” thing. It’s a prophecy spoken by Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father. He’s speaking to his own child about his vocation as the preparer of the way for Jesus.
“You, child, “ he says, “will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people.” And he goes on to say, I think, what John might say in order to give knowledge of salvation. He says, “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.” Now that’s some good news.
And I don’t think that Zechariah’s prophecy is just for his son John, I think it’s for this other John who lives in Boulder, these days, and I think it’s for us, no matter who we are or where we live or what we wear or what we eat. This message of the salvation of God is not just for people whose names are written in this big book. It is for each and every one of us, who has been baptized by this water, to come out of the Jordan River, or that very font, and proclaim that which has been given to us, that it might be given to others. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
This isn’t an easy vocation, though. John the Baptist lost his life because of the Word he proclaimed! Theologian Joyce Hollyday says, “watch out for this Word. It has the power to level the hills and fill in the valleys. It is like ‘a refiner's fire’ and ‘a fuller's soap,’ according to Malachi. It will purify by the torch and rub you clean until it hurts. You were expecting maybe just an innocent baby?”
For we who know the whole story know that that innocent baby grows up to be the man Jesus whom John the Baptist is, this morning, telling us to prepare the way for. Jesus’ ministry in this world is about to take off running, and we’re going to want to be there to participate in that.
         Matthew Paul Turner tweeted this morning, “My prayer today is that we don’t simply celebrate Advent, but that we become a part of Advent. May the spaces we fill shine brighter.”
So, like Pastor Dave told us last week—wake up! And now—prepare! We’re not quite to the “start doing!” part yet. So try and take it slow for at least one more week, making the spaces you fill shine brighter. It will be worth the wait.

Happy Advent! Amen.

[PS -- JBap is what one of our seminary textbook authors calls John the Baptist, in case you couldn't figure that out and it was bothering you.]

Kyrie, eleison. Christe, eleison.

On Waiting