Advent is pointing to a new you and a new me

The Rev Cynthia K R Banks–Advent 2—Year B; Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

“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,” so prays our collect this morning. Welcome to Advent. Black Friday has come and gone, Cyber Monday had its day in the sun, Giving Tuesday gave it a go, the parties and open houses have begun, the parade swept through downtown yesterday—the culture is full-steam ahead toward Christmas, and so is Advent, but the tone is slightly different.

While the world around us is doing its thing, I guess as it always has, our tradition calls on the prophets to help us prepare. In the collect, in 2 Peter, in the gospel according to Mark, we hear it like a refrain, repentance, repentance, repentance. And Isaiah gives us the shape of the repentance“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall come level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.’”  Remember, the word “repentance” is translated from the greek “metanoia,” which means “to change one’s mind.” Richard Rohr says a better translation is “to get a new mind” or “to go beyond the mind.”  It definitely involves change, a change in direction.

So, the first step is to allow ourselves to stand in the wilderness. Look around at the news this week and that’s not a stretch. It feels pretty desolate.  The wilderness that Isaiah would have known looks like the moon—stark, desolate, rocky, lonely. The wilderness in our neck of the woods is chock full of brush, so dense, that you can really lose your way. Both are true of our lives today. They are places where we feel desolate and alone. There are stretches that make us stumble where the way is rocky and tough. And our lives can feel so dense, so chock full that we can’t find our way. The first step of our metanoia is recognize the shape of our particular wilderness and to trust that God can work with this landscape. Even if we are in the desert where there seems to be no discernible way, to know that even there exists a highway for our God. A super, big, wide road upon which God and we can travel to find one another.

Next step, identify your valleys and mountains. What places in your life, in your heart, in your soul, in your body, in your mind are low? How might God lift them up so that you can see the glory of the Lord?

At the other end, where are you floating a little too high—those positive aspects of our false self that can get all puffed up and obscure our vision of what is true and real? How might God be asking you to die to those pieces? How do you need to be made low, so that you can know, in your soul, what it means to rest in the True Self that is, and always has been, rooted and grounded in God?

Where are you uneven, out of balance, just plain rough, and how might God smooth those edges and bring balance to you and your life?

We need to pay attention to all of these places, and our repentance is about opening our hearts and minds and souls and bodies to God’s capacity to lift, lower, level, and smooth, so that we can see the glory of the Lord.

The psalmist paints the vision from a slightly different vantage point—“Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”  As we look across our lives and across the life of the world, where are mercy and truth meeting? And it can’t be just mercy or just truth; it can’t be just about righteousness without regard for the other whoever that other is, and it can’t be just about a surface peace absent those right relationships, but the radical thing, that will take our repentance, that will take a change of mind, for us to wrap our minds around is mercy and truth married together, righteousness and peace kissing, and when this happens, truth springs up from the earth and righteousness, right relationship, looks down from heaven. As our world ever needed this vision more than it does right now? How are we being called to make this vision real?

And 2 Peter paints the vision writ large—“[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance…In accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” As we change our minds, repent, and see the glory of the Lord in a new way, then we will also come to understand that this is what God longs for all people, and as all people come to this vision and as this kind of righteousness is at home in every one of our relational circles, then, then we have nothing less than new heavens and a new earth.

And we thought Advent was only pointing us toward a stable in Bethlehem. No, Advent is pointing to a new you and a new me and new heavens and a new earth. Advent longs for nothing more than the transformation of everything. And all it will take to get there is the entire reworking of the landscape of our hearts and minds and bodies and souls. So, yes, we have our work cut out for us. There is a lot to do to get ready for Christmas. Even as you move through the cultural traditions of this season, do not neglect the soul work. If we are faithful in the work to which the prophets are calling us, come Christmas, we will have gifts to open far beyond the ones under our tree. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC; December 7, 2014