A sermon for Advent 2.
“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God . . . For God will lead
Both the reading from Baruch and the reading from Luke that we heard this morning refer to yet another text: the Word of the Lord spoken to the prophet Isaiah.
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to
Isaiah speaks these words of comfort to a people suffering in exile in
This vision of homecoming is appropriated by Baruch more than three hundred years later, after the return of the exiles to
Thus, the promise of homecoming must be renewed: “Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory of God!” This promise was fulfilled, in part, by the Maccabean revolt against
Then, along came the
Not long afterward, Luke’s Gospel appeared conveying the message of yet another prophet, John the Baptizer, who once again appropriates Isaiah’s promise of homecoming for his own time and place. John begins to gather a new community that is preparing for the renewal of
Do you see a pattern here? Exile and return, occupation and liberation, alienation and homecoming: this seems to be the way of the world. It isn’t merely a long ago and far away story. It is our story. It is the story of millions of refugees around the world: Palestinians, Sudanese, Iraqis, Afghanis, fleeing occupied territories they long to reclaim as home. It is the story of brave
It is the story of a young transgender woman with whom I met recently, in exile here from her homeland in the Southern United States, alienated from her family and afraid that they will attempt to have her institutionalized. She grieves the home she has lost even as she wonders if it is possible to make a home here. It is the story of an anonymous meth addict, who locked himself in our garden bathroom last Sunday afternoon and refused to leave, all the while trying to inject himself, leaving behind a broken needle, a blood splattered room, and a hole in the door that matched the hole in his soul; a God-shaped hole that no amount of drugs can fill. How many exiles like him wander our neighborhood?
We are all characters in the story of exile and return. Sometimes the home for which we long is a place on a map; sometimes find ourselves exiled from the landscape of our own heart. Too often, we live in exile from both. We long to come home to our people, to our family, to our self. Even more, we long to come home to God, in whom we find our true and lasting rest.
Thus, we find ourselves here again in the season of Advent, listening to the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “O God, make a way for us to come home again. Let us, all of us, see your salvation. We’re tired of wrapping ourselves in threadbare garments of sorrow and affliction. Dress us instead in the beauty of your presence, in the warmth of your peace and justice, in the splendor of your compassion and forgiveness. Please, please, dear God, bring us home again.”
We will continue to play out the pattern of exile and return, until all of us accept that our liberation, our homecoming, our national and personal security, can not be established by Cyrus, or Caesar, or whoever the current emperor may be; it can not be secured by Maccabees or American revolutionaries, or religious terrorists (not all of whom are Muslim; indeed, some wear purple); it can only be secured by the Messiah who practiced nonviolent love, the Compassionate One who is coming again, and again, and again, for as long as it takes until we all come home.
We have seen this Messiah, the Christ, in Jesus, who came not as emperor or terrorist, not as executioner or victim, but simply as a human being. His presence continues in the new community of those seeking to follow his way of becoming fully human, so that the fullness of God may dwell among us as it did in him. He has come to show us the way home by making his home in us, that no matter where we are, we may be clothed with the glory of God and the robe of justice.
It is time to take off the garment of sorrow and affliction. It is time for us to repent of our clinging to the false security offered by the world and its continuous cycle of exile and return. It is time for us to renounce our identification with powerlessness and with privilege. It is time to come home to our full humanity in Christ, who has made his home with us.
This is the renunciation, the repentance, to which John the Baptizer calls us. It was symbolized this week by our bishop, Marc, who called us to walk with him on the path of peace that leads us home. On Thursday, a couple hundred of us marched with him down from the privilege of Nob Hill, through the powerlessness of the Tenderloin, to embrace our humanity and protest the injustice of the War on Terror in the courtyard of the Empire.
In celebrating the Eucharist in the plaza of the
When we are at home in the Christ who makes his home in us, the fear and greed and revenge that drive the cycle of exile and return loses its hold on us. We then discover the creativity to resist evil through nonviolent love, the capacity to be at home even in a foreign land, and the passion to welcome others home too. This is the good news of the Gospel, that we who are in exile can return home once and for all.
The cycle of continual exile has been broken. We no longer have to participate in its destructive and divisive power. The welcome feast has been prepared and a place at the table has been set for you. It’s time to come home. Amen.