As I began writing this message, I was not certain whether or not I would bring Stanley himself, but were I to have brought him and left Oliver behind alone, Oliver would have been one anxious and unhappy dog.
But as fond as I am of these dogs, Stanley, the white one, is the first I want to mention. Several years back, but I do not remember how far back, I talked about how Stanley and Stella, whom we put to rest just over a year ago at age 14, would always let me know that FedEx or UPS or the Postal Service was making a delivery the moment they would see one of the trucks at the end of or coming up our driveway. Stanley still does, and with as much online purchasing activity as Patricia does, the drivers from those services know Stanley well.
He is, as I tell the drivers, my “early warning system,” and Oliver, the minute he hears Stanley offer what I think must be a distinctive bark when it is someone who is coming, joins the chorus with his own somewhat higher pitched bark.
“FedEx is coming” or “UPS is coming,” their “voices” proclaim.
Is coming, as in, “Jesus is coming,” which are not the exact words but which is the implicit message which John the Baptizer, as John the Baptist is called now by the theological class, “Jesus is coming” is the message John the Baptizer proclaimed.
While early in January, we shall observe the Sunday we call “The Baptism of the Lord,” whether that description is accurate or not, John the Baptizer does always appear in readings during Advent, usually during this second Sunday in Advent. In the Gospel according to Luke, from which we read last year at this time, we get the stories of the parallel pregnancies of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and of Elizabeth, her cousin and the mother of John, and of John’s birth and John’s fathers words, “The song of Zechariah,” days or weeks or a few months before Jesus is born. But even though only Luke is concerned with the parentage of John or of his possible familial relation with Jesus, John the Baptizer is an important figure to all four of the Gospel writers, which to the would-be-scholar in me, says that he must have been a figure widely known in the community — which is to say, the land of Judah and Galilee — in which the Christian Church first arose.
And his role and his message are quite clear. As the writer of the Gospel according to Matthew, this year’s Lectionary Gospel, sets out, John is in a figurative sense the second coming of Isaiah, or more properly, the one whom Isaiah — and this would have been the second of the prophets we call Isaiah, about 539 BCE, and not the earlier Isaiah from whom we just read. The words of Isaiah as quoted within our Gospel reading are the wonderful words we find in Isaiah 40: “Prepare ye the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God,” if you will allow me to use the way Handel, in his magnificent “Messiah,” quoted from the words of the King James Version of the Bible.
At least in concept, John proclaimed Jesus in order to prepare the way of — for — the LORD; prepared at least some people, for Jesus by announcing that the Lord is coming, that the Lord is on His — not to be sexist — that the Lord is on His way.
. . . much as Stanley tells me that FedEx or UPS of USPS is on its way.
Advent is, of course, the time of preparation representing the awaiting of the Lord to be born in the form of a human being, for God to come to earth as a baby; it is not so much that we turn our attention to proclaiming as to anticipating, but if we take time to reflect, anticipating is very inwardly directed, and simply is not consistent with the act of God’s becoming a human being for the purpose of dying on our behalf if it is all that we do . No, while Advent should indeed be a time for anticipating, it should remind us that our task is not merely to await and anticipate, but, like John the Baptizer, like Stanley, our task as Christ’s Church is to proclaim the coming into the world of God as Jesus, and as members of Christ’s Church, to be like Oliver, and to join in the chorus and proclaim the Good News.
And oh how the world — how we — need that Good News.
And what does John say? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Repent? Strange word to use to proclaim the Good News, and yet maybe there is something there that we need to hear.
Let me get dangerously close to the political but meaning to be completely neutral and non-partisan as I do so. If President Trump, rather than saying, “The phone call was perfect,” had said, “Oops; I should not have said that; I am sorry,” think what all of us would have been spared.
But the real problem and point is, when we are consumed with defending our questionable decisions, our not-carefully-chosen words, our imperfect actions or the actions we did not do but should have done, are we really able to hear anything? Have we really prepared the way of the Lord in our own lives?
Dogs don’t sin. Stanley counter-surfed when we would leave him alone. He wasn’t evil, and Patricia correctly analyzed that he was experiencing separation anxiety; Oliver has meant good business for the rug cleaner we use, but he wants to do what he knows pleases me. Dogs have no need to repent.
But humans do. As I either say or write for a liturgist to say each week as lead in to our prayers of confession, God does not need our prayers, and we have already been forgiven, but unless we acknowledge our being less than perfect, we cannot appreciate what forgiveness means, what God through Jesus has done for us. Without repenting, we miss out not merely on the miracle of what the birth of Jesus represents, we miss out on the deeper joy it can bring that extends far past the Epiphany — twelve days after Christmas — burning of the Christmas trees, which I remember from my junior high school days in Mundelein, Illinois.
But when we repent, when we realize what God through the death of this one whose birth we await has accomplished for us, there is Good News we want to share; Good News we want to proclaim; Good News that calls upon us collectively as Christ’s Church and individually as forgiven sinners to proclaim to those who do not yet know Him: God loves you!!! Jesus is coming on your behalf!
Jesus is coming! Or as I said last week, He came, He has come, He is here — and He will come not merely at the end of time but whenever we call upon Him.
Proclaim Him with as much enthusiasm and energy as Stanley proclaims FedEx or UPS; join the chorus, as does Oliver once Stanley gets going. Let us be John the Baptizers; let us prepare the way of the Lord into the lives of those who do not yet know Him.
And what better time to do this than during the wonderful season when we observe His first coming to earth as a human being. What an awesome Lord! I feel like barking it out — I mean, shouting it out!
God is great. And in the name of God the Son, Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.