In today’s Gospel Story (Luke 3:1-6) John is described in scriptural terms as “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths; every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’”. Sounds like the same thing is happening in our own days.
The crying out is coming from many folks around the world, folks in the pews or who used to be in the pews trying to live Jesus’ Gospel message as they see it in their own everyday living. Folks trying to not do to others as they would not want others to do to them. Folks whose daily experience of living does not reflect the abstract impersonal decrees issued by celibate males in fancy robes in palaces and nice homes whose own experience of daily living has little in common with the daily living of the folks on whom they would impose their decrees. Who is to say that the voice of the folks is not also the voice of God calling them to speak from their lived experience?
Folks face many fears these days that hierarchs cannot relate to. The current economy causes many folks to be in a financial bind, to fear losing their job or not having a job. Church “leaders” have good job security and living conditions and don’t face such a possibility unless they commit the unforgivable sin of being in favor of women’s ordination. Many folks deal everyday with the challenges of raising and caring for a family, making responsible choices about children and relationships, healthcare, etc, choices that are merely theoretical for church “leaders”, few of which have any such relationships and so do not have to deal with the ‘messiness’ of being human. They do not understand the reality of failed relationships and the need of folks for understanding and support, and so they respond by denying these folks the sacraments in the name of Jesus. Folks are crying out that this is not the way of our loving God, and who is to say that they are not right? Folks know that the Jesus of the Gospels is not rooted in the fear and punishment practiced and imposed by the “leadership”.
By virtue of the Incarnation we believe the “way of the Lord” is among us right now. As Jesus so often said, “The Kingdom of God is among you”. If we believe this, we also have to believe the Spirit is moving among us making things happen and bringing the Kingdom together. Things are as they need to be for grace to happen. The opposing viewpoints on so many things are grace happening in the realities of everyday living. We cannot make straight the way of the Lord by using out of date maps. If we believe grace is happening, we go on to believe the Holy Spirit is bringing things together. If we believe in grace, we have to respond to grace showing itself in the folks in our life. We are all equal. As the song says, “All God’s Creatures Got a Place in the Choir”, so we really have to listen to each other on all sides of the current hot button issues. Everyone has something worthwhile to say. The Holy Spirit brings us together.
As we celebrate Advent, a time of waiting expectantly for Jesus, it might dawn on us that he is already here. In his name many of his followers, perhaps most in one way or the other, are refusing to see him in folks who make them uncomfortable, whose opinions differ, whose lifestyles are unacceptable. Can anyone really claim their viewpoint on any topic is the only one that can prepare the way of the Lord as the Lord wants it prepared? Can anyone claim that only they speak the correct words and everybody else has to accept them totally or else? Can anyone who claims to speak and act in the name of Jesus inflict threats and punishments never even remotely found in the Jesus of the Gospels? Can anyone judge that just because someone wears funny clothes and accessories they are automatically wrong and do not deserve to be listened to? Any of us If we claim to be responding to the Spirit have to look at our own life, and hear John’s words speaking to us right here and now on a very personal and intimate level. What is each of us being called to do to prepare the way of the Lord in our own life? What valleys do we have to fill and what mountains do we have to smooth in our own life, not in somebody else’s? What opportunities are we passing up? For each of us this has to be a prayerful journey, not an easy self-righteous stroll.
Any time we claim to be following the Spirit there is always doubt. How much of what we are doing is the Spirit, and how much is us? We need prayer in our life to give us the strength to do what we feel we have to do, to accept the possibility that we might be wrong, to live in the faith and trust that the Spirit knows what She is doing and is bringing everything together. Knowing her game plan is not part of the deal, but doing our best to be open to and acting in grace is. Each of us on all sides has a small but important role in the execution of Her mission. Being applauded for our action is not necessarily part of the deal, but being accused and reviled, and being threatened with sanctions, seems to be. The Spirit knows, but we don’t know, and we don’t have to. We just have to do our part.
While we’re preparing the way of the Lord, we might come to realize that we don’t know other folks’ stories or their journeys, so maybe it is not a good thing for us to demand they follow our plans for them or else. We might try to imitate Jesus in his compassion and understanding for folks he met. In his Story, the ones who were laying demands and punishments on folks were the ones who ultimately killed him because he didn’t follow their demands. He just tried to live his Father’s love with whomever he met.
Just sayin . . .