Each one of us has had those special moments we remember with fondness. At home, surrounded by family and sitting by the fire. A special vacation, a night with friends or the completion of a successful work project These moments in time feel good and create memories. While they are special, they are just that - moments.
I want you to think of those instances in your journey that were transformative. No words to describe the emotions or depth of feeling. You lose your breath, stand in wonder and know that in some way, you will never be the same again. They are sacred spaces. It could be when you experience love, true abiding love.
The first cry of a child at birth. When you kneel and receive the Body of Christ. Or when you turn and catch the sun breaking over the horizon. That sacred space between night and day, where the earth is transformed and becomes something new. In that instant, the world stops in hopeful expectation of a spectacular holy mystery.
The wind eases and all of God’s creation, birds, animals, plants and water, seem to stop and bow in reverence. The colors are true, the light is clear and everything is highly defined. The black of night turns to soft purple, then a deep crimson, a soft red and then slowly that beautiful light. Hope for a new day.
I imagine this how the world expressed its joy each time it felt the footsteps of Christ. How the water sat in silence when Jesus calmed the seas; transformative sacred spaces. In reading our Gospel, I thought of those sacred spaces. How throughout this journey of life, God creates sacred spaces for transformation and invites us to them.
Most find it odd that in between the manger, silver bells, holiday parties, festive lights, and advent wreaths, John the Baptist steps into our lives from the wilderness. It seems out of place and who wants to hear him screaming about repentance and making our ways straight. Yet, there is something about his message that calls to us.
Imagine him, standing at the edge of the dawn pointing at a place near the horizon. Maybe in this season when various messages compete for our attention. We need someone like John to grab and shake us. That something spectacular and transformative is occurring all around us, and we are not noticing it.
I love John the Baptist. He is my favorite saint. I can relate to him. Not only because he is crazy. For me, he represents our conscience, humanity, our gritty journey, the need to place God at the center of everything. For John, there is nothing more important than God. He understands that we must know God, talk to God, depend on God, allow God into our lives all the time.
He is insisting that we go to that sacred space because there is no other place like it. Relationship with the Divine. God wants it, we feel it, and John has the guts to say it.
Advent is where we get deeply in touch with our need for our Savior. John is shouting over the competing voices of the world and calling us to something new.
A space between the past and future, between absence and presence, moving from memory to hope. From the night to the breaking dawn. It is now wonder he is shouting. Yet, it seems there are always barriers. Our lives are too full. We have to buy gifts; we have to perform at work. We keep up with schedules, sports, and neighbors.
Who needs the reverence and the sunrise, when we can record all you need with the Hopper. Maybe we have just lost a sense of the sacred. We know stuff does not fill our emptiness. We are never satisfied. There has to be something more. Not a moment in time or a good feeling. Something greater than what the world offers.
And still, we push away. I have found that many of us feel inadequate or unworthy. Often, I feel that way. But let’s be honest; in some ways we are all unworthy. Now, I am going to say that word. The one Episcopalians hate, and we avoid - Sin. Yes, I said it. While I am not smart enough to define it or pure enough to make judgments about it, we know. The body and heart inherently know what is keeping us from wholeness from community, self and God.
I am not speaking solely of moral challenges. What keeps us from stepping into a sacred space has many definitions. Yes, addictions to pornography, alcohol, painkillers. Our sin could be materialism, the need for attention, success or status. Participation in subtle racism, classism or sexism, something other than love. Excluding those who are different.
Failure to right the wrongs in society, losing our voice when we encounter bullying or hate. Lack of compassion, dishonesty, impatience, anger, judgment or simply fear. All of these seemingly insurmountable barriers we face and often we falter. So we timidly look upon the sacred spaces, never fully confident we can take that step to get there.
That is what John is screaming about. The reason we need Christ. We don't need a Savior unless we're deeply convinced there is something to be saved from. That means within our lives and bodies; we feel the need for Christ. That is the beauty of this second week in Advent. We hear a voice.
A crazy man in the wilderness is calling us to a place of beauty, beyond what we know or can ever image. God, calling us into a wondrous, loving, and sacred relationship. A sacred place of transformation. This invitation is the same today, as it was 2000 years ago. God calling you. John does not sound that crazy after all.
Imagine for a moment that he has experienced the colors of the divine dawn and will never step back into that dark night. He wants to share that feeling. What if he understands his unworthiness and his past, the tendency to stand timidly on the edge, he stepped into a space and was forever transformed. He is shouting at the top of his voice. We have a difficult time understanding that because of Christ, no longer will our faults and sins be seen through human eyes.
Forevermore, they are seen with the eyes of a forgiving, compassionate and loving God. John wants us to see what he sees, feel what he feels. And the beauty of this is that it is not some far off time, some momentary promise, no conditions. It is right now.
For this reason, the first words of our Gospel are The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
This is where we make the decision. We can ignore it, run from it, and hide. Or we can move into that place where our humanity with all its faults and gifts is held by the divine. It will need effort. It will require vulnerability, in a world that hates vulnerability and acknowledging that we cannot do it alone. That we need God in our lives.
It will require you changing those things that are keeping you from God. It will require that you are open to the possibility your life will be different. While it is difficult, there will be a sense of peace, a sense of knowing that something beautiful and sacred is occurring in our lives. That we are held and lifted up. What will change?
New colors will fill our lives with hope. Like the dawn, from black to purple to crimson to red, slowly, beautifully, until we see a light of new day. With God, there is not darkness. And the longer we stand there, the definitions will provide a clarity and brilliance that will allow you to look at the world in different ways.
Where forgiveness is more important than pride, where kindness is placed before being right. Where others come before self. When community and empathy mean more than status or fame. My dear friends, during Advent, a prophet is pointing to a path of divine liberation from our past and toward our sacred space for our future.
We are not made for moments in time and feel good memories. We are called to an abundant, ever mysterious and unfolding life. Angels, shepherds, prophets and young mothers are telling us of the glorious divine child that will step into our lives and make them sacred. You are being called to live in that same place.
There is something about John’s crazy, upending and amazing message that is mysterious, saving and life giving. So listen carefully, what is he saying to your heart? Are you willing to go where is he calling you? Take that step. A new dawn is rising; a sacred place is waiting, for unto us a child will be born.