Advent, at its core, holds a confusing message of here and not yet here. A message that speaks of chaos and hope, turmoil and love, change and peace. In Advent we seek to understand this space between spaces by ascribing contemporary names to our weeks in Advent. Names like hope, faith, love and Peace, which hang on advent banners around the globe today, were originally Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell, denoting the real life of what we experience in scripture in this season. One might see how hard these ancient names are to attract a crowd, so we changed them to the more comfortable Hope, faith, Love, and peace we enjoy today. However, by doing this, I fear we lose some of the edge of this season and mollify it into a preparation period for Christmas. Christmas is its own season, yet to come, so we are left sitting in this confusing here and not yet here reality of a season full of chaos and hope, turmoil and love, change and peace. So does this mean God is absent in Advent? No, God is indeed very much present in the inbetween, an in between we know as the edges of our lives. An edge we need to listen more intensely too.
Mark's opening this morning is an abrupt change from the failure of last week's gospel, a gospel that pointed out rather starkly that this world despite our best efforts is still broken. Mark's Good News today, feels like an oasis of cool water in the heat of this crucible of self examination, and yet there is still a yearning and sense of wanting left from the good news we are receiving. But what is this wanting? Good news usually precipitates a fix to the problems we face. But we are not given the fix to the problems of this world we want so desperately, a fix that will obliterate poverty, isolation, stigma, phobias, hatred, violence, war and more, no, we are not given a fix, but a forerunner who’s announcing the one yet to come! It's as if Mark is getting our hopes up for a messiah to come, without giving a sense of time scale. LIke are we talking hours, days, weeks, years? It makes sense given how dependent on time and schedules we are. But we need to remember that only God knows the time of his coming, which is why at Christmas we don't just look back with hope at a historical event, but look forward in joyful expectation of what's to come- in God's time. A time which is told from the edges.
The edges are those places within us that we dare not go. We resist them because they are uncomfortable and can often feel shameful and overly challenging. The edges have been the place we push people we don't like or desire to be around, the edges have also been the voice of the marginalized and the under represented. So in Advent, to hear the announcement from the edge of a man named John, a forerunner, coming to prepare the way feels odd because it turns upside down everything we know about life. John was not a man we would probably have over for dinner or even call our friend if we are being honest with ourselves. John is rough around the edges, prone to say awkward things, refuses to act in conformity with social expectations, and has an affinity for camel hair shirts- which would likely make him smell. John is a hard person, speaking a hard truth that points out our vulnerabilities as humans, vulnerabilities that call us up short in our ministry to the gospel and that hurts. Yet we listen to John and his crazy reminders every year, a man which we call a forerunner. But what does that even mean?
A forerunner is a person who prepares the way. To use american election terms, a forerunner is the transition team from one administration to the new administration. The transition team is not in charge of policy or governance, they are there to ensure the ground is ready for 12:01 January 20, so that as soon as the new president is sworn in they can hit the ground running. John is the leader of the transition team of the kingdom, preparing us and this world for the incoming administration of God's kingdom, in Jesus, which is an anticipated future event. Despite the ancient and future nature of today's call to prepare at the edges, there are just as many contemporary voices at the edges we need to listen to today.
The nature of Advent being a once and future moment that we remember and anticipate means that the forerunners of our world are still preparing the path for Christ in our midst- which is the hope we hold onto this morning. Think about it for a moment, think about all those voices we’ve marginalized as inconvenient or challenging because of the truth they speak. Names like Greta Thunberg, advocating for the environment and refusing to accept the abuse of world leaders who call her crazy and idiodic. Residential School Survivor, Phyllis Webstad, advocating for more education regarding the impact of residential schools, despite the voices that say we it’s not a priority. The members of our Neighbourhood Ministry, advocating for safe, affordable, and accessible housing, food, and human dignity for those who live on our streets, despite the fear in our neighbourhoods and voices of opposition that lament the possible crime rates and drug use it will bring. The voices of mental health practitioners who are advocating for more open honest conversations about how we are managing this pandemic in our neighbourhood, despite the voices of shame that say folks should just suck it up and keep going. You see a theme here? These forerunners, and many more, are not fixing these issues they represent, they are calling us to deeper engagement with them, an engagement- a personal engagement- which ultimately starts the long work of bending the moral arc of the universe definitively towards Justice. Forerunners represent the laying of groundwork for the kingdom, a kingdom of justice, equality, and love. But how do we continue this work in our neighbourhood? We live our Baptisms.
You see, the mandate of the incoming administration of God's Kingdom in Christ’s second coming is laid out for us in the baptism we all share, to build community, to resist evil and return daily to God, to share the good news of Christ with everyone, to serve everyone-without exception- as our own selves, to seek justice and respect in and for everyone- without exception, and to hand this world to the next seven generations in better shape than we got it. Hefty eh? Remember church, God is in this with us, we do this with God’s help. We are not saviours, nor are we dispensers of cheap grace in the midst of real world problems, but we have a voice and the humanity necessary to amplify the voices at the edges again today by building up the community of the Kingdom. So what can we do? When we hear an indigenous voice speaking, stop, listen, learn, and ask how we can amplify their voice with them- build relationships. When we hear an environmentalist speaking, stop, listen, learn, and ask how we can amplify their voice with them- we build relationships. You see the theme? God's kingdom, God's justice is one of relationships. Our baptisms are grounded in relationships. We just need to stop and listen, as we work to build relationships for God's coming kingdom, a coming only God knows when.
Good news comes to us from the edges, edges which scare us, which challenge us, which form us. This is the Good News of Advent, that the one who is to come will finish all of this. Our job is to prepare for it by listening to the voices at the edges, voices which are calling us into the depths of love once again. Prepare, Church, prepare the once and future way of the Lord again today! For tomorrow He comes!