Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 7 Dec. 2014, Advent 2
Year B RCL: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
make his paths straight.
Our Gospel from Mark echoes our lesson from Isaiah. Both tell us about making paths straight, transforming uneven ground to be level & making rough places to be smooth.
We transformed ground at Willis Park yesterday with our St. Nicholas Celebration & Blessing of the Toys. People we do not know stopped to listen to God's word. Perhaps that experience smoothed a rough place in someone's life.
Each of us has experience with rough places on paths, uneven ground or highways, so we understand the difference terrain makes as we walk or ride.
I sometimes walked the short distance from our home to Bainbridge College when I worked there. Our street curves gently. It's not a straight path. It is smooth & level. I can walk it in 10 minutes. My first summer at seminary at The University of the South in Sewanee, TN, I walked to classes. The house I lived in is the same distance from the seminary that our home is from the college. The path is straighter, so I expected to walk in less time. Imagine my surprise arriving late the first day. That straight path has rough sidewalks & an incline I hadn't noticed: it took more effort to walk.
The 1st night John & I were in North Carolina this fall, we walked the short distance from our Bed & Breakfast to a favorite restaurant. The walk in the fresh air felt great & we chatted along the way after a long day riding in the car. We didn't think about how the comfortable downhill incline would feel on the way back after a full meal. The return walk took our breath away. We struggled walking what felt like a 90 degree incline! We didn't chat. We stopped to gasp air. Once we could breathe, we laughed at ourselves, hoping we could make it to our room.
Some of you know even a “flat” road can be rough. Those of us who live where the sewer system has recently been installed remember the 9 months of upheaval, driving unpaved stretches with potholes & workers stopping traffic.
I remember returning from Atlanta, expecting to see the street in turmoil & our delight turning onto it & seeing a paved, smooth road. I remember saying: “Isn't that gorgeous? That asphalt is the prettiest thing I've seen!”
A smooth, level road makes a positive difference. Isaiah & Mark remind us that we are called to make a road smooth & level. Why should we do this? The Jewish Study Bible says making the way easier to travel makes it easier for exiled people to return to God1.
God's strength is enduring2 & sets captives free. We humans are still weak3, just like in the days of Isaiah & of John the Baptizer in our Gospel. Through Jesus, God sets captives free. As followers of Jesus, we have work to do for God's kingdom, to make rough places smooth, to lift up the discouraged when life is rough, when headline news is sad, shocking, troubling.
Jesus calls his disciples – us – to share the Good News/the Good Tidings that God loves each human being. Jesus comes to live & die among us to restore our relationship with God so that we can live fully in God's love. Isaiah speaks of the herald of good tidings. Heralds shout out the news.
Isaiah knows that heralds shout out the news of an army coming against people. Today he tells us of a herald who shouts out Good News that “...God arrives as the gentle shepherd, not to destroy but to protect.”4 God sets captives free.
Setting captives free, making the road to God level & smooth take time. For us, time can be a stumbling block, as we learned last week when we pondered God's perspective of time & our limited perspective. In our Advent meditation at home each evening, we take time to light the Advent wreath & say: "Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!" Jesus seems to take a long time returning to us.
Time can be a stumbling block when we consider current events, such as yesterday's thwarted rescue of a captive in Yemen.
God has all of time to wait patiently for captives to return to a relationship with God. As our lesson in 2nd Peter says: “...with the Lord one day is like a thousand years & a thousand years are like one day.”
What would 1,000 years look like?
A huge stack of calendars?
one grain of salt?5
Would young helpers come help me with this salt?
Feel the difference in the weight of these 2 salt containers.
How many grains do you think are in each?
Each container can hold 26 ounces - that's 737 grams. The label says a serving size is ¼ teaspoon – that's 1.5 grams.
Can you count how many grains of salt are in ¼ teaspoon? No?
Dip your finger in the water, then the salt &
count how many grains stick to your finger.
So let's pretend each grain is one day, which our lesson says is like a thousand years to God. If 1 grain is 1 day, how many grains make a year? Right: 365 grains of salt. If 365 = 1 year, how many would = 1,000 years? Right! 365,000 grains would make 1,000 years.
As I read about this online in a sermon: “(I)f we counted out 365,000 (grains of salt) we would not have all... the salt in...one (container). ...(I)f you think of all the boxes of salt in one grocery store and...think of all...the grocery stores (in the world),...you see how little that one grain of salt is compared to all of the salt in the world.
“One (grain) of salt in a box is not much, but it is important to that box just like one day is important to you.”6
One day in your life is important not only to you but also to people you love, people who love you & to God. What you do with that one day – with each day – can make a positive difference in God's world. You can make a positive difference in the lives of people who do not know the Good News that Jesus tells us:
God loves each of us.
God loves you! No exceptions!
Jesus gives us work to do each day as heralds of this Good News. Part of our work is to trust the results of our work to God.
When you put salt on your food, it can remind you what the Bible says about 1 day being like 1,000 years.7 I pray that even 1 grain of salt may encourage you in your work making roads level & rough places smooth.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 7 Oct. 2014.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Runk, Wesley T. “A Daze of Days”. From The Giant Book Of Children's Sermons Matthew To Revelation. http://www.sermonsuite.com/content.php?i=29610&key=moYjxuwHse95peil. Accessed: 6 Dec. 2014.
1 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. P. 852.
2 Ibid. P. 861.
3 Note: Concept from Ibid.
4 Ibid. P. 862
5 Note: Idea from Runk, Wesley T. “A Daze of Days”. Accessed: 6 Dec. 2014. http://www.sermonsuite.com/content.php?i=29610&key=moYjxuwHse95peil.