Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3: 8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Earlier this week in the country of Kenya, workers at a quarry awoke in the middle of the night by members of a Somalian militant group called al-Shabaab, a group I understand is affiliated with Al Qaeda. Upon waking up, these individuals were asked to recite lines from the Quran. If they were not able to do so, they were shot immediately. Thirty-six people identified as Christians died that night as a result. Because the border between Kenya and Somalia is so porous, it was easy for the members of al-Shabaab to flee across the border back into Somalia, where they have yet to be caught.
This is not an indictment of Islam. In spite of the violence raging across the Arabic world, I still believe Islam is a religion of peace. Recall that it was Christian nations mostly who fought in the two largest wars the world has seen in the last century. This event in Kenya, saddened me profoundly, for so many reasons, and was on more reminder to me that in the midst of Advent, we are walking through darkness. When we are in the dark, it is easy to get lost. I find myself there often.
That is why God sends angels – to show us the way out of the darkness. The word “angel” comes from the Greek word “angelos,” which means messenger. An angel is someone who brings an important message to us directly from God. In the Gospel today, the author writes “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” The author of Mark’s Gospel describes an angel, a messenger, who will prepare the way for Christ. In the very next sentence, Mark tells us who this angel is – John the Baptist.
A rather surprising choice, as John the Baptist was not a person who had much prestige - but people loved listening to him, and thousands went to hear him out in the wilderness. Why? Because their world was dark, too. And John was a light, a messenger, an angel, whose message lifted them to see that the darkness in the world was really just a speck in light.
Earlier this week I found myself in a spiritually dark place. I wish I could say my thinking was about those thirty-six individuals who died this week accounting for their faith, but I would be lying. I confess my thoughts were much more self- centered. It was a lonely place to be, frankly, but that is where I was.
It was in this self-absorbed mindset that I walked outside St. Andrew’s house on a cold day. The sky was overcast, and even though it was only 2 PM, it felt like it was much later. As I was walking to my car, all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, I saw an elderly man coming down the street. He was in one of those motorized scooters, and he was going fast. I was thinking “you better slow down!” I noticed that as he came nearer to me, I could see that both of his legs were amputated just above the knee.
And then as the scooter came nearer, I saw the bare skin of one of his legs sticking out from underneath his torso. It was then I realized that this was not just an ordinary man – he was a messenger, he was an angel. His message that he proclaimed – without saying a word - lifted me out of the selfish mire I had created around myself. “Stop thinking about yourself!” was the message I received. Once he was in front of me, I didn’t know what to say, so I said “How are you doing?” It was a ridiculous thing to say, but what does one say to an angel? “It’s cold out, but I’m great,” he answered, never stopping his scooter. He smiled at me, and then he kept on going down Heights Boulevard. It is true that angels fly because they take themselves lightly.
The power of John the Baptist is that he was an everyday person, and yet he was a powerful angel. So momentous was his message that I believe it touched personally the lives of those thirty-six men and women. They, too, are angels, by the way, and the message they proclaim is one that will be sung by countless choirs on Christmas Eve: “Angels we have heard on high, singing sweetly through the night, and the mountains in reply echoing their brave delight.” These thirty-six angels are with God, but the proclamation of the Bible is that angels or messengers are not just part of the host of heaven – they are all around us. Today, this church is full of angels – because God has called you to be his messenger.
It doesn’t matter how flawed, broken, or imperfect you think you may be. In God’s eyes, that just makes you a more qualified messenger. You are God’s messenger, his angel. What brave delight God sees in you. Now, venture into the darkness, and bring the light. AMEN.