I like to cook. But sometimes it is a huge inconvenience. … For instance, some of my favorite Cajun dishes from New Orleans, like chicken gumbo and shrimp étouffée, require lots of preparation: mixing the spices, browning the roux, chopping the vegetables—sometimes taking as much as 45 minutes. I can’t often afford a lot of time unless I plan ahead. So I might get everything ready the day before. When I first began living on my own, I was completely and utterly amazed how my parents could plan tomorrow’s dinner before even cooking today’s. I barely knew what to eat at any meal until just a half hour before I planned on eating it. They would prepare vegetables, and defrost meat or fish a full 24 hours before they needed it! I know it is much easier to just throw up my hands, admit defeat, and head out to the nearest fast-food place. But our best stories of memorable family gatherings are not where the food was prepared by strangers. Instead, we love that grandma rose early and whipped up the entire feast with her own hands. We may not have carried on the tradition, but it is still the gold standard.
In this second Sunday of Advent, the catch word is “prepare.” Last week, it was “pay attention.” Of course, our preparation requires us to still be attentive. But now, we are putting all that heightened awareness and mounting tension to work. We are setting the stage for something wonderful that is about to unfold. …
The prophecies we read from the book of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Anointed of God, the Messiah, give us a glimpse of the coming feast and the unfolding mystery. It will be wonderful to behold, we are told. The promised One will be of the royal line of David. “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him;” he will be a just judge, striking the wicked, defending the poor, reaching out to foreigners and outsiders, establishing peace. But we know that vision is not yet our reality. It is tempting to just sit and wait, expecting God would do all the hard work alone. Those who do think this way are inclined to be critical, convinced of their right to complain and tear others down. Instead, God invites his people to participate in the work of bringing this vision to fruition. If we hope for the establishment of God’s kingdom of justice, love, and peace in our time and in our land; where God is exalted, revered, and celebrated; where no one is excluded or in need—we cannot sit idly by. We must pick up and use the tools of justice and peace. We must call upon God in communal worship and prayer. We must reach out with generosity, compassion, and friendship to the lowly, the weak, the alienated, and the stranger. If we desire to partake of the glorious feast that Isaiah speaks of, it is essential that we participate in the planning and preparation and hard work. God calls us partners. We are not meant to be merely spectators.
So it makes sense that John the Baptist stands by the edge of the Jordan river calling out a message of repentance. He is not satisfied that people come to be washed without a firm resolve to first accept some change in their lives. “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” He didn’t just mean it for the Pharisees and Saducees either, who he called “a brood of vipers!” It is most certainly meant for all of us as well, to the point that “every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
This weekend, I went up to Winchester with a couple of people from the parish to participate in the statewide LARCUM conference. For those of you who do not know, the communities of Lutherans, Episcopalians, United Methodists, and Roman Catholics in the Commonwealth of Virginia with their bishops entered a covenant of friendship, prayer, and charity many years back. (I don’t have the exact date). And we have made efforts to come together, to get to know each other, to pray for and with each other, and to serve God’s people in joint mission initiatives. Many other official dialogues continue to take place between us and other Christian and non-Christian traditions. Few of these dialogues are widely known. So they remain the limited province of the individuals who sit down at table searching for common ground. And each year, I make an appeal to you, as do our LARCUM partners in Waynesboro, to come be part of the great adventure. Still, our numbers are low. Still, enthusiasm is tepid. But funny how many more would rejoice at the news that our various church communities are working together better. Yet few of those who would rejoice would consider lending a hand.
This past week, the people of South Africa and all the human family mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela. Many people shared reflections of the man’s struggle against injustice and oppression. He was by no means perfect. He never even claimed to be religious. Yet we celebrate his achievements as the triumph of the human spirit, of persistence and goodwill in the face of hatred, violence, and fear. Despite his 27½ years in prison, his separation from family and friends, his consistent mistreatment by those who misunderstood him, he was ever committed to fight for equal treatment under the law, and win the freedom of his people. Nelson Mandela has something important to teach us about human dignity and the resilience of the human spirit. Many would welcome the opportunity to celebrate his genius. But how many would join him in the struggle? Who among us would be willing to participate in the planning, the preparation, and the hard work to achieve what he achieved?
The season of Advent is not winding down. Rather, it is only just now gearing up. Our preparation is not about sending greeting cards, wrapping presents, trimming the tree, or hanging the lights. It is about bearing the good fruits of our repentance. Are we as concerned about how we treat our neighbor, how much of our time and resources we share with those in need? Listen to John the Baptist. “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
Rolo B Castillo © 2013