Heed the Familiar Call
Once again, we’ve entered that most special time of year when we cheerfully welcome or at least quietly endure the onslaught of all things Christmas while still in the Advent season. I know I gave up years ago pleading and badgering and shaming those who skip past Advent and jump right into Christmas even as they digest their Thanksgiving meal. Just stating facts. I know many others before me have made similar attempts to no avail. And if the words of scripture fail to bring about a conversion of any kind in this respect, why should I think I would succeed? Let me be clear. There is nothing sinful or evil about enjoying Christmas carols any time of year or putting up your Christmas tree after Halloween. Full disclosure. I never took my tree down from last year. And the tiny blinking lights come on without fail each evening to give me pause and remind me to give thanks for another year. Besides, it really isn’t anyone else’s business whether or not and how we observe civic and religious seasons and dates on the calendar. When the world was shrouded in the isolation and darkness of COVID we just graciously gave everyone a pass. Do what gives you joy, of course taking care not to harm yourself or anyone else. I’m sure Marie Kondo wouldn’t mind.
So when we hear once again the message announced by John son of Zechariah in the desert, we are reminded to pause amid the boredom and busyness of our lives, amid the cute and annoying, the romanticized and mysterious, the heartwarming and profound in this season of many symbols and traditions. There is no reprisal by the way for ignoring the annual reminder, no warning, no fine, no arrests, no excommunication. If there had even been a way to enforce it, we would have noticed by now and created some mechanism to neutralize its sting. If the worst anyone must suffer is a look of annoyance or disgust, it’s no more than they get for wearing socks and flip-flops or going slow in the passing lane or falling asleep during the homily.
We can bet it was no different the first time. Luke’s account of the appearance of John the Baptist is situated in human history, “in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, when Annas and Caiaphas were high priests.” And in that specific time and place, God spoke his word to a recluse in the desert who wore camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey, who traveled on foot “throughout the whole region of the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Easily when all this was taking place everyone was bored or busy living their lives, raising families, working their livelihoods, hanging out with friends, buying and selling goods, seeking treatment for their ailments, planning weddings, mourning their dead, no different from everything that’s going on anywhere in the world today.
And once again amid the tedious details of our lives in the present, as COVID-19 surges with a new omicron variant, and swarms of migrants flee poverty and violence and natural disaster in their native lands overwhelming wealthier nations, and crowds protest in the streets against racism and inequality and climate change, and billionaires race into space, and gun violence once again erupts in our schools, and the Supreme Court decides whether to overturn Roe v. Wade, and Mariah Carey sings on the radio “All I Want for Christmas is You,” amid the trials and tribulations of this specific moment in human history, we hear the familiar call of John son of Zechariah in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
I am confident some people will pause long enough to hear that familiar call to take Advent more seriously and perhaps make some needed adjustments. And as it also happens every year some will roll their eyes and ignore him altogether and just keep doing what they do. I suggest that we are already here in church today, probably out of sheer habit or possibly because God had something important to say. But if we are mindful and listen attentively for God’s word directed specifically to us, we might think about the winding paths in our lives that need straightening and the rough ways that need smoothing, and the valleys that need filling and the mountains and hills that need lowering. God desires so much more and better for us than we can ever hope or imagine. God extends to us consolation in our loss and in our suffering. God offers help to overcome fear and anxiety as we care for our loved ones and our neighbor. God extends reconciliation and healing and renewal to establish his kingdom among us.
It is a familiar call, faint but persistent, much like when mom would yell out in the street for me to come to dinner, if that was something your mom did. God’s offer of consolation and reconciliation, healing and renewal often meet with steep competition from the cares and troubles of this world. Eventually that voice will call out to us one last time. There will be no option to ignore it then. But will we be ready on short notice?
Rolo B Castillo © 2021