In Lauren’s sermon last week, we talked about waiting, and I confess I was at somewhat of a loss to figure out what more could be said about Advent. And imagine my whiplash when I looked at the assigned readings for the day and found two very hopeful ones grouped with “You brood of vipers.” Yeesh.
Then, I decided to listen to a sermon by the Rev. Traci D. Blackmon. Rev. Blackmon is an ordained minister in both the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ, where she serves as the Associate General Minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries. She has been a vocal activist and organizer, particularly through Black Lives Matter and Repairers of the Breach.
The sermon, delivered in 2018 during an annual UCC conference, was about a passage from the Book of Joshua, but I found it strangely appropriate for Advent, for the passage she references details the story of the Israelites finally crossing the Jordan to enter into the Promised Land. It is not a simple task, she explains, because to ancient peoples water often symbolized chaos and danger. She says,
“The image of God parting the waters of the Red Sea and letting the Israelites cross over on dry land remains a potent image of God’s power to save. It is an image which would be fundamental to the Israelites’ developing understanding of their God because this water, which was usually seen as dangerous, is transformed in that moment into a gateway of crossing over into a new way of life.”
And here we are again, at the Jordan, with John demanding first preparation and then entrance in order to be saved. He chose the Jordan not merely because it was the closest place or the only place – he chose it specifically to evoke passage from one way of being to another, and he highlights the seriousness of this endeavour by demanding repentance.
Rev. Traci continues,
“It is always challenging to move from one place to another; always frightening to let go of what has been to walk into what will be. Can you imagine what it was like for the Israelites to stand in their present and look into their future? It’s difficult; even when you know something good is ahead, it’s still difficult to leave what has been behind. …But if we just trust God with the first step, we give God the opportunity, my friends, to blow our minds. Have you ever trusted God enough to step into the water? I serve a water-walking God.”
She then outlines four instructions given to the Israelites in the passage, instructions I’m sure John gave to his candidates, instructions to help us gain a world full of the knowledge of the Lord, instructions to keep during this season of Advent.
The first is to wait for God.
You’ve probably noticed that the tendency of our world is to privilege Christmas by jamming December full of light, colour, sound, smells, taste, and social obligations. And let me be clear that taking delight in those things during a dreary time of year is 100% okay! But I know that plenty of people find it overwhelming as well, and this is why I treasure the season of Advent, which encourages us to pause and reflect on what is in store of us when God is finally made incarnate and born through Mary. Wait for God.
The second is to watch for God.
Does this sound the same as waiting? It’s similar, but not quite the same. It’s not just about keeping watch like a guard, but about taking the lead from we see. That could be something as monumental as listening for God’s voice and guidance before acting or speaking, or it could be something as simple as being playful, keeping an eye out for God playing hide-and-seek with you in the beauty of the new-fallen snow, or the delight in gathering with friends, or in the blossoming of little lights everywhere as people decorate their homes and businesses against the short days and long nights. Watch for God.
The third is to honour God. John says we must repent, a word with a lot of baggage, but really it just means to turn around, to choose a new way. The old fridge magnet says, “Jesus is coming: everyone look busy!” But if we knew that Jesus would be born into the world tomorrow, and we only had the chance to change one thing about our own little puzzle piece of the world, what would we change? What would we change out there and in here? How would we carve out a little place of honour for the precious and vulnerable soul to come? Honour God.
The fourth is to follow God.
How could we possibly follow, not only when we know we’re not perfect, but when God actually comes to us? How do we follow? Well, we look at where God chose to enter into the world. Not in halls of gold and abundance, but in threadbare and splintery simplicity. And we follow Them there – not to be superheroes, but to enter in with our choicest gifts and say, “This is the birthplace of the Saviour.” Follow God.
Finally, Rev. Traci adds one more of her own, one she says is not explicitly in the text but that “the text bears out.” This one is my favourite one, and honestly, it’s the hardest one.
She says, “You must expect God to show up.”
“You must expect God to show up.”
We’ve got an advantage here, friends. The Israelites had seen the Red Sea parted. What problem could it be to part the Jordan? Like them, we’ve seen greater things even that God being born among us.
Wait for God.
Watch for God.
Expect God to show up.
How will you do these things in this precious season of river-blue hope? I want to know.