Advent 3C December 12, 2021

 The Rev. Debra Slade

Advent 3, December 12, 2021  

In the name of God, who was, and is, and is to come. It’s the season of Advent, and we, who have long been hearing sermons, and, in my case, giving sermons, remember, and are reminded by our liturgical calendar and its readings, that Advent is not about all the things that the rest of world associates with this time of year – sparkling lights, wreaths with red bows, Santa hats, elves on the shelves, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Instead, here, in the third week of Advent, we get an apocalyptic vision of end times, and a very angry wild guy called John the Baptist who is calling his followers “vipers”, and warning those assembled before him to repent or else! How would you like to take John the B. to your next Holiday party in person or by zoom, and have him cry out: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” I can just picture him with his wild wilderness hair, his clothes of camel hair, and a black beanie hat with the word “Omicron” on it. 

Yes, it would have been an odd, but frightening sight, with a scary message for sure. And, in some ways fitting for the scary times we are living in right now – the pandemic rages with still too many unvaccinated people, a new ominous Omicron variant, and with a new surge of illness filling up our hospitals again. And there’s climate change, which threatens our earth’s existence, and its effects, such as the tornadoes in six states, but particularly in Kentucky, destroying homes and killing people indiscriminately. And finally, there is still ongoing violence, discrimination, and wars of people against people that is not abating despite all the other very serious global problems we have to worry about. John’s prophetic message, in many ways, is even more important to pay attention to then it might have been in previous years. And, perhaps, that is really what this season is about, are we paying attention to the prophets, are we ready to do what is needed before it is too late, are we asleep at the wheel or burying our heads in the sand?  

Well, according to psychologist, Dr. Adam Grant, in his New York Times’ column last Friday, December 10th, “we are living through the boring apocalypse.” There are many reasons for this Grant explains, and one has to do with the desensitization we have begun to feel regarding the potential scariness of the pandemic including our reaction to the latest variant, Omicron. He compares what has happened to us as similar to what people with phobias might use for a treatment for their phobias – exposure therapy, which includes systematic desensitization and flooding. “Systematic desensitization involves introducing the threat in small doses and gradually increasing it over time. You might start off looking at pictures of spiders, and then encounter a live spider in a sealed cage across the room …, while flooding, on the other hand, involves putting you right in the middle of your nightmare. A therapist might drop a spider onto your lap.”1 For us, during March of 2020 into the summer, was when we got flooded with the fear of the coronavirus that included the huge fear of the unknown, and having to come to terms with the terrifying number of COVID related deaths. And after that, he said: “Each new wave of communication since then has operated as a form of systematic desensitization. People around the world have been through so many alarms — both real and false — that many have been conditioned to stop fearing Covid-19 in the same way.” And on top of this we are all just plain tired.

So, if we all have pandemic boredom, I am thinking it must be pretty difficult for us to listen to a prophet. What is the message that John the Baptist can give us in these very difficult times? Or as Dr. Adam Grant, the organizational psychologist said: “The last thing needed in a pandemic is a country of people too bored to pay attention and take action.” When I read those words, I must admit it had some resonance with me, too. We are all very weary – weary of being worried, weary of having to social distance, weary of not seeing each other’s faces, weary of the hugs we missed and the special occasions that passed us by unobserved. And with weariness comes malaise, sadness, and for many people anxiety, anguish and possibly depression. How can we spiritually prepare for the birth of Jesus as well as the promise of the realization of God’s kingdom of heaven on earth at a time so fraught with things that weight so heavily on our spirits? Thankfully, today’s readings offer us many lifelines.  

We hear in our reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:4-7) the very comforting and important words that say: “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” For those of us that have a faith in the never ending, always present, unconditional love of God, we hear that our God is one that will always be near us to calm our fears, and that the peace of God surpasses all understanding including that of our human minds which are limited while God’s is unlimited. In our Canticle 9 from the Isaiah (12:2-6), we heard: “Surely it is God that saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense and he shall be my Savior.” Again, we hear more comforting words that assures us that we will always have the protection of a God who defends us and is our sure defense in times of greatest danger. Those of us with faith have the best protection we could possibility have against the boring apocalypse that threatens us each day, and that is to find peace in the knowledge of the love of God for us and for God’s people. John’s prophesy calls us to be alive to the world around us, and to not be complacent to those who are in need, the most vulnerable. When the people ask John over and over again – what should we do? – what should we do? -- his answer is to do what would be most pleasing to God – to help clothe the poor, to feed the hungry, and to not be guided by money, greed or power. There is no time for boredom in the work we all must to do hasten the kingdom of heaven on earth.  

In Advent, we prepare for Jesus – the one who was born in a stable, in a manger, both human and God who came to bring peace to all humankind. And, in Advent, we also prepare for Jesus, our Savior, who will come again, to bring to fulfillment the kingdom of God. And when, in the mystery of our faith, we say: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” we proclaim a truth that is so wide, so beautiful, so unlike a boring apocalypse, that our only response is to stand in awe and gratitude to the one eternal God who was, and is, and is to come. Amen.         1