Sunday Week 3 of Advent (Our Lady of Guadalupe)

Do I have to be honest? … I don’t want to rejoice heartily. Let alone rejoice always. I’m in no mood for it. Until yesterday there was the possibility—albeit only a slim possibility—that I might be in line for a job which would have kept me here in the Bay Area for the foreseeable future. But my boss back in Britain let me know yesterday that I couldn’t apply for it. … See, I knew it was a mistake to renew my vows last week! Poverty, chastity, … and obedience—and not even multiple choice! Anyway, right now I’m practising obedience with gritted teeth and I have no intention of doing it joyfully. Harumph! Humbug!
I doubt it was any easier for Isaiah’s people to hear his command to rejoice. They are probably the returning remnant straggling home from their deportation to Babylon back to a homeland that no one remembered but all had longed for. That land flowing with milk and honey; where the soil is your own to crumble in your hand; where you prune your own vines and live to taste the fruit. Longings! Dreams! But imagine the reality: arriving un-welcomed with nothing to war-torn walls and drought-cracked fields; overgrown vineyards and hostile villages. These are the people who hear the prophet cry “rejoice heartily!” Listen with them to Isaiah’s words:
“God has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, release to prisoners. God has sent me to announce a year of favour and a day of vindication.”
Beautiful words … but how exactly are you going to do this Isaiah? We, the poor, would really like those glad tidings. We, the broken-hearted, would really like that healing. We, the captive, would really like that liberty. When is it coming Isaiah? Hmm? Well… when it does we’ll rejoice—oh there’ll be food and dancing, song and laughter—but pardon us for waiting Isaiah, pardon us for not getting our hopes up quite yet. Tell you what … you bring us the Year of Favour, you bring us the Jubilee, and then we’ll rejoice!
Ah jubilee! Have you made your pledge? Got it with you? Are you ready to change the world? Because it certainly needs changing! … Have you read the paper this week? Seattle? Chechnya? What’s caught your heart? A barrack room and a baseball bat? Or maybe you don’t need to read the paper to know the longing for things to be different. Maybe you know that first-hand.
The poor we have always with us. The broken-hearted, the captive, wait for us. Maybe we too wait for Jubilee. But who are we?
Who are you John the Baptist? “I am not the Messiah.” Who are you? “I am not Elijah.” Well who? “I am not the prophet.” Well, John, who the hell are you? “I am a voice, crying, a voice in the desert.”
John’s great gift is to know who he is not. He is not God. He is not the one to bring glad tidings, healing, liberty. He is not. Yet he is … something. He is the glass half-empty. He is the broken reed. He is one who longs. He is one who weeps in the wasteland. He is a voice, begging. He is one who makes room for another. And because he is not, he can rejoice in one who will be!
Six hundred years after Isaiah promised otherwise the poor, the broken-hearted, and the captive were unsatisfied still. And Jesus chose to make his own those very same words, to pledge himself to the task. But he couldn’t deliver either. Now, two thousand years on, we are pledging ourselves to the same longing, the same heartbreak, the same hole in the heart. And being invited to rejoice heartily, rejoice always. What fools we are! But that may be our great gift too. To know with John who we are not. Not God. Not the one. But something. Glasses half empty, broken reeds, people who long, who weep in the wasteland. And maybe there is joy there. Half-empty there is space to be filled. The absence in our hearts has room for a presence. The lack in our lives keeps us awake to desire. And the silence of the wasteland might be the only place to hear the voice we long to hear.
Sometimes we don’t even know what we long for until we hear the voice. Another voice has been after my attention this morning. Quiet but insistent. It spoke four hundred and sixty eight years ago today on a hill in Mexico and made a pledge and sealed it with roses in wintertime. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to an impoverished people, broken by sickness, held captive by their conquerors.
She didn’t speak to the conquerors but to the conquered. To one who knew what he was not. She spoke in his own language and she made him, like John, a messenger. That message speaks to us too as we pledge ourselves to Jubilee: build a church. Not just four walls and a roof to keep God in, but a church without walls to keep anyone in or out. Make a place for God in this world. Go where God already is make it known. The voice of Isaiah echoed in Jesus ears and drove him to pledge Jubilee even though he couldn’t deliver it. Fool that he was, he took his stand with the poor, the broken-hearted, and the captive. Two thousand years on are we foolish enough to take our stand with Jesus even if we can’t deliver either?
It may be winter but even in winter time there are roses. Build the church.