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December 7, 2003

"The Word of God Came to John in the Desert"

(Luke 3:1-6)

We celebrate the second Sunday in Advent, and we continue our Advent journey of light and grace and hope and peace, preparing a way for the coming of the Lord. It’s a big day for me because it‘s the tenth anniversary of my Plowshares action, so I thought I would tell you what happened to me ten years ago.

On December 7th, 1993, with Philip Berrigan, Lynn Fredriksson and Bruce Friedrich, I walked onto the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, one of the largest air force bases in the U.S., at 4 a.m. in the morning, passed a sign that says “Trespassers will be shot on sight,” right through the middle of full-scale wargames, with thousands of soldiers milling around, right up to one of their 75 F-15e nuclear capable fighter bombers, which had been used to bomb Iraq in the first Gulf War and which we were alert to bomb Bosnia, and we were remembering the great prophecy of Isaiah which we heard earlier this week, that someday people are going to come along and beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more, and walk in the light of God.

So we walked up to one of the fighter bombers, and I took out a hammer, and I swung and hit it twice, trying to “beat swords into plowshares,” to begin the process of nuclear disarmament, to take the Word of God seriously. We didn’t even chip the paint, but for that action, I faced 20 years in prison, and was eventually convicted of two felony counts, destruction of government property and conspiracy to commit a crime, and I spent eight months in a tiny jail cell with my friend and hero, Philip Berrigan who died one year ago yesterday.

After I hammered on the plane, we were immediately surrounded by several soldiers with machine guns aimed at us and we had practiced and prepared for this action, so I said on behalf of the group, “We are unarmed, peaceful people. We mean you no harm. We’re just here to dismantle this weapon of death.” A perfectly reasonable request! And we all hoped naively that they would come to their senses, and say, “What were we thinking? Of course, go right ahead. Thank you for coming.” Most people think that I’m over the top, but like you, I was just trying to “prepare a way for the coming of the Lord.”

That’s what we hear about in the Gospel of Luke today, how John the Baptist came to “prepare the way” for the coming of Christ, and how he calls us to prepare the way for the coming of Christ in our hearts and in our world. There’s a few things to notice here. Notice that we’re given all this specific historical data, which is unusual--in the fifteenth year of the emperor Tiberius Caesar, when Pilate and Herod and Annas and Caiaphas were ruling. Luke is telling us that God comes to us in our concrete, historical situations, on specific days in particular places, and I think that is consoling, because it means God is coming to us in our specific time and place in history.

Notice that “the Word of God came to John in the desert.” The Word of God does not come to the Emperor or Pilate or Herod or the unjust religious authorities. It comes to the holy prophet way out on the margins in the desert. That’s where God is active, that’s where God goes. God does not go to the powerful, but to the powerless; not to the rich and famous, but to the poor and unknown; not to the great and mighty, but to the small and helpless; not to the centers of power like Washington, D.C., but to the margins, like our desert here in Cimarron and Springer. God steps in on the margins and there changes history. And that is consoling for us.

What comes to John? The word of God! God sends a message, God’s word. So John starts going around the desert and telling everyone God’s word, that God is coming, and he proclaims “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” telling everyone to repent, that we’re all forgiven but that we have to change our lives and get ready for Christ, and Luke quotes Isaiah to sum up what John said: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” So I hear the Gospel telling us three things today:

First, the Word of God is coming to us, and it is wonderful and exciting and disturbing and consoling. The Word of God is not going to the rich and powerful, but to the needy, to us here in the desert. What is God saying to us? I invite you to listen to God’s word this Advent, to find out what God is saying to you, and to talk about it with one another. God always wants to say, “You are my beloved. I am with you. I love you. Please let me be with you. Please welcome Jesus and love one another.” So we can reflect: do we want to receive the Word of God? Are we ready for the Word of God? Are we listening for the Word of God?

Second, the Gospel says we have to repent, and repentance means changing our lives. Who wants to do that? None of us want to change our lives, much less try to change our community or the world, but that is exactly what the Word of God tells us to do for Advent: to repent, to change, to stop putting one another down and gossiping and hurting one another, and to start helping one another and outdoing one another in love and kindness and service, to improve our families and our community and even be part of the global movement to change the world, disarm the world and make the world better, to join global effort to prepare the way by abolishing war and nuclear weapons and hunger forever.

Finally, the Gospel says that we have to prepare the way for Christ. If you had an important guest coming for Christmas, what would you do? You might clean the house, decorate, get new clothes, fix your hair, shop, buy a gift, and cook a feast. You would work hard. Well, you have an important guest coming. Jesus is coming and he’s coming to stay. So we have work hard now to do to get ready for him!

This week, I invite you to accept the word of God, to take it to heart, to repent of sin and selfishness and to accept God’s forgiveness and to figure out how, like John the Baptist, you are going to prepare the way for the Lord, so that everyone in our families, everyone in town, everyone in the world, as Isaiah says, will “see the salvation from our God.”

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