December 7, 2003
"The Word of God
Came to John in the Desert"
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
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
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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