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Paroisse Saint-Esprit, Cap-Haïtien, Haïti
14 December 2014
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
On the third Sunday of Advent some churches use pink vestments and a pink candle in the Advent wreath, instead of darker purple ones. In some places they say it’s because Mary wanted a girl. But its roots lie in the desire for a break in the penitential season. This is a time of rejoicing in the midst of waiting. The prophet Isaiah says he is bringing joyous news to the humble. Paul says, rejoice always, keep praying, and give thanks in all things. This is a time for joy, for we know that God is among us, and God’s reign of justice is coming.
Rejoice, lift up your voices; remember the dream, and rejoice. Our voices are essential to rejoicing – as these beautiful choirs continue to show us. Others use the voices of instruments, like drum and violin, to share both joy and lament. I remember that very soon after the earthquake, a music teacher gathered her students in Port-au-Prince, with as many of the instruments they could find that still worked. And they played in the streets, encouraging people around them to give voice to lament and hope.
We use our voices collectively to call for change, the same kind of change Isaiah is urging, transformation toward a world where no one goes hungry, and people don’t live with fear because the abundance God gives us is being shared. When people show that kind of love for one another, it’s called justice.
All the stories about our relationship with God have something to do with voices. Creation begins with God saying, “let there be light,” “let the darkness be separated from the light.” And at the end of each day of creation, God speaks of its goodness and blessing. The second creation story tells of words misused to damage the relationship between God and creation.
The prophets, like Isaiah, speak out loud what God intends for all of creation. Sometimes the prophets challenge and confront the sin and injustice in their communities, and sometimes they speak words of comfort and assurance, that God is with you, even when the things look darkest. But more often, they do both, speaking lament for what is and hope for what will be.
John the Baptist comes to offer testimony, as John’s gospel puts it. He’s asked to identify himself, and he responds that he’s not the anointed one, and he’s not the prophet they already know. He says he is the voice – the voice they’ve heard before, “make a straight road in the desert for God.” His work is to prepare the way – by inviting others to use their voices and respond with action. When the people in his neighborhood come to be baptized in the Jordan, they are entering a river of transition. They start down a new road toward the world of justice God has promised. That is still what we do today in baptism. We take a new road toward the kingdom of God, by word and deed.
Mary used her voice as well, saying yes to this strange and wonderful invitation. ‘Yes, I will do what God has asked, and I recognize that the world will change as a result.’ Joseph does the same when he accepts his unlikely vocation as foster-father.
God’s voice is heard again at Jesus’ baptism, “this is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus goes to the desert wilderness, to struggle with one who speaks words that are untrue and untrustworthy. Jesus finds his own voice in confronting those temptations. And then he goes home to the synagogue, where he read this word of hope from the prophet Isaiah. “God has sent me to speak good news to the poor, to heal the blind, to set the captives free, and to speak a word of God’s hope for the world.”
God speaks the same to each one of us in baptism, “you are my beloved, in you I am well pleased.” And God sends us to use our voices and our lives to be good news in the world around us. What sort of good news are you speaking and doing?
We’ve been in the Dominican Republic the last few days to learn more about the need for good news in the face of what the courts there have said about people of Haitian descent who live there. The legal decisions seem to say that even if you were born there, if your parents or grandparents came from Haiti to work there, you have no right to have your birth recorded or your citizenship guaranteed. Many people have been caught between the two nations, effectively unclaimed by either one. Those without a recognized status cannot work, go to school, travel out of the country, or gain recognition for their own children.
The roots of this injustice are many – racism, colonial history, a lust for power, even official incompetence and neglect. They are the same sinful realities that have confronted human beings from the beginning – we don’t always choose to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The good news is that all of us are claimed by the nation called the Reign of God.
Together, we can decide to use our voices and actions to change the world’s bad news. God’s prophets will lead us through the river of transformation, across the borders that divide God’s children. It may be a hard and perilous journey, but it is the only way to true life, abundant life, and the life of justice for which we were created. The journey begins in remembering that we are all children of the same God, and that ultimately, our salvation depends on how we love our neighbors – and all the children of God are our neighbors.
When you see lost and forgotten neighbors, raise your voice in lament and challenge. When you see the hungry fed, captives liberated, and those who don’t belong anywhere finding a home, it’s time to life your voice and rejoice.
The world asks the same question of us that it asked John, “who are you?” Will you be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “make straight the way of the Lord?” We are baptized into the same work – be a voice that all God’s people may find their way home.