Today’s Gospel marks a change from last week’s when we heard John, the Jewish evangelist, piecing the Palestinian wilderness with his raucous voice, calling people to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
Now, the voice we hear is that of the temple staff of priests and teachers of Hebrew law, who have come down from Jerusalem, and after listening to him preach, bombard him with their questions, Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’
John turns to the prophet Isaiah for his answer, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said., which is but an introduction to the rest of the prophet’s word:
“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall
become level, and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of
the Lord has spoken.”
In today’s Gospel John is silent, a silence that lets “the word of the Lord” sweep down the highway of time like the desert winds, and clear the way for the answer to “Who?” – the "Who" being the One to Whom John points and for Whom John waits.
Last week as I was reflecting on today’s Gospel and the extended quote from the prophet Isaiah, I thought of a recent TV program that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the music of Peter, Paul, and Mary, and the refrain of one song kept running through my mind. Maybe even before I mention it, you, too, when hearing the Gospel question of the temple authorities and the quote from the prophet Isaiah, may be thinking or singing to yourself:
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind. (Bob Dylan, 1962)
The refrain that follows Bob Dylan’s three-stanza list of questions, which Mick Gold described not so much as a protest song, but as a series of rhetorical questions about peace, war, and freedom, and, when quoting the refrain, said it “has been described as ‘impenetrably ambiguous: either the answer is so obvious it is right in your face, or the answer is as intangible as the wind.’” (Mick Gold, "Life & Life Only: Dylan at 60" in Judas! magazine, April 2002, p. 43)
When hearing today’s Gospel’s question asked of John the Baptizer, “Who are you?” we know to choose to say “the answer is so obvious it is right in your face,” and ears, mind, and heart, carried on the winds of Advent that are the life-breath of God taking on human flesh to reside among us as “Emmanuel, God with us.” - another quote from Isaiah, the “answer…blowin’ in the wind.”
In 1962 Bob Dylan’s song was printed in a folk music publication along with his comments: “There ain’t too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind. It ain’t in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group… Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down ...But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know . . . and then it flies away. (Published in June, 1962 in Sing Out, quarterly folk music publication and quoted by Gray, 2006, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, p. 64)
But not for us who catch the answer as we see it settling down in a manger, in Bethlehem, and kneel to receive the Gift, “Emmanuel, God with us.”
When hearing today’s Gospel, we also know to choose to say “the answer is so obvious it is right in your face,” and ears, mind, and heart, as the winds of Advent are the life-breath of God breathed into Jesus: a child…born for us, a son given to us;…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (9:6) - another quote from Isaiah, the “answer…blowin’ in the wind,” and caught and contained in Jesus Who turned all those titles into His ministry to:
bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the broken-hearted, comfort all who mourn; -another quote from Isaiah, the “answer…blowin’ in the wind.”
Jesus, Who “like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down” as the written word of the prophet’s promise
becomes the living Word in Christ at work in and through us.
Over the past weeks our Church School classes have been making cards pasted with cut-out pictures, some hand-drawn artwork, and words of “Merry Christmas” and “we will be praying for you.” It is our response to the UCC missionary Jeff Mensendiek’s invitation to send Christmas greetings to three churches in Sendai, Japan.
Some of their members visited and worshiped with us in their summer stays at Ursinus. Several spent semesters on campus and worshiped with us each Sunday; two sang in our Chancel choir. Now, together, in Collegeville and in Sendai, we will raise prayers to God, naming one another and rejoicing in the ongoing gifts of Christ’s promised ministry which holds special meaning for our Sendai friends who are still suffering from the tsunami and earthquakes of the Spring of 2011.
For them Christ is the “answer…blowin’ in the wind” and settling in their hearts to comfort all who mourn;
to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise
instead of a faint spirit.
Jesus, “like a restless piece of paper” that’s got to be picked up. “But” to quote Bob Dylan, “the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know . . . and then it flies away;” only to come back, again and again,
for the word of our God will stand forever.” (40:8) - another quote from Isaiah, the “answer…blowin’ in the wind.”
The winds blowing through our Advent worship to bring each soul to the One to Whom John the Baptizer pointed, the One for Whom he had to wait, but we don’t.
The winds of Advent are at work to carry us year after year to the One born to bring all of Isaiah’s words to life in Him and then in us! 3.
Molly Baskette, a UCC pastor, tells of a man “who had spent 30 years
homeless or incarcerated. But now he had gotten sober, found permanent housing, was making amends to his children and spending a lot of time with his grandchildren. And he came back to church.
“What made the difference?” Molly Baskette asked him.
He couldn’t say why it was now. All he knew was that it was time to listen. (Quoted from stillspeaking Daily Devotional, Dec. 12, 2014)
And so we tell the story again and again, never knowing when it is time to let those winds breathe the story of Christ’s birth into life.
Because we do not know when, we tell the story again and again,
year after year,
knowing the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, - another quote from Isaiah,
the “answer…blowin’ in the wind.”
The winds of Advent! AMEN!