A Level Playing Field

Sermon for 2nd Sunday of Advent
December 9, 2012
Luke 3:1-6 (Click for link)

Priests and bishops just don’t have the same power we used to have. In the last few centuries, our authority in the world has slowly been ebbing away. We no longer have great influence over the masses. Priests and bishops no longer have the power to dictate social agendas.

But we used to…

And today we are left with the fossils of those days – when people like me wielded great influence. The vestiges of power remain, in the stupidly pompous titles that priests and bishops give themselves.

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A BBC Comedy Show

For instance, I am your rector. Well, in Latin, this actually means I am your “ruler.” Or just our honorifics are silly enough: the official written title for a priest is “The Reverend.” For a Dean of a Cathedral it’s “The Very Reverend.” If you’re a canon you get to be “The Reverend Canon.” For a bishop it is “The Right Reverend.” And for presiding bishops it’s “The Most Reverend.” And don’t even get started with seminary professors who get to double dip: “The Reverend Doctor.” Or just the fact that you all call me “Father” has blown my mind. But nothing was so shocking to me as when I showed up and met Zane Hoffmeyer for the first time. Zane, a high schooler, insists on calling me “Sir.” Honestly, I thought it was a joke. I appreciate his respect, but wow, this is something new for me. Perhaps the authority in the priesthood isn’t completely gone…

But it’s not just the priesthood. The whole world is built on a system of levels and ranks and titles and officials. It’s all about who is above you on the social ladder, and who is below you. Who has charge over you, and who you can boss around. It has been this way since the beginning: there are a few people at the top of the pyramid, and a lot of people at the bottom.

But it won’t always be this way.

John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness. And what he cries out is a hope. A hope for a level playing field. Now John the Baptist is a little crazy. He eats crickets and dresses like Davy Crockett. But one would have to be crazy to say the kind of stuff that he says. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight! Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth!”

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Don’t think that John the Baptist is some kind of geography aficionado. If we were to take John the Baptist’s vision seriously, then it seems that he would want the whole world to look like Lubbock. Flat, treeless, boring. Just one big level plain. When John the Baptist says that the Lord is coming, and that we are to fill in the valleys and take down the mountains, he is talking about our society. He’s talking about the stupid titles we create for ourselves, he’s talking about the social ladder and our cultural ranking system. John the Baptist is saying that if we want to prepare the way for the Lord, we must create a level field.

We all know, deep in our hearts, that we live in a brutish and mean world. A fire breaks out in a sweatshop in Bangladesh, a sweatshop where many of our clothes are made. Hundreds die, and many more suffer. They make pennies for their work, but we pay big bucks for our designer clothes. The playing field is not level. The mountains are high, and the valleys are low.

And still John the Baptist promises that all will be made level. John says that before the Lord comes, you and I will be able to buy our clothes without sinning against God. You and I can buy our designer polo shirts without abetting the destruction of our fellow-man.

Or take, for instance, my favorite barista at Starbucks – the one who gives me free coffee because I’m a priest. She works two jobs in order to make ends meet for her and her thirteen year old daughter. She works at Starbucks every morning, so she can dash off to her second job in the evening. She works every Sunday morning. And while we are enjoying time with our family and friends on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas, she is there at Starbucks trying to bring enough in just to pay the bills. The mountains are high, and the valleys are low.

Prepare the way of the Lord! Because Christ is coming, and John promises that all will be made level. The mountains will be stripped down, the valleys will be raised. The mighty will be cast down from their thrones, and the rich will be sent away empty. The poor will be fed and the hungry will be filled with good things.

But this doesn’t mean that we have to wait for the Lord to come back. We can start on this work now. First of all, you can care a little bit less about the social ladder. I am not saying that you should disrespect your elders. But I am saying that we should respect those younger than us. I am not saying that you should mouth off to your boss, but we should truly care for the people below us. I hope that Zane keeps calling me “Sir,” but I intend to show him the same respect. In that way, the mountains are brought down, the valleys are raised up.

And you and I can work together for justice and equity. Sure, we will never destroy the social pyramid, but we can do real things to bring up the lowly. When you are checking out at Kroger, ask the cashier how they are doing. Give a bigger tip to your young waitress. And think big – how can this church begin to tear down the mountains and raise up the valleys.

Because there is a day coming when all will be turned on its head. There is a day coming, in just a few weeks, when the whole world will worship a baby. A baby born to a poor, unwed, teenage mother. Angels and shepherds and wise men; CEO’s and baristas and sweatshop laborers will all bend the knee and honor the new-born King.

nativity-iconThat is what John the Baptist is talking about. John the Baptist is talking about a world in which everybody sees the salvation of God. And the whole world drops to its knees, so that we are all on a level field. The only one who stands above the whole world is not the most powerful, the richest, the wisest. The one who stands above the world is a baby – the child of Mary, the Son of God. All the pompous titles, all the social stratification, all the ranks and authorities and powers will be cut down to one size. We will bend the knee for our King.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Strip down the mountains. Raise up the valleys. Bend the knee to our King.

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