"Wouldn't it be nice?"
3 Advent, Year C
December 13, 2015
In the name of Him who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.
You never know where your meditations on the readings for the day will take you. As I prepared for this sermon I was struck by how some of our readings take us to the present—talking about how we’re to prepare for the Messiah. And some of the readings take us way into the future—what it will be like when the Messiah’s Kingdom is fully realized among us.
For the Kingdom of God is already among us . . . even while it’s not yet fully realized.
So as I was living with these readings this past week I kept thinking about that old Beach Boys’ song, written by musical genius Brian Wilson. It’s called “Wouldn’t it be nice?” Do you remember it? It’s fully in the present, but it’s also wistful and longing for a future that can almost be realized, but not quite yet. Here are some of the lyrics:
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long
And wouldn’t it be nice to live together
in the kind of world where we belong.
You know it’s gonna make it that much better
when we can say goodnight and stay together . . .
Oh wouldn’t it be nice?”
I loved that song. It came at a time when I was in my mid teens and it really gave voice to the adult life I was beginning to get a glimpse of…but that was still so far away.
That song does a great job of presenting what it’s like to be anchored in the NOW . . . but yearning for the THEN—the future THEN.
* * *
Our gospel does a fine job of describing for us the ministry of John the Baptist—who was anchored in the NOW. He didn’t just baptize. First he preached. And the baptism was a symbol that the people had received and signed onto what he was preaching.
He set the stage for the Messiah by urging the people to straighten up and live the way that God had wanted them to live all along. Twice in this gospel he threatens them with fire unless they reform themselves. We don’t know just what the fire means—but our imaginations can do that for us.
So the people react to John’s message with the very poignant question: “What, then, should we do?” They really want to avoid that fire.
John’s answer is short and to the point. His prescription is simple—but not always that easy to follow.
~ he tells the crowd to share what they have with those less fortunate
~ he tells the tax collectors to be honest in their work and their lives
~ he tells the soldiers to treat people fairly and to be satisfied with their wages.
These things aren’t that earthshaking—but they are really difficult. Share. Be honest. Treat people fairly. Be satisfied with what you have. I suspect that for each of us here, there is one of those things that we fall short on. Which is it for you? Share? Be honest? Treat people fairly? Be satisfied?
Really…it’s not rocket science. But it’s difficult.
And our gospel goes on to tell us that the people were “filled with expectation,” waiting for great things from this John, whom they thought might be the Messiah.
John the Evangelist’s gospel spells it out very clearly that John the Baptist knew he was to fade into the background, and that his kinsman, Jesus, was to emerge as Messiah. In that gospel John says, “I must decrease; he must increase.”
So John the Baptist firmly anchors the people who came to see him in the wilderness in the NOW / by telling them what they must do in order to prepare for the THEN.
The THEN is the time when the Kingdom of God will be among us in all its fullness. And what is the Kingdom of God? Listen to this reflection from Franciscan friar Richard Rohr:
“Basically, you can translate “the kingdom” as “the Big Picture.” The kingdom of God, or reign of God, is how things objectively, truly and finally are. Jesus is always inviting us to live in the final and full picture, and not to get lost in momentary dramas, hurts or agendas. [We were taught] to ask ourselves everyday, “In the light of eternity will this really matter?”
[Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas, Wednesday of the First Week of Advent]
Now, today the first reading—the one from the prophet Zephaniah—gives us a glimpse of what it will be like to be in God’s fully realized Kingdom. He says we’ll be in this utopia of sorts where we’ll feel ourselves fully restored in God’s favor; where the presence of God will be palpable among us / and each of us will be forgiven and fully loved; where God will do the rejoicing over us—God who will be so fully in love with each of us.
Our God will gather up all of us who have flaws of any kind—that’s each one of us, by the way. We’ll be like so many lost sheep, searched out and lifted up by the great and humble shepherd. We’ll be brought back to the glory that God intended for us from the very beginning. All will be well. And all will be well. And all manner of things will be well.
So here we have these profound feelings that expand our vocabulary as we anticipate the birth of the Savior among us. Those feelings are expectation, and yearning, and rejoicing.
And who wouldn’t expect, and yearn, and rejoice to be in the presence of our God who fully loves us, and yearns to be in communion with each of us, too?
Even as the world’s current and overwhelming problems assail us: warfare, terrorism, violence, hunger, refugees seeking asylum, and so many other worries—even as these knock at our doors—
May we share. Be honest. Treat people fairly. Be satisfied with what we have. May we live in the present, anticipate the future, and do all we can to bring God’s love to a bleeding world.
Just think of our future.
Oh, wouldn’t it be nice?