It is good to be here today on this second Sunday of Advent. I am most grateful to my good friend and valued colleague, Dean Nathan Baxter, for the privilege of being here and speaking from this historic and holy pulpit. In the words of Henry VIII to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, I won’t keep you long, but I must keep you for a while. You have invited me here to preach. My job is to preach. Yours is to listen. And if you finish your job, before I finish mine, please wait on me, I’ll be along after while.

If Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Bernard Shaw and Peter Jennings had been living 191 years ago, the second Sunday of Advent 1809, the evening news broadcasts would have concentrated on Austria. The lead story, the headlines would have featured Napoleon Bonaparte, the little Corsican General who had invaded Austria. The attention of the entire world was on Napoleon. But with all of the Napoleon talk in 1809 something else was going on…. babies were being born in France, Britain and America. William Gladstone was born in Liverpool; Alfred L. Tennyson began his life in Lincolnshire, England; Oliver Wendell Holmes cried out in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Edgar Alan Poe, a few miles away in Boston started his brief tragic life; a physician named Darwin and his wife called their infant son Charles Robert; Victor Hugo wore his first diapers in France; the child Sojourner Truth was auctioned off with some sheep to a farmer in New York state; a rugged log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky, owned by an illiterate wandering laborer, was filled with the infant screams of a newborn boy named Abraham Lincoln; and Frederick Douglass was taking his first steps on the eastern shores of Maryland.

All of that and more happened in 1809. But most people were so wrapped up in the headlines of what was happening on the battlefields of Austria that most paid no attention to the entry of these little ones into the world. But listen, today only a handful of history buffs can name even one Austrian campaign, but who can measure the impact of Gladstone, Tennyson, Holmes, Poe, Hugo, Truth, Lincoln and Douglass? What appeared to be super significant to the world has proven to be no more exciting than a midnight yawn. And what seemed to be totally insignificant was in fact the genesis of a new era.

Who would have given a plugged nickel in support of what John the Baptist stood for as over against the people who seemed to be in power? Luke in our text seems to be deliberately stating how impossible was the case for this wilderness creature as he recites the time when John appeared in his public ministry. “The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,” and one immediately is aware of the purple of royalty, the invariably obeyed command of the emperor, armies, palaces, courtiers, “Pontius Pilate being governor,” and there occurs before the imagination the delegated authority of the second line of government. “Herod being tetrarch,” and one senses the oriental splendor of an iniquitous king and his family moving in great luxury. If the air was foul and stifling in political circles, it was scarcely clearer or fresher in the church. “Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests,” conniving politicians they were, dividing the immense power which went with religious authority. At first blush, you would think the writer has said all that can be said about authority and power and the future. But the truth is when he recites the list of these leaders of state and religion, the writer is only clearly the ground for something important to which he wants to get. These rulers with all of their fancied authority and regal splendor are a part of the scenery for something really momentous and important. It appears that they are dominating the headlines of this story, but they only get a passing mention in the footnotes. Here’s the headlines: “The Word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.”

How odd of God to bypass the correct people and to speak to this crank in the wilderness. John did not fit the description of a reliable public figure. He lacked many of the expected features of an acceptable person. First, he was not as affable and social as a normal person should be. He lived in the solitude of the desert. He was a brooding man with strange wheels turning in his head, the fashionable people of Jerusalem said. His dress was odd, to say the least. The word was that he wore camel’s hair, not the fine cloth that we call camel’s, but the actual hair of the camel. His diet, well, the rumor was that he ate the old food of the poor, locusts mixed with honey from bees. He was “way out.” God often marches among us in weird ways and puts the shout of his approach upon strange lips. Tiberius Caesar, emperor of the Roman Empire, Herod, tetrarch of Galilee, Pilate, governor of Judea, Annas and Caiaphas high priests, but the word of God came to “way-out” John, son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.

And herein lies the crux of this text, it is not only to John in his time, but this Word comes to us in our time. In the eighth year of the administration of William Jefferson Clinton. Paris Glendening, governor of Maryland, James Gilmore, governor of Virginia, Anthony Williams, mayor of Washington, D.C., Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Trent Lott, majority leader of the Senate, Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House, William Rehnguist, chief justice of the Supreme Court, Ronald Haines, bishop of the Episcopal Church of Washington, the Word of God comes to you.

The political pundits and television talking heads have it all wrong: the real action is not at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; it is not in the halls of Congress; it is not in the chambers of the Supreme Court; it is not in the mind of Alan Greenspan, not even in this beautiful, magnificent sanctuary, but the real action is in the minds and hearts of people like you and me who would dare be recipients of the Word of God in our time. Yes, we must pray and hope that this presidential election will soon be settled and that the justices on the bench tomorrow morning will be able to clearly discern the right thing to do or not to do. But whoever is sworn in as president on January 20, there will be no mandate. No mandate in the most prosperous and productive period in the history of this country. No mandate with budget surpluses, balanced budgets and unbalanced diets, guided missiles and misguided men. No mandate to repair the crumbling infrastructure of our urban centers; no mandate to educate and secure the future of all of our children; no mandate to care for our seniors; no mandate to lift those who are locked into a permanent underclass in this country. No mandate to tear down the walls of poverty, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia. And there will be no soon mandate from the new president nor from the new congress. That mandate will not come from the top down but from the bottom up, from individuals, from people of faith, from ordinary folks like you and me who would dare in our communities, in our clubs, in our churches, in our conversations to be recipients and transporters of the Word of God.

John said you can call me crazy and “way out” if you want to, but I see something. The kairos has come. The moment of truth has arrived. A divine invasion is impending. A sharp and radical change is about to take place. For the everlasting God is not prisoner of what has already happened, but he is about to bring a new thing to pass. “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Make his path straight. “Every valley shall be exalted.” Let low swamps of prejudice and passion and partisanship, and pettiness be lifted. Let cliffs of pride and haughtiness be leveled. “Every hill and mountain brought low, the rough places made plain, the crooked straight. And then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

You and I might never make it in the headlines, but you just might be more of a headliner than you think, for to us the Word of God has come.

I close with this, an anonymous young person hungry for God wrote this poem:

“Do you know,
do you understand
that you represent
Jesus to me?

Do you know,
do you understand
that when you
treat me with gentleness,
it raises the question in my mind
that maybe he is gentle, too?
Maybe he isn’t someone
who laughs when I am hurt.

Do you know,
do you understand
that when you listen to my questions

And you don’t laugh,
I think,
“What if Jesus is interested in me,

Do you know,
do you understand
that when I hear you talk about
and conflicts and scars from your
that I think, Maybe I am just a
regular person
instead of a bad, no-good, little girl
who deserves abuse?”

If you care,
I think maybe he cares–
and then there’s this flame of hope
that burns inside of me,
and for a while,
I am afraid to breathe
because it might go out.

Do you know,
do you understand
that your words are his words?
your face,
His face
to someone like me?

Please be who you say you are.
Please, God don’t let this be another
Please let this be real.

Do you know,
do you understand
that you represent
Jesus to me?

If you would dare represent Jesus. If you would dare share his love and life and light with others, sing with me…… “A…men, A…men, A…men, A…men, A…men.”