But it's not often that way. Many times, hope and expectation comes long before you have a glimmer of light and truth. John the Baptist did not yet see the light before he offered the waters of baptism, the hope of new life, to those who came. He acted and then saw the Light appear before him.
The readings for this coming Sunday are from the his story.
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’" John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
It's truly the fire and brimstone words you'd expect from a preacher out on the streets of any city. It's full of hope and at the same time warnings for those who don't repent. And this was before Jesus came up to him to be baptized. He had expectations and hope for something when in the midst of what he saw, he should not have had hope.
To me, that's what makes the light and truth so powerful as the second candle. You don't yet see the light but you've lit the candle of hope.
We must be able to hope first. We must act to be hopeful first. We must expect the coming of Christ first.
After that, the light appears.
Last night, I saw Bernie Sander speak to a packed auditorium in Glendale California. An event sponsored by Vromans Bookstore of Pasadena, the talk was supposed to be at my church All Saints Pasadena but had to be relocated to a larger venue because of the high demand. Many in the crowd were Bernie supporters, many were curious about his message now after the election. And he spoke with us, with a short period of questions and answers hosted by comedian Sarah Silverman.
And what did this Jewish Presidential candidate say when he spoke?
I heard a message of Advent. I heard a message that said we must hope, we must act, and we must plan on seeing the light and truth shine eventually. I heard that together we can rid ourselves of the vipers that got us here. And I heard that to act, we must repent, acknowledge the concessions of our souls that yielded too much power, too much of our free will to personless entities lacking humanity, that finds it easier to scapegoat than to heal.
As we approach this weekend, when we light the Advent candle of light, may we all lay the groundwork for the light that comes after today.