2nd Sunday of Advent
Mild-mannered and gentle scientist, Bruce Banner, was conducting experiments using gamma radiation when an unfortunate exposure to the radiation changed his life and transformed him into… THE INCREDIBLE HULK!
Now, whenever Bruce becomes impassioned or angry he becomes an enormous, green-skinned, indestructible force of nature. Bullets bounce off of the Hulk’s green skin, he has the strength to lift a truck over his head and toss it like you or I would toss a baseball, and with a short running start, he can charge straight through layer after layer of solid concrete walls.
But when the dust settles and the Hulk settles too, he returns to his gentle, Bruce Banner self.
As I read the words from Isaiah, I cannot help but think of Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem… -Isaiah 40:1-2a
The kind Bruce Banner God whispers his wish for God’s people. This desire for comfort impassions Bruce and God begins to transform. God looks out over the horizon and sees the myriad of things that separate us from God and God’s love.
In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 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. -Isaiah 40:3-4
God looks at all of those things that stand as barriers between us and God, and God gets angry. God is coming to make those paths straight, to lift up the treacherous valleys, and to destroy every looming mountain between us. When the dust settles and God reaches us, God settles down and transforms back into the gentle Bruce Banner or a nurturing shepherd. God consoles us, feeds us, carries us, gently leads us. God smashes through the walls and mountains, so God can be with us in love.
John the Baptist is the voice crying out in the wilderness telling us to prepare for the arrival of this God. This is God who is on the way to us and nothing is going to stop our God. God is going to smash every obstacle and mountain to pieces.
There are plenty of walls that stand between us and God- things that prevent us from trusting and believing in the love of God.
Systemic racism plagues our country as protests continue to call for an intentional conversation on race and equality. Violence continues its mad cycle as 5 more men have been killed in our city in just over a month. Our grief over the loss of a job, a relationship, or a life puts our life to halt. Addiction to drugs or alcohol, money, or our self consumes us. Loneliness and abandonment extinguishes our hope in the goodness of our neighbors. And that ever-looming mountain of death waits for us all.
God has promised to smash through all of those walls. Not a single thing will stand between us and our Incredible God. None of them stand a chance.
In the life of Christ, we have seen how we and the world tried to erect walls between us and God- how we tried to push God out of our lives. God didn’t let it go at that. God kept coming for us and smashed through every obstacle we put up.
Christ ate with and served with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. When we got wind of how this good teacher associated with such low-lifes (certainly lower than we were anyway) we tried to discredit Jesus and slander him, calling him a glutton and a drunkard. That could not stop Christ’s love.
Judas’ fear and greed convinced him to betray his friend, yet that could not stop Christ’s love.
The cowardice of Peter and the other disciples convinced them to deny and desert their friend and teacher, yet that could not stop Christ’s love.
The anger and bloodlust of the crowds convinced us to demand his crucifixion, yet that could not stop Christ’s love.
The indifference of Pilate convinced him to allow an innocent man to die a horrid death, yet that could not stop Christ’s love.
Death itself could not hold Christ in its grip and three days later he rose from the dead. Nothing can stop Christ’s love.
This is the reality that John the Baptist tells us to get ready for. He tells us to get ready by repenting. By repenting, I do not think he means a be-good-or-else kind of repentance. That isn’t the God John tells us to be ready for. He tells us to get ready for the God who will smash through anything and everything that stands between us and God, not a God who wants to smash us if we let God down. For John, repentance is an invitation to live into the transformation that God is bringing to us. These words of expectation for an Incredible God who cannot be stopped gives us hope and courage to live into a reality where that is possible.
If we are convinced by the grace of God that God truly can smash through any wall, we will be at those walls waiting for God to act. We will wait by the wall of poverty. We will wait by the wall of oppression. We will wait by the wall of fear. We will wait by the wall of death. We will wait and we will serve at those walls because we know that God is coming to smash those walls to bits. That is what repentance looks like. Repentance is waiting and serving by the places God has promised to be because we wouldn’t want to miss that incredible act of joy and goodness for the world. We want to be there when the walls come crumbling down.
God has promised to smash through every wall and every mountain that still separates us from experiencing the love of God. That is what makes our God so Incredible. Amen