December 9, 2019 – Second Sunday of Advent
Perhaps you have been the victim of a “bubble popper.” A bubble popper operates out of concern for us, or perhaps even from a place of love. A bubble popper holds us accountable. He or she generally makes us uncomfortable.
They burst our bubble; they shake us up in an effort to get us back on track and bring us back to reality. While their words may bring us down, their intent is not to steal our joy, but rather to offer us a road map to authentic joy.
I am my wife’s official bubble popper each year near the end of our vacation. Carol is in her happy place while in Siesta Key – painting on the beach, taking long naps, walking across the street for ice cream, spending time with her awesome husband.
Then, when the end of the vacation is imminent, I talk about going home. I talk about getting back to work and returning to our lives and the responsibilities that await us. The intent is not to steal her joy, but to gently bring her back to reality. We can’t stay in that bubble forever, so I pop it.
More on bubble poppers later.
There was a song recorded back in 1971, sung by The New Seekers, called I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.
The lyrics of the song went like this:
I’d like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow-white turtle doves
I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills
For peace throughout the land.
Some of you may be old enough, like me, to remember that song. It was later used in a Coca-Cola ad, so maybe you’ve heard that version.
Perhaps The New Seekers drew their inspiration from today’s scripture passages. If we piece together parts from each of today’s first two readings, we have the makings of a very similar song.
From Isaiah: Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest.
From Romans: Think in harmony, that you may glorify God with one voice.
I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.
Harmony – that is the theme of today’s readings.
I don’t believe we have ever been less harmonious than we are today – as a country, as a world, or as a Church.
We are presented with two questions to explore: First, it is the Second Sunday in Advent – what Advent message do we find in these readings? Second, how does John the Baptist fit in with the theme? He certainly did not seem to be promoting harmony when he called the Pharisees and Sadducees “a brood of vipers.”
As to the Advent question…in the midst of the “perfect world” language from Isaiah is the introduction of a little child: the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
The Advent season ends on Christmas morning with the birth of a little child to guide us. The world Isaiah describes – where love abounds and there are no enemies – is the same world Jesus later referred to as “the one Body of Christ.”
Division and conflict take advantage of every opportunity to take root and grow. In this ideal world, where love is the focus, there would be no divisions.
Division and conflict occur when our focus is diverted away from God. In this ideal world, we would be of one mind and live according to the two greatest commandments – to love God with all our hearts, and to love others as ourselves.
Division and conflict could not exist in such a world. There would indeed be harmony.
Where do we start?
The lack of harmony in the world is a result of our harsh judgment of others and our misguided belief that we are somehow better than or more valuable than others. It is the type of judgment that sees the brokenness in others, but not in ourselves.
In a later chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus will say, Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
We cannot simply hope this ideal world of peace and harmony will materialize on its own. We can choose to create such a world, but we need to be deliberate. We need a plan of action.
Enter John the Baptist, professional bubble popper.
John the Baptist did what accomplished bubble poppers do. He operated out of concern and held people accountable. He made people uncomfortable.
People were waiting for a Messiah to wave a magic wand and make everything peaceful and harmonious. John the Baptist burst their bubble. He shook them up in an effort to get them back on track and bring them back to reality. His intent wasn’t to steal their joy, but rather to offer them a road map to authentic joy. His job was to prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
He repeated his message loudly and forcefully to whoever would listen: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
When we repent, we self-reflect and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We offer evidence of our repentance when we willingly remove the beam from our eye in order to see and acknowledge our own brokenness.
Removing the beam not only corrects the image we have of ourselves, but also allows us to see others as God sees them – created in His own image, possessing infinite value, and worthy of dignity and respect. With beams removed, the calf will still see a young lion and the young lion will still see a calf, but they will be capable of browsing together.
A bubble popper may wake us up, but ultimately it will be a child that guides us. That’s when we will glorify God with one voice. That’s when the world will sing in perfect harmony.