In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

Yesterday, in a synod which was marked by dignity and grace, we elected Bishop Geoff Smith, Assistant Bishop and General Manager/Registrar of the Diocese of Brisbane, as the Tenth Archbishop of Adelaide. In this Advent time of waiting, one of the great longings of our church, the longing for a shepherd after God’s heart who will walk in God’s ways and with loving care watch over God’s people, has been answered. And we give heartfelt thanks for that to God.

Advent is marked by waiting. And so we find ourselves here in our Cathedral on the Second Sunday in Advent and we’ve begun to tell our God stories again. We’ve begun telling the story through Matthew’s eyes, this liturgical year. Each year a different gospel lens as each year we bring a different lens. We have lived another year of life, of the life God has given us. In the life of our diocese yesterday a momentous event took place. There is still much, though, to long for, to hope for, in our world. Advent is the time when we come anew to listen for the voices of the prophets. This morning we hear the prophet Isaiah’s voice:

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,

   and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,

   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

   the spirit of counsel and might,

   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1-3)

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, strange words and yet some strange truth rings through them.

The scholar Walter Bruggemann expresses great faith in the power of the prophet’s voice, in this case Isaiah’s voice. He describes the voice of longing, our longing, a longing that he imagines to be present in those who are waiting for God in Advent: “Is there any word from the Lord? (Jer 37:17), [Jeremiah in his 37th chapter imagines human beings cry out.] We reach out, in fear and hope, [says Brueggemann] to be addressed by newness, because we know the human spirit will wither if there is no address.”

We reach out, in fear and hope, to be addressed by newness …

The prophet Isaiah speaks with confidence about this shoot, this person, from the family of Jesse on whom shall rest the spirit of wisdom and understanding. Brueggemann gives to the prophet or poet who addresses us extraordinary creative power: “The poet in vivid imagination can create …”  He writes. “This is indeed a word from the outside … a word that comes in the way of poetry, that offers no explanation, no certainty, …It is a moment of utterance! ….everything has now been changed by the poetic utterance, because the poetry cannot be unsaid …The word has been uttered and the juices of alternative possibility have begun to flow. …”[1]

Everything has now been changed by the poetic utterance, because the poetry cannot be unsaid …

I was stunned when I first read this. When the prophet utters a word of hope, when the voice of the prophet proclaims the presence of God, speaks comfort in the voice of God, that utterance has power. That utterance cannot be washed away, cannot be unsaid. That utterance exists and so “everything has now been changed.” Brueggemann is clear that this utterance gives no certainty, but the hearer surely suspects that nothing that matters gives certainty. The utterance has given hope.

Paul points to this when he writes to the church of Rome, in words we heard read this morning, For whatever was written in former days – the prophet Isaiah’s writing, for example – was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

Advent is the time of waiting, of longing, and it is worth pondering what it is we long for. What is our heart’s desire, what is our hope? Jesus says to those who are blind, “What do you want me to do for you?” He always digs into the desires of the heart of those he encounters. The blind ask for sight, would we ask for sight too? Jesus looks at Jerusalem and cries out aloud for peace. Is peace for our world our greatest hope? What we long for, our deepest hopes, define who we are. As people of Christ we long for Christ to come, but what does that mean, what would Christ’s coming as a babe in a manger, or at the end of time, look like? We may think we have no right to define such things but our heart’s desires are God’s habitation, so we do have the right to imagine the coming of Christ, in fact it is our calling to do so.

Our heart’s desires are God’s habitation …can we believe that?

Our world has seen momentous and terrible events this year. Cities in Syria where bombs rain deliberately on hospitals and schools. Cities where countless human beings are starved or shelled to death. The planet that is our home cries out for its health, cries that are, I believe, some of the prophetic voices of our age. Earthquakes, fires and floods have caused death and devastation and we have witnessed political outcomes in different places on our globe that have led some to respond with disbelief. This pulpit is not the place to speak on behalf of the left or right of politics but it is the place to speak of justice and it is the place to speak about manipulation through fear. It is the place to speak about racism and sexism and it is the place to plead for our planet’s health. The prophet’s voice speaks into all these deep concerns.

But how do we hear the prophet’s voice?

This week, the Second of Advent, we find ourselves in the company of a most unusual character, but one who purports to lead us in the way of the Lord. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, the one who wears clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, the one who eats locusts and wild honey, preaches a baptism of repentance, encourages us to ponder our sins. It is as if we need to reflect a little on ourselves before we can be free to ponder our longing for healing in the world.

One spiritual writer put it this way. He spoke of going into the desert, the place where John the Baptist spent much time.

“The desert is a good teacher. It is a place where we do not die of thirst. It is a place where we rediscover the roots of our existence. Once we grasp this lesson, we realise that the physical desert is not necessary to lead the life of a hermit. It then becomes pointless to go in search of a desert on the globe. You can find your desert in a corner of your house, on a motorway, in a square, in a crowded street. But you must first renounce the slavery of illusions, refuse the blackmail of pressure, resist the glitter of appearances, repudiate the domination of activity, reject the dictatorship of hypocrisy. Then the desert becomes a place where you do not go out to see the sand blowing in the wind but the Spirit waiting to make his dwelling within you.”[2]

What this writer seems to be suggesting is that we find our God place – be it by the sea, in our garden, in this Cathedral, walking in the bush,. We find our God place and we spend a little time, firstly looking inward – repenting our sins as John the Baptist would describe it. Remember the year that is past and ask ourselves of what we are most ashamed? What do we regret? What aspect of our character do we wonder if we will ever grow out of? We might ponder these things in the presence of God, nurtured by the Spirit, whose forgiveness grounds all things. We might rest a little while in that forgiveness. And then we might we ask ourselves what we care about. What has happened this year that has caused us to go outside and look at the sky and cry out “Oh God … how long?” What has us listening, longing for the prophet’s voice? What has us, to quote Walter Brueggemann, reach out, in fear and hope, to be addressed by newness … What do we most long for Christ to come and heal? We cannot care for all our world and all its struggles. But if we listen quietly, we may hear our deep concern, our heart’s desire for our world. Can we find one prayer for the healing of creation in our hearts?

Advent is a time for this pondering. This reflecting on who we are and what we regret, this hearing God’s voice of forgiveness. And then Advent is a time for listening for our heart’s desire for the world, for finding the love for creation that God has placed in our heart. And then Advent is a time for hearing the prophet’s voice – the utterance, the word from outside – in which everything is changed. And to wonder a little at the hope this brings.

[1] Walter Brueggemann The Word Militant – Preaching a Decentering Word  pp6-8.

[2] Alessandro Pronzato Meditations on the Sand quoted from The Desert: An Anthology for Lent