Situated prominently on the north side of the mall in Washington is a new museum
Relatively new, at any rate.
I have not seen it. When I go to Washington,
the relatives I visit would never go see it.
Too political they remarked, when I suggested a visit.
I found it ironic, visiting a city created for politics,
that we were unable to visit a museum because it was political;
but maybe it was because this museum
is dedicated to the experience of a group of people
who until recently would never have been so honored: African Americans.
I have read about the museum, however,
and have heard that its curators
share the experience of African Americans with visitors
through telling the stories of individuals whose lives
Expressed the experience of the generation is which they lived.
One of these individuals was Rosa Parks.
Who was Rosa Parks? If you are one of the few who might not know,
I guarantee you your children can tell you.
When I used to teach taught religious education on the Lower East Side, it was always the same;
The kids might not know who John the Baptist was;
They might not know who the pope was
But they knew who Rosa Parks was.
Just ask them, they will say,
“She’s the one who would not sit in the back of the bus!”
For in many places in the south, up until the 1960s
if a white person got on the bus,
an African American had to give up their seat and go sit in the back.
That is what Rosa refused to do,
and that refusal became a symbol for the civil rights movement.
Given the respect shown her at her death,
When she lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda,
Given the way she was honored by our nation
Given the way she is remembered.
It is all too easy to dismiss her and her historic refusal as political.
It is all too easy to forget that the reason for her refusal
was not just some silly set of laws that needed to be changed;
But the suffering she and so many others endured.
A suffering rooted in hatred and prejudice
A suffering expressed in slavery and persecution and even death
A suffering that must have seemed endless;
that is until a woman named Rosa Parks
decided it had come to an end for her.
It is essential to remember that suffering; that is part of what this museum tries to do.
because without it her victory would have no meaning.
It is essential to remember her suffering as well
when we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading.
Really the words are God’s;
God giving the people of Judah the good news;
That after over a generation of forced exile,
God had sent Isaiah as a “voice crying in the wilderness”
proclaiming that God is freeing them from Babylon
driving a highway through the desert back to Israel
and gathering them again in their promised land,
When their time of suffering will be over.
When we hear those words of Isaiah as we do every Christmas time,
we forget that their captivity in Babylon
came as a result of a war which
killed their family and friends,
cut them off from their history and culture
and even it seemed, their God.
And resulted in a suffering which must have seemed endless
Until in fact God decided that it had come to an end for them.
And yet it is essential to remember that suffering,
as it to remember Rosa’s,
for without it, their joy would be meaningless.
Those who would read these words later
knew that the suffering of the people of Israel
had not in fact come to a final end;
There would still be the years of rebuilding in the land of Judah
and their ongoing struggles with their neighbors.
And yet Isaiah’s words were still remembered;
especially by someone named Matthew,
who when he sat down to write the story of Jesus of Nazareth,
knew he could not begin with Jesus,
but with a man named John the Baptist.
John was probably one of many people out in the countryside of Judea,
Preparing people for a coming conflict with their Roman conquerors.
For the people of Israel in John’s day were suffering too
their suffering was rooted in Roman oppression and prejudice
enforced by Roman armies and taxes
It was fought against time and time again by the people of Israel,
only to be reinforced by a new wave of oppression after the resistance was crushed.
at times it must have seemed endless.
Yet Matthew knew he had to begin the story of Jesus with John,
because John was different.
he knew that John was now the voice of one
“crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord”
not because John had decided to end their endless suffering by more war,
But because God had decided to end it in Jesus.
not through war;
But by Jesus’ accepting the suffering of this world upon himself;
Jesus allows that suffering to crush him,
as it has crushed so many . . .
so that by rising again after it had done its worst,
Jesus would prove that he was stronger.
In the glow of Christmas lights and advent wreaths,
It is easy for us to forget the what lay behind Isaiah’s words and Matthew’s Gospel.
It is easy to forget what lay in store for the baby whose birthday we will soon celebrate.
It is so easy to forget because we want to;
in fact, that is one of the few reasons many of still celebrate this birth, and remember these stories;
To have an opportunity to forget for a moment, the prejudice, the hatred, the oppression the war, the suffering so many still face even today.
But our Church does not let us forget it,
but places it squarely before us on this Second Sunday of Advent.
Why? Because the Church wishes to spoil our Christmas joy?
NO! Because just like Rosa Park,
Just like Isaiah, and John and Jesus
The Church knows that without the suffering
the joy would have no meaning;
For it was only by experiencing the suffering of prejudice
that Rosa could say that it was finished!
It was only by experiencing the suffering of his people
that both Isaiah and John the Baptist could say that it was finished!
And it was only hanging on the cross
that Jesus could say “it is finished”,
Show the world that he was stronger than this world’s suffering
and promise that when we follow him, so are we
The Church remind us of this, though, not just for our sake, but for others as well.
Because anyone who takes five seconds to look around knows that
the suffering of this world did not end with Jesus,
and in fact, in many cases is caused by his own followers,
that in a country where all are supposed to have equal rights,
some are more equal than others.
some are hated merely because of where they come from
are oppressed because they speak a different language,
and are fought against because they worship a different God.
The church reminds us of the suffering which is the reason for our joy,
so that we will share that joy with others;
So that in our day there will not be just one voice,
crying in the wilderness,
But many voices; OUR voices,
sharing with everyone our faith,
that all suffering has an end,
and that end has a name: Jesus.
Because he is stronger than suffering, stronger that death;
and when we believe in him so are we.
That my friends, is quite a Christmas present.