1. In Washington DC there is a hall in the Capitol Building filled with statues.
a. They are placed there to honor important people from all fifty states.
i. Many are politicians,
ii. Some are scientists,
iii. most are men.
b. But there is one woman: Rosa Parks.
2. Over 60 years ago this month I believe, Rosa refused
a. to give up her seat in the colored section of the bus for a white person,
i. sparking the civil rights movement.
3. Ask any school student about famous figures from 60 years ago-
a. Khrushchev? Wouldn’t know him.
b. Willi Brandt? You’d get a blank stare.
c. But every one of them would know the name Rosa Parks,
d. the “First Lady” of the Civil Rights movement.
4. It is ironic that it was Alabama,
a. the very state which once tried to segregate her,
b. which donated that statue and in that celebrated her victory over injustice.
5. Ironic, but not surprising.
a. Because we like happy endings.
b. we are desperate for them.
c. Because all too often the endings are not happy.
d. To this day people protest and our nation struggles
e. with the same issues that Rosa and so many others fought against.
f. But if we take the time to listen,
g. these struggles can still remind us that reason for Rosa’s struggle and the struggle of so many others,
i. was not just a set of laws;
6. It was the suffering endured by her and her ancestors
a. A suffering rooted in hatred and prejudice
b. A suffering expressed in slavery and persecution and even death
c. A suffering resulting in rebellion and civil war.
d. A suffering that must have seemed endless;
i. that is until a woman named Rosa Parks
ii. decided it had come to an end for her.
7. It is essential to remember the suffering and not just rush to the happy ending.
a. because without it the victory would have no meaning.
8. It is essential to remember that suffering as well
a. when we hear today’s first reading.
9. God is giving the people of Judah good news;
a. The people of Judah had been wracked by political instability, injustice and corruption.
b. Kings, who purported to be God’s choice for king,
c. But violated the very law their kingdom was based upon.
10. It was a suffering which must have seemed endless
a. Until in fact God decided that it had come to an end for them.
b. And promised a ruler who would grow from the stump of King David’s father, Jesse.
c. A ruler who would be wise and filled with God’s sprit Instead of corrupt
d. A ruler who would be just faithful to his people instead of unjust.
e. He would be a ruler who would usher in a period of peace, where all peoples would recognize the just laws they had been given by God.
f. Today’s first reading is the ultimate happy ending!
11. And yet it is essential to remember the suffering it spoke to,
i. for without it, the promise of that coming ruler would be meaningless.
12. Those who would read these words later
a. knew that the suffering of God’s people
b. had not in fact come to a final end;
13. There would still be the years of rebuilding in the land of Judah
a. and that long promised king, was nowhere to be found.
14. And yet these words were still remembered;
a. especially by someone named Mark,
15. who when began to write the story of Jesus of Nazareth,
a. knew he could not begin with Jesus,
i. but with a man named John the Baptist.
16. John was probably one of many people out in the countryside of Judea,
a. Preparing people for a coming conflict with their Roman conquerors.
17. For the people of Israel in John’s day were suffering too
a. their suffering was rooted in Roman oppression and prejudice,
b. enforced by Roman armies and taxes,
c. It was foughtagainst time and time again by the people of Israel,
d. only to be reinforced by a new wave of oppression after the resistance was crushed.
i. at times it must have seemed endless.
18. Yet Mark knew he had to begin the story of Jesus with John,
a. because John was the voice of one
i. “crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord”
b. not because John had decided to end their suffering by revolution ,
i. But because God had decided to end it in Jesus.
ii. Jesus would be that Just ruler promised by Isaiah;
iii. He would fight against the injustice of the civil and religious rulers of his day.
iv. He would call all people who suffered under this injustice to repentance and renewal.
v. And he would fail. He would be arrested and tried,
vi. and in this would accept the suffering of this world upon himself;
c. and allow it to crush him, as it has crushed so many . . .
d. so that by rising again after it had done its worst,
e. Jesus would prove that he was stronger.
19. In the glow of Christmas lights and advent wreaths,
a. It is easy to forget the suffering that lay behind Isaiah’s words and Matthew’s Gospel.
b. It is easy to forget what lay in store for the baby whose birthday we will soon celebrate.
20. It is so easy to forget because we want to;
a. in fact, that is one of the few reasons many of us think we still celebrate this birth,
b. and remember these stories;
c. Especially in this dark year filled with pandemic and protest,
d. We are desperate for that story with a happy ending,
e. a baby in the manger and a silent night
f. so that we can ignore the suffering so many still face.
g. and so we can forget our own role in it.
21. But our Church does not let us forget it,
a. She places it squarely before us on this Second Sunday of Advent.
22. Why? Because the Church wishes to spoil our Christmas joy?
a. NO! Because just like Rosa Parks,
b. Just like Isaiah, and John and Jesus
23. The Church knows that without the suffering the joy would have no meaning;
a. For it was only by suffering the prejudice of others
i. that Rosa, by refusing to give up her seat, said that it was finished!
b. It was only by experiencing the suffering of his people
i. that both Isaiah and John the Baptist could say that it was finished!
c. And it was only hanging on the cross
i. that Jesus could say it is finished,
ii. Show the world that he was stronger than this world’s suffering
iii. and promise that when we follow him so are we.
24. The Church remind us of this, though, not just for our sake, but for others as well.
a. Because anyone who takes five seconds to look around knows
b. that the suffering of this world did not end with Jesus;
c. That even in countries with the best health care,
i. Failure of leadership has resulted in a pandemic which has killed millions,
d. that even in countries where all are supposed to have equal rights,
i. some are decidedly more equal than others.
25. The Church reminds us of the suffering, however,
a. not to judge us,
b. but because it wants us to share the victory and joy that give meaning to it with others.
26. So that in our day there will not be just one voice, crying in the wilderness,
a. But many,
b. sharing with everyone our faith:
i. that all suffering has an end,
ii. and that end has a name: Jesus.
c. Because he is stronger than suffering, stronger that death;
i. and when we believe in him so are we.
d. That, my friends, is quite a Christmas present.