A reflection on the readings for Advent 2 C by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt
I write today with appreciation for the life and witness of Grant Gallup, an Episcopal priest whom I got to know during his very productive retirement years in a retreat house he established in Managua, Nicaragua. Among the many productive things he did during those years was to send an weekly e-mail called “Homily Grits,” with exegesis and reflection on the lessons of the week, on the political and social challenges of the day, drawing on a deep well of religious texts and literature. He would pull together the most remarkable and unlikely bits, and there was always something in those Homily Grits that made my own sermons come together in a fresh and yet deeply orthodox way.
Grant was one of the many progressive Anglo-Catholics I met during my years in Chicago. He had retired from parish ministry there to move to Nicaragua, and was always an enthusiastic supporter of the Sandinista revolution, and of the ever flowing well of hope such political movements would bring to the adventure that is the revealing of the reign of God on earth. Indeed, perhaps it is fitting that Grant died in late November, on the cusp of Advent, whose theological themes of hope, waiting, expectation, the coming of the end times, the beginning of the reign of God that will overturn all corruption and darkness and want, were part of his weekly messages to us in what he called the “Me-First World.”
You can read some biographical details of Grant’s life in Louie Crew’s pages, or on the blog Randuwa. It’s important to note that Grant was one of the first Episcopal priests to come out of the closet in a public and spiritually grounded way. His early witness shocked many of his very deeply closeted colleagues in those Biretta Belt Midwestern dioceses of the 1970s and ‘80s, dioceses which were then seemingly impregnable opponents of the ordination of women as well. Yet as a gay Anglo-Catholic, Grant was a true prophet of the sweeping changes that came across that “gin and lace” culture. Grant understood and proclaimed that only as each of us are allowed to stand before God as our true selves, woman or man, gay, straight, transgendered – name your identity – that God’s dream for the church as an agent of the healing of the world can be realized.
I close with part of Grant’s Homily Grits for Advent 2-C, 2006, as published on Louie Crew’s website. Thanks to Louie, all of Grant’s work is available to read.
John the Immerser is the one who speaks to us in the word of preparation.
John comes onto the stage in the musical play Godspell, remember, with a bucket of water and a sponge, as he splashes water over the other members of the cast, singing Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord, Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord. So John came preaching justice, for he was the first liberation theologian of our Epoch. He was, according to Jesus, the greatest of the prophets, and we tend to forget that Jesus himself said so, and we tend to forget that because John was so very great that the Church, very early on, began to be afraid that he might outshine Jesus, as centuries later on it feared the Prophet Muhammad might also shine too bright, and so when the gospels were written down, they went out of their way to make people understand that John was after all only an usher, a fore-runner, a curtain-raiser or an emcee, but not the Main Act of a three-ring circus. But Jesus never spoke of John as an "only" or as a "merely". Jesus said he was the Greatest, just as Muslims speak of God, and like them that John was Greatest ever born of a woman. John came preaching preparation, and still does so, and today John is back again amongst us with his gospel of Get Ready, take your places, start your engines.
Luke sets John's word in history, and tells us the news came when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Tiberius Caesar had been Emperor fifteen years , Herod was tetrarch (that is, ruler of a fourth) of Galilee, and Caiaphas was high priest (his father-in-law Annas still had a lot of influence, though retired, like Papa Bush) . Pretty precise in his dating, Luke was. About 27 or 28 C.E., perhaps in the month of August or September. Preparation had to take place specifically, some time, not any old time, but THIS TIME. Luke gives us the date, almost the hour and the minute, when GET READY must begin. He doesn't tell us this, but at about that time the Han dynasty was beginning in China, Cymbelline was recognized as King of the Britons, London was being settled, Italians were first using soap which they had got of course from the French, the Pantheon was being built to house all the gods of Rome, and the oboe had just been invented at Rome, the "ill wind that nobody blows good," as some wag would put it one day. The Japanese had recently started their style of wrestling, and gaining weight by eating lard, and Pontius Pilate had replaced Archelaus as Tetrarch. Jesus still lived at home with his mother and his brothers and sisters. In Preparation. Incubating. In the womb of history.
When we use the word Prepare, we forget that it is made up of two words, PRE, meaning beforehand, and PARE, meaning to trim, to cut, as in preparing vegetables or trimming the fat off a cutlet before cooking. To pre-pare is to take some action beforehand in planning the future. Look at the things I have mentioned that were being PREPPED at the time: Changes in government in China and Britain, Changes in hygiene and health in Italy, changes in music and sports, in Rome and Japan. Everything we're living with now in terms of what all these have come to be in our own experience, all had a beginning in their preparation back in 27 A.D., in the time of our Lord, or C.E., of the Common Era.
What we do today in our own land, in our own cities, in our own churches and at our own holy tables, is inevitably a preparation for what is to come after. We need consciously to look at what we might in fact be introducing to the stage of history, what we might indeed be ushering into the future. What it is we have set "slouching to Bethlehem to be born." The unelected leaders of the Western World say we need to prepare for Star wars and nuclear wars, that we must prepare for an endless war on terrorism and on terrorists. And so we have done so, and are prepared indeed to destroy all life on the planet if necessary, to save it for the market, for capitalism, and to keep it from choosing socialism or home-rule or independence or the Religion of the Prophet, or any way but our own way. The surface-to-air missiles we sold to half the world half a century ago to save it from communist Russia are now turned on us from the hills of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq. President Reagan said in 1985 that he told the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that he was confident there would be an alliance between the two superpowers against "an alien race" if there was ever "a threat to the world from some other species from another planet." But the threat against which the US and Russia had finally to make common cause was not from another planet, but from the Two-Thirds world of our own planet---the rising victim nations, the barking underdogs, the oppressed peoples of the global hegemony the Me-First world has made. It is not so far after all from Chechneya to Central America, from Pakistan to Peru. You get what you prepare for, and the US has prepared not for the completion of a democratic project in history, but for the catastrophic end of imagined enemies, and rushes towards a doomsday, carrying the world with it as John Baptist sings out instead, "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord". Fill up the valleys of poverty amongst you, pull down the mountains of privilege and selfishness and greed around about.
Whose way are you preparing in your own life, with your own resources, your own skills and gifts, your own commitments? Are you preparing a Way for the Lord? Are you preparing the way instead for continuing racism, continuing class oppression, continuing theft of your own taxes to slaughter the world's innocents, to fund the military monster? If so, you are preparing for death and hell. John Baptist sings his solo across the ages, and across the stage to the privileged main floor seats and numbered boxes where we sit: "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord."