Imagine had you been in that crowd of people on August 28, 1963 in Washington, DC, standing with thousands upon thousands at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, listening to Martin Luther King proclaim—“I have a dream today.” “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
“This is our hope. This is our faith. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into the beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
Think of how those words of hope and promise have rung down through the ages. We heard them today from the book of Baruch, which lifted them from the book of Isaiah, which was then quoted in our Gospel reading from Luke. The words of Isaiah are the oldest of these scriptures, written approximately in 539 BC, then in 150 BC the words of Baruch were written, then Luke wrote in 80 AD after the birth of Jesus. Finally on down to King’s speech in 1963 and who knows how many times in between those same words have been offered as a stone of hope.
You see, these words, read today in this place, have come alive and inspired people through the ages for more than 2500 years. Think of the power of those words reverberating through time, changing people, changing societies, changing nations.
Isaiah prophesied to the captives in exile after the Northern Kingdom of Israel was overtaken. The prophet brings comfort to the captives preparing them for their eventual return to their homeland as God removes all difficulties from their paths.
Baruch, with Isaiah’s words, again takes up the hopeful themes of the exiles for a return to Jerusalem. All God’s children will be gathered again and the Lord will provide a path for them.
In Luke’s Gospel we hear the of John the Baptist, located specifically in time and place as it had been a very long time since there was a great prophet in Israel. This silence was broken by John as he spoke words of comfort to Jerusalem and all people that redemption is certain and close at hand.
Dr. King used these ancient words to lift his people out of despair, to give them a vision of life free of the rough and crooked places which kept them excluded from decent jobs and decent homes, that prevented them from having any voice in local, state, or national decision making. His dream gave them a vision of freedom to work together, to hope for that day they would all be free.
Much has been accomplished since that famous speech of 1963. With tears streaming down their faces, many who were lifted up by Dr. King’s message also witnessed the inauguration of the first person of color to the office of President of the United States. There still remains many mountains and valleys excluding certain ethnic groups and classes of people.
The migrant community right here in Grays Harbor lives under the oppression of enormous social injustices. These people put their own lives in danger, endure continual hardships in order to feed their families and keep their children in school. They sacrifice all they have for their dream of securing a better life for their children. I hope you will read the extra handouttucked into your worship folder today. It’s composed by our own Sarah Monroe as she shares her work in researching the struggles of the Hispanics that live in our neighborhoods. It is not our task to determine the documented from the undocumented. As Christians, our baptismal vows charge us to seek Christ in all persons, respecting the dignity of every human being.
There seems to be a two-fold message in our Gospel as John the Baptist proclaims a baptism of life change leading to the forgiveness of sins. So we have personal work to do in this season of Advent as we prepare to welcome Christ again. What kind of ditches need to be filled, or bumps smoothed out, detours straightened within ourselves? Are there barriers in our relationships with God and our neighbors? John offers repentance and forgiveness as the means for change from the inside out to make a clean sweep of our lives. This is our work toward full restoration of broken relationships. John is that transitional figure between the time of Israel and the time of Jesus, between the Old Testament and the New Testament or covenant. John was the last and greatest prophet.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel says, “There is a divine dream which the prophets and rabbis have cherished and which fills our prayers, and permeates the acts of true piety. It is the dream of a world, rid of evil by the grace of God as well as by our efforts in the task of establishing the kingship of God in the world. God is waiting for us to redeem the world. The pathway to participate in God’s dream is first, clear the way between God and us, then look outward, be a means of grace in the world.
As we consider charitable giving, we remember St. Nicholas on his feast day, today, December 6. The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the 3rd century in a small village on the southern coast of what is now Turkey. His wealthy parents raised him to be a devout Christian but died when Nicholas was young. In response to Jesus’ words, “Sell what you own and give the money to the poor”, Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick and the suffering. He was made Bishop of Myra, he became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love of children, and his concern for sailors and ships.
Many stories have been told of St. Nicholas’ life and deeds. One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. Their poor father could not offer a suitable dowry for his daughters, therefore, they had little hope of ever marrying. Mysteriously, on three different occasions a bag of gold appeared in their homes providing the needed dowries. The three bags of gold were tossed through an open window and said to have landed in stocking and shoes left before the fire to dry. Hence, the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes anticipating finding gifts from St. Nicholas. And so we remember St. Nicholas as a gift giver, eventually evolving to the American version of Santa Claus.
A story from France is told of three small children who wandered until lost, lured and captured by an evil butcher. St. Nicholas appeared and pleaded to God to return them to their families. So St. Nicholas is the patron and protector of children. He continues to be a model for the compassionate life.
Dear friends, this is the time of year for dreaming. How can you and I partner with God in whatever way, large or small, to bring God’s dream to our world? How can we open our hearts in order to be attuned to the needs of others? How can we work together, pray together, stand together for justice and equality for others? How can we remove the barriers to God’s presence in our lives and in the world so that finally, the Divine dream will come to pass? And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. AMEN.