Sunday, December 4, 2011

An Advent Fantasy

This morning I joined friends at St. George's Chapel at Bishop's Ranch in Healdsburg to share the Advent 2 Eucharist, and it was a wonderfully peaceful experience. I feel that I simply must share in this blog some of the items in the service bulletin. First, from the blessing of the second candle on the Advent wreath: "We light our second candle as a prayer of hope and longing, that God's glory may be revealed on earth, through justice, peace and faithful love. Living God, come to our world. Help us to recognize your presence wherever people speak truth, make peace and show kindness. Amen.
I was feeling a deep sense of "hope and longing", especially when the congregation responded to the Celebrant's call to worship:
"Come and listen, come and sing, come and tell, come and worship. Amen."

The Worship Notes in the back of the bulletin gave a lovely commentary on the two readings, 2 Peter 3:8-15a and Mark 1:1-8: "Our first reading is from 2 Peter, which is quite likely the last of the New Testament books to be written. Some scholars think it was penned in the second century, perhaps a generation after the other writings. Almost everyone thinks it was written, not by Peter, but by someone else who in the custom of the time attributed it to Peter as a way of honoring him. It is written in the literary form of a "Testament," a type of literature of the time that was composed as though it were the dying words of a famous person. A Testament was in a sense another way to honor that person. It offered the person's main teachings and often offered advice on how to cope with impending circumstances after his death. In any case, this letter is full of warnings about false teachers and the ways to counter them. In keeping with the themes of Advent, when we await the coming of Christ (in history, in our own day, and at the end times) this passage depicts the end times and urges folks to take hold of the present moment and live it in peace. (Probably sound advice, whether issued from a death bed or not).

Our second lesson is the beginning of the Gospel of Mark and sets the theme of the whole gospel: 'the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.' That news begins to unfold with the preaching of John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin and one of the great figures of the New Testament. A man accustomed to the wilderness, John worked to prepare the way for the One who 'is coming' by preaching and baptizing folks for the repentance of their sins. He was a locavore, but definitely not a vegan.

Any number of things in the readings jumped out at me: " not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish..." "...what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God..." [what, exactly, is that all about?] The first lines of Mark's Gospel then erupt with: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God..." John the Baptizer, to whom I've had great personal devotion since my seminary days long ago, steps forward with a challenge: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight..."  Mark presents us with an ascetic, roughly clad, locust-and-wild honey-eating prophet, foretelling with great humility and simplicity the imminent arrival of the Holy One, who will plunge us [baptizo = make whelmed or fully wet; dip] into water as well as Holy Spirit.

As I was driving up Hwy. 101 to The Bishop's Ranch this morning, I spotted several air balloons on the west side, suspended peacefully, quietly aloft. I was trying to imagine the feelings of hope, expectation, anticipation I'd experience if I knew that Jesus the Holy One was on one of those air balloons, conceivably with John the Baptizer in the background at the helm, guiding it gently as it descended, and that I was to have five minutes with Jesus after he landed. What would I say? I think that I'd first welcome Jesus and say how happy and honored I was to be given five minutes of time with him. I'd also greet John the Baptizer who'd probably nod politely as he was tying up the ropes, etc., and surreptiously I'd slip him a small box of prime locusts and ants -- chocolate covered, of course -- after which he might flash a small, knowing smile!

As Jesus and I walked about the landing site I'm sure we'd discuss the state of the world and people's fears and insecurity at this point in time: about problems in the Middle East, about the famine in Africa, about the current upheaval across Europe. Certainly the present state of the United States, with so much uncertainty, joblessness, homelessness, hunger, foreclosures, the sufferings of poor people, the aging, of those with disabilities and mental illness, of the victims of violence and of being taken advantage of, would all come up. But, at the same time, I think I'd let Jesus know how grateful I am for this earth and world, despite how we've abused it; for the never-ending wonder of nature and its cycles, for lush plant and wild life, for the beauty all around us. I'd thank him, too, for the unanticipated wonders of people: the many quiet or hidden acts of kindness and caring; the devotion and dedication of so many parents, men and women in the military, police and fire staff, and medical teams; the freshness, vigor and promise of children and young people; the grace and shared wisdom of senior citizens.

I'd thank him also for the family into which I was born and for each person in it, regardless of how quirky, ornery or unpredictable any of us are! For my daughter who texted me words of "Happy Thanksgiving" recently. For my son who continues to struggle, amid signs of slow progress, with his physical and psychological demons. For my sisters and brothers as they struggle to raise their families in wholesome ways, often against great odds. And I would thank Jesus for communities like the one which meets at St. George's Chapel each Sunday, people who "speak truth, make peace and show kindness", and allow one another to be vulnerable and yet safe, to experience mercy and compassion, and to be inspired to genuine hope and to the desire to go forth and share that hope with others.

Well, Jesus and John didn't actually descend this morning and step off of one of those balloons, sad to say. What I've related above may be a "fantasy", but it was too deeply felt not to be real in essence. Perhaps my feelings on this 2nd Sunday of Advent could best be summarized in the words of the prayer this morning after the Prayers of the People: "God our Sovereign, you are always coming into the world. Come to us now, soon, and forever, and let us receive you as the Child of holiness and the Wind of change, through whom, this day, we pray. AMEN"   

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