Sunday, December 7, 2014

2nd Week of Advent

Last week Advent was described as a time of waiting in the midst of suffering, pain, frustration and inadequacy as a community of hurt. Nevertheless, there was also the element of hope and expectation, based on the assurance given by the One who is yet "our Father", the faithful God, the Master for whom we watch, the One who will ultimately appear to decisively renew the world as we know it.

Today's Scriptures are replete with Advent promises and of affirmation that they will be kept. Isaiah promises homecoming. John the Forerunner promises One greater than himself. Peter promises that this One, "our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ", will bring "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."

As the continuing Christian community we gather around these promises, our certitude undiminished by delays or appearances. This is something hard for a predominantly scientific culture to accept. Science orders, quantifies, controls. It reduces promise to prediction. But the promise on which we focus during Advent speaks about the intention of the One who makes the promise, not the merely the mode. Promise, in this sense, goes beyond time and chronology: "…with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." It allows the One who promises great leeway and counts unflinchingly on the reliability of that person. At the same time, it also invites and enables the receivers of the promise to trust the promise, to grasp for no other certainty. Such an Advent promise is a kind of relationship which gives both parties freedom and asks for a kind of trust and faith not subject to verification.

John the Baptizer appears at the beginning of Mark's Gospel as the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah. He preaches a repentance and forgiveness symbolically enacted in his immersion of people in the waters of the Jordan River. Repentance (Greek, metanoĆ­a), as John presented it, is a call to turn loose the old age and all its loyalties and values, to make a radical turn away from such. And forgiveness, he proclaims, is full release from all old debts. 

The sins which bind us all arise from selling out our spirits and imaginations to lesser gods,  to idols. God's forgiveness sets us free from the whole oppressive system of indebtedness which prevents us from being truly human and which contributes to our attempt to continually control situations and people.

Proclaiming God's saving promise, John is an outsider: a nobody who emerges from the wilderness…and dresses the part! He's an outsider not only geographically, but also in that he keeps his distance from the seductive allurements, including religious ones, of the surrounding culture. Raw and abrasive, John preaches from a different vision. His appearance on the scene marks a time when old ways of living are radically called into question, even as new ways aren't yet very clear. That's what Advent is: a sort of threshold moment, an occasion for embracing uncertainty, for understanding ourselves from a new perspective, for making new decisions about our relationship with God and others.

John the Forerunner invites us out into the wilderness with him, so that we can experience the wisdom and fresh assumptions which it reveals. The rest of the dominant society, lost in merry-making and mall-milling preoccupation, resolutely resists this. It wants us well-fed, not connoisseurs of locusts and honey, not people crowding food banks to beg for necessities. It wants us well-dressed and in style: and woven camel's hair isn't "in" this season! It wants us well-housed, not in makeshift cardboard shelters and beds on the sidewalk or in the park. It wants us conformed to the old loyalties of the "haves", the 1 %.

John points beyond himself: to the One mightier than he, to the One whom he serves. It's the same One you and I are called to serve, simply on the basis of his promises. John doesn't name Jesus. Christmas is the time for naming Jesus. Advent is the time for waiting and hoping, in the power of that Spirit which Jesus promised to send us in order to lead us into all truth and life. 

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