What ever happened to that “Old Advent Spirit?” I wonder what that “spirit” is rather than where it went. Perhaps even better is where does that Advent spirit take us. To be honest in our “fill-it-up” culture, whatever and where ever it went our society would say “Good riddance!”
This Sunday we will light the second candle and that will make sense if darkness is real. A light shining within light does not do much for either light. We have all been afraid of the dark since we were little persons. We have been afraid also of our own personal darkness since we began bumping into our self-disappointments.
We can prepare for this coming liturgy and the coming of the Light by our sitting within the context of all that we and our culture urges us to run from. Lighting a little candle might be an encouraging setting for a little comfort.
Our First Reading, a prophetic poem, is very long and most of us in the congregations will tune in now and then. There are some familiar images which we will be reading on Christmas cards, but for all the words and pictures, there is one important promise made.
David is the eighth and last son of Jesse. The poem paints a picture of the Messiah who will come from the lineage of David, the great king of Israel. This person will have prophetic wisdom, a sense of what is right and just. His very breath will be that of the creating God.
Much of the poem has a strong backdrop of the biblical Garden of the “uninjured” creation. All of God’s creation lived without fear of each other or of itself. What we call “natural enemies” were “natural friends”. Animals and humans lived with “integrity”, the word comes from the Latin “integer” meaning “whole” or “Uninjured”. This Messiah person will reverse the consequences of the original injury.
The ending of the poem makes a quite surprising prediction. This person of justice and peace is not to come only for the people of David’s stock, but for even the gentiles who will seek for this peace and harmony in and through the Messiah’s life and words. The first creation was from the chaos and this Messiah will come to again bring peace, justice and integrity out of a second chaos, our human complexities.
John the Baptist makes his first Advent appearance in today’s Gospel. At this time John is conducting a purification ritual in the Jordan River. The Jews had fled through water and were purified from their state of slavery. Baptism was a cleansing from their not living perfectly as the unslaved and now free people of God. This baptism was the occasion of a visit from leaders of two separate religious parties. They were both suspicious of anything not within their control and John confronts their merely ritualistic and perfectionistic approach to God and God’s people. They were aware also that people were coming to John for purification and not relying on their old rites. We hear John’s harshest words for them.
John warns them of a coming “One” Who asks for fruitful lives not self-righteous conformities. They say they have Abraham for their father and that is enough. If they were living as children of the faith of Abraham they would repent from their insides and prepare for the Messiah of Whom Isaiah spoke. This Messiah will lay the axe to the roots of pretense and blow away the cheep-chaff while collecting what is alive.
The Pharisees seem to be fear-based and spread perfectionism as religion. In the time of Jesus, orderliness, exactness, was a reflection of the orderliness of God. Holiness of God was meant to be lived in a rigidity and rule-based performing. There is a certain sense of security in our being perfect. God would just have to let us in with all the right tickets we would have accumulated. Ah, but there would always be the fear that we didn’t have enough of the right ones. In a sense, we would be adoring ourselves.
The Advent question then is what should we be doing and what is Advent doing for us? It is hard to love God, fearing God is easier. We can love the experiences of God’s creation, but the very person of God is too out-there. We can love persons in whom we see how God loves and that helps. We can feel unreligious, because we obey God kind of okay, but we are not much for feeling love for God.
In the movie, Talladega Nights, Ricky, the racecar driver, leads the Thanksgiving Day dinner Grace by praying to “Sweet Baby Jesus in the Golden Fleece diapers with a balled up fat little fist.” He is challenged by his wife who tells him that Jesus grew up. Ricky tells her that she can pray to a grownup Jesus or a teenage Jesus, but he prays to a sweet baby Jesus.
We are moving prayerfully toward receiving the birth of God-Made-Man and perhaps this mysterious God gives us this Baby to attract our hearts. He does grow up, but not to frighten us or bind us to legalistic conformity. John the Baptist sounds angry and severe toward the Pharisees. The grown-up Jesus can frighten us as He speaks to them during His public days. We find it difficult to have affection for authorities who rule with the harsh tone of power. We can admire the strength of heroes, but as for having love for them, that is not easy. Jesus possesses power and we might find Him gentle only a few times.
This Advent we long to do more than admire and stand off in wonder. He will be born again with all the love we can receive. The poverty of the stable reflects the poverty we are in experiencing our love for Jesus in return. Fear is easy to be experienced in our hearts; power can do that. These days of Advent we can hope that our love for the very person of Jesus can enlighten the darkness of our fear of God.
“Rise up, Jerusalem, stand on the heights, and see the joy that is coming to you from God.” Bar. 5. 5
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