Advent Week Two: Finding Hope

In any journey of length, there will come times when questions arise. A question such as, “Are we there yet?” is only one possibility. Other questions such as, “Should we turn around?” or “Do we really want to make this journey?” or even “Are we making progress?” may occur. Questions about who made the decision, why we are going, and what’s this all about anyway are all a part of the journey—the desert part, the questioning part, the part where people wonder if there is a point to continuing. Maybe we have lost sight of the destination, or maybe we have gotten lost in the unfamiliar world through which we travel, and our sense of security is telling us to go back to what we know rather than ahead to what might be.

Our Gospel text, on the surface, doesn’t help us with this existential angst about the world we travel through. John the Baptist shows up from the desert, ranting and raving about the wrath to come. With his name-calling and talk of axes and fire, he seems more of a threat than a reassurance. Even the acknowledgement that his harsh words are for the “bad guys” of the story, the Pharisees and Sadducees, doesn’t help us feel better, especially since Matthew seems to imply they weren’t there to gawk or heckle, but to be baptized. This causes us to consider whether our motives are pure—not just for baptism, but for anything faith-related. Do we do what we do because of the call, or because we’re hedging our bets? Are we faithful because we want to follow the one we love, or because we want to be seen as faithful? [Living Liturgy 2019]

John’s call is to turn around, repent, think again. John’s call is to think differently about ourselves and our place in the world, about the one who comes, about how we will follow, and about how we are following. He tells the Pharisees to rely not on their pedigree. He asks them what they have done lately. He asks how they have lived lately. Advent brings a challenge, says John. But Advent also brings a reminder of the destination—of the world promised. The challenge is to measure ourselves by that vision and promise.

No one articulates the vision better than Isaiah. That is why we come back here year after year—to sit at the feet of the one who can tell a story like no one else. In a dog-eat-dog world, we need to hear of lambs and the wolves, of leopards and kids, we need to hear of the calf and the lion and the fatling parading along after that little child, like Simba and Timon and Pumbaa singing “Hakuna Matata” through the jungle. Beyond the vision of the “peaceable kingdom” that radiates from this text, what do the Hebrew Scriptures tell us about the journey?

That it is possible. That is it in a nutshell. This whole wild and crazy promise, the vision of a world at peace, the living out of the implications of justice and mercy—that it is possible.

“If I say this, what will happen?” Indeed, what will happen? That’s the perfect Advent question. The perfect “are we there yet” question. What will happen if we proclaim the possibility of the reign of God? What will happen if we decide we’re going to go with the confidence that we are heading somewhere? What will happen? The first thing that will happen, when we really believe in the possibility of grace and faith, peace and joy, is that we will live it now. Peace will infuse our lives; grace will emanate from our living; hope will abound in our conversation; love will dominate our listening. When we claim the hope that God will keep the promises made, the first thing that happens is that we change. And in that change, we become the sign of the presence of God in the world. We become the evidence that this is all possible. We who gather together for worship in order to find hope for living, become hope for those who still travel the desert of this life. We are the hope we seek.

Adapted Renew Internationl, PrayerTime Cycle C

Come After Me

I decided this week to begin cleaning the cupboards in my bedroom, one at a time! And treasures are found. What I noticed is that I collect candles – in all shapes, sizes and fragrances. Some I have used on our dinner table when guests have been invited to dinner. They lend a pleasant glow to the atmosphere. Some I have used in an emergency. When the electricity has gone out and I light one single candle, the light from that candle makes all the difference in the world!

In our Gospel today, Jesus goes to a Gentile region which the Jewish community considered to be in darkness. It is as though Jesus goes to a land of darkness so the light of his Good News won’t be missed. It is here, in this region of darkness that Jesus begins his saving work.

As Jesus begins his mission, he offers two commands: “Repent” and “Come after me.” Two invitations to walk into the light, revealing God’s Kingdom at hand. The “kingdom is at hand” when we turn from darkness and become Christ’s light for others.

Just as one candle can dispel the darkness, so can the little light each of us is dispel the darkness of indifference, confusion, selfishness and greed tgat surrounds us. All we need to do is repent and follow.

Who is Coming?

So, who is coming this Advent? Which Jesus? Is it Jesus the shoot from the stump, signal of hope and transformation into peace, or is it Jesus the one bearing the axe, the winnowing fork, the bringer of fire? The answer is Yes–both. At the same time, the answer is Neither. Jesus surprises people by what he does not do–Jesus does not conquer the earth with military force, become king, bring absolute order. Jesus also surprises people by what he does do–Jesus does bring diverse people together into one community, lead by going to the cross to suffer and die, send people out to transform the world through preaching.

Jesus did say things that separated people. Some people followed; others went away sadly. People very different from one another were brought together. If we need evidence of these major differences, we could consider all the fighting among the earliest churches. Sworn enemies, like Peter and Paul, had to come into a room together and work out an arrangement for how to go forward together. This is probably a good image of work we might do as a church in this Advent season. But it’s not just about our work. It’s about the work God is doing among us.

It is not just that Jesus came once upon a time and these things happened. Jesus comes among us today, once again, and these things happen. We get to witness them–to see, talk about, and share these things. Like the Pharisees and Sadducees we are challenged by John’s words to put ourselves on a straight path of changing whatever berhavior impedes God’s vision of peace and harmony.