Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gaudete, the Third Sunday of Advent 2010: Jesus, Jesus, rest your head....


Isaiah 35:1-10
35:1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus

35:2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.

35:3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

35:4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."

35:5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

35:6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;

35:7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

35:8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

35:9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

35:10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Luke 1:46b-55
1:46b My soul magnifies the Lord,

1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

James 5:7-10
5:7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.

5:8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

5:9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

5:10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Matthew 11:2-11
11:2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples

11:3 and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

11:4 Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see:

11:5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

11:6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

11:7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?

11:8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.

11:9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

11:10 This is the one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'

11:11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.



Jesus, Jesus, rest your head.
You has got a manger bed.
All the evil folk on earth
Sleep in feathers at their birth.
Jesus, Jesus, rest your head.
You has got a manger bed.

1. Have you heard about our Jesus?
Have you heard about his fate?
How his mammy went to the stable
On that Christmas Eve so late?
Winds were blowing, cows were lowing,
Stars were glowing, glowing, glowing. Refrain

2. To the manger came the Wise Men.
Bringing gifts from hin and yon,
For the mother and the father,
And the blessed little Son.
Milkmaids left their fields and flocks
And sat beside the ass and ox. Refrain
"And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

Kinda hard to be offended by a baby. Maybe that's why we like Christmas so much. This Appalachian carol reminds us of the offense of the Christchild; the abject poverty, the complete rejection of all that is important and powerful and remarkable in this world. I've always wondered if there was a connection between Matthew's attention to the birth of Jesus, and the Egyptian custom of noting the birth of a Pharaoh. The Egyptians marked birthdays of Pharaohs, when most of the rest of the Western World didn't, because Pharaohs were gods, and the birth of a god was important. That doesn't explain Luke, of course; but it does explain why Mark and John pass over the early years and go straight for the adult Jesus. To even consider God as a child was an offense too great for them. Matthew recapitulates the history of Israel, with the Holy Family going into and out of Egypt; maybe something of Egyptian custom clings to his story. Luke was a Gentile, and maybe the Egyptian customs that influenced Plato before him, were an influence in Luke's culture.

Mere speculation, so it doesn't really matter. I just wonder about such things. I wonder at how much we have lost the scandal, the offense, of the nativity stories in the passing centuries. Part of the offense was how Jesus came; part of the offense was what he did when he got here:


When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
First, it's not really an answer; it's more like Jesus says: "What do you think?" But the rest of it should be offensive to us:


As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.
I don't know about you, but I wore a soft robe this morning. I don't think of my home as a palace, but compared to the places Jesus lived in, I'm sure it is. And yet, would I go out into the wilderness to hear a prophet speaking? Would I even drive downtown on a weeknight? Probably not. And it may well be the prophets are down there, working in the homeless shelters and food pantries, some of which I don't even have to go downtown to visit. I didn't sleep in feathers at my birth, but compared to an animal's feeding trough, I might as well have.

Do we take offense at this? No? How about this?

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
There's not much sense of patience at "Christmas time," that season that seems to extend back closer and closer to Halloween, and be all but over the Monday after Thanksgiving. There's a great race on to get your shopping done before December is very old. Someone on the local NPR station recently was kindly advising that you shop early because selection will be limited as the month wears on, and clearly you want to get the best present for everyone on your shopping list.

Do we take offense at this? Do we even think about being patient at this time of year? A TV ad shows a young girl counting down the days, minutes, hours, until Christmas. Does she exemplify patience, or try it? Would anyone buy the "countdown" ornament being advertised, if this would be the result? Do we think about not grumbling against one another? When we are in line in the stores, even when we aren't Christmas shopping, do we do so patiently? Hopefully some of you do, but I don't. I don't like crowds. Crowds make me anxious. It's just a deep-seated thing, but it reduces my patience to a nothing. I don't want to think of the prophets when I'm in a crowded mall. I want to think of a stink bomb, clearing people out so I can finish and leave quicker.

Hardly the sentiment for Gaudete, is it? Not even the proper sentiment for Advent, when we are told to wait, even as we keep awake. But if we keep awake, it's more likely because we bought the stupid countdown ornament, and our kids are reminding us hourly of how much closer Christmas day is. Or we're worried that if we don't shop now, we'll miss out on what someone really wants for Christmas, and then won't we be schmucks?

We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways. --Archbishop Oscar Romero December 24, 1979
Alright, now we're down to something offensive. Maybe. Our lighted plastic baby Jesus on the lawn should be replaced with real children living under newspapers, or with the homeless who used to sleep under the freeways near my home. since the highway was widened and the laws enforced, they aren't there anymore, and I seldom spend much time in the year wondering where they are now. In homes? Not likely, in this economy. Where did they disappear to? I put manger scenes out showing crowds of people gathered around a new-born Christ child; I scatter them around my house. I wonder if I could add figures of homeless people, would that be an offense? Or would we just get used to it? If I replaced the shepherds with homeless men and pregnant teenagers, and the wise men with CEO's and rich smiling pastors, would anybody mind?

Would we take offense at this? No? How about this?

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
Mary sings that God has sent the rich away empty, and filled the bellies of the poor; that God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. Who made the rich "rich," except us? Who put the powerful on their thrones, except us? Who made the lowly "lowly," except us? How is it we are not offended by this?

The lowest and simplest things are what Christmas is really all about. The poor and the homeless and the hungry and the imprisoned; the deaf and the lame and the sad and the lonely; they are who Christmas is really for. Nothing ever changes, but small things change, year after year, and even if the changes are not permanent, are not systemic and institutional, they are real. God has again filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. If it doesn't seem to be done for enough of them, what have we done about it? Have we added to the total? Or have we ignored them again? The days until Christmas are counting down. Advent is the time of counting, and waiting, and wakefulness. Are we awake this time? If we are not offended, we're probably not. If we are offended, don't take it personally. Take it as a call to wake up. We sleep in feather beds, and wear soft robes, and even, by most of the world's standards, live in palaces. But we can still go out to the wilderness, even if that wilderness is just down the block, and we can see what the prophets told us to see, and we can see what we can do. Learn their patience; it will not change at once, but it will change. Keep awake. God is feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, making the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear; and you can help. You, too, can bring the good news.

Amen.

4 Comments:

Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Robert, do you ever preside at church services as substitute clergy? You should have a church, but barring that....

I guess it's none of my business, so if you don't answer, it's fine.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

It's not so personal a subject as that, so: thank you. Thank you very much.

My return to a pulpit is plagued by so many practical concerns it's like a thicket of thorns even considering it. Not considering it, is another thicket of thorns.

Which is about as much as I can say about it so publicly.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Either way you go, you're gonna get pricked. :-)

5:49 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

More pricks than kicks, as Beckett would say.

10:53 PM  

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