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

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent 2016: Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen


Isaiah 11:1-10
11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

11:2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

11:3 His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;

11:4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

11:5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

11:6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

11:7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

11:8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.

11:9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

11:10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
72:1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king's son.

72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

72:3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

72:5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

72:6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

72:7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

72:18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.

72:19 Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.

Romans 15:4-13
15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

15:5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,

15:6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15:7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

15:8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

15:9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name";

15:10 and again he says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people";

15:11 and again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him";

15:12 and again Isaiah says, "The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope."

15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 3:1-12
3:1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,

3:2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

3:3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'"

3:4 Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

3:5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan,

3:6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

3:7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

3:8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

3:9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

3:10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

3:11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

Matthew is burning through his scriptures for examples that connect Jesus to the God of Abraham.  He's looking as hard as he can for reasons to connect Jesus to Israel's God.  The massacre of the innocents is connected to Rachel weeping for her children.  The magi both represent the world coming to the mountain (although it's just a baby), and the flight into Egypt that saved Israel, and the return trip that made Israel a nation.  So John the Baptist becomes a figure pre-figured by Isaiah, and we decide "prophets" means "one who predicts the future" instead of "one who tells God's truth."

John the Baptist is a prophet; and he's talking about what will happen, and what has happened; and it is all bound up with what continues to happen.  And none of this is penetrating the veil of time, or divining future events; it is simply understanding how human societies work, and that the God of Abraham is a God active in history.  And is it about who you are, or what you believe?  Or is it about what you do?

Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 
Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
You don't have to think God is going to punish you to think there will be a fire next time, that payment will come due, that there will be a reckoning.  For some the current political situation in America is a reckoning; for others it is a nightmare.  Who is to say which reckoning is right?  Who, in other words, is to sit in judgment?  Who gets the final say?

Which is not moral relativism, but humility.  Do we squash our enemies, grind them into the dust, and  take delight in the lamentations of their women?  Or do we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God?  And if there is a fire and a winnowing fork, are we sure we are wheat and not chaff?

Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

Paul is doing what Matthew is doing but, being a Pharisee, a man trained in the law of Moses, in the scriptures, he has an even better claim to it:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

There's a lesson in exegesis, in reading and interpreting the scriptures, in that one sentence.  The goal is not punishment, or even the infliction of guilt; the goal is hope.  Even John, the seemingly judgmental and frightening Old Testament-figure Baptist whose eyes seem to spout flame, offers hope, not damnation.  If we had no hope, why would he come to teach us?  And if you want encouragement for the days to come, for the days in America or Europe or anywhere else in the world, here you are:

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You may take that as an exclusive statement, but Paul means to spread his arms wide:

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.  For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name"; and again he says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people"; and again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him"; and again Isaiah says, "The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope."

And there we are back to Isaiah again, back to his holy mountain where all are welcome.   The message of the Baptizer is not damnation, it is challenge; it is a call to prepare yourself.  If you go to the wilderness to listen, to be inspired, expect to be challenged instead.  "Religion is responsibility, or it is nothing at all."

Do we need to change the world?  Is it too Buddhist to say "no"?  My young heart would say "Fuck this shit."  My old heart knows that's just another way of blaming others, of taking the burden off of me.  But without the young heart, how is the old heart renewed?  "The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope."

Paul goes to Isaiah, too; and to the Psalms; and tells us that in the root of Jesse we shall hope.  Not in our own accomplishments, not in our efforts to be better or make the world better; but in the one who has come, who is coming, who is here.  But it's not an empty hope, one we sit back and wait for.  We have to bear fruit worthy of repentance.  We have to do something.  We have to bind up the wounded, for God is not seen in the world if we don't see God in the world ourselves.

Binding up the wounded; that's something we can do.  We can't change the world.  We don't need to change the world.  We need to be responsible for who we are.  God will change the world, using us as God's example.

That's what we are responsible for.  That is our hope.

1 Comments:

Blogger June Butler said...

We have to do something. We have to bind up the wounded, for God is not seen in the world if we don't see God in the world ourselves.

Sometimes it's the small things, a gesture of kindness, rooted in love.

Thanks again for the Advent reflection. As I said, I take my Christian community where I find it now that I no longer attend church.

1:47 PM  

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