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 11, 2016

Third Sunday of Advent 2016: "A reed shaken by the wind."


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.

Psalm 146:5-10
146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,

146:6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

146:7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

146:8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

146:9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

146:10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

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.

The least in the kingdom of heaven are greater than John the Baptizer because the first shall be last and the last first in that kingdom.  Because God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.  Because the Lord watches over the widow and the orphan, and brings the way of the wicked to ruin.

And because no one goes out into the desert to see a reed shaken by the wind.

The Magnificat of Mary is not a call to revolution, or a plea for God's justice.  It is a cry of joy, the response to Elizabeth's greeting to her cousin.  Don't take it as a part of the New Testament, or the basis for any Christian doctrine; take it out of its place in history and put it back where it started.  Luke didn't write his gospel to be one of four, or for us to read.  He gave Mary this song for reasons all his own.

Luke gives us the Jesus of social justice.  It's Luke's Jesus who goes to the Temple to read from the scriptures and chooses Isaiah, and tells the men there that the day Isaiah told about has come.  By the time you read that, you've read four songs for Jesus' nativity.  Mary's is the longest, and the boldest; and it's meant to be prologue to the story that follows.

If the Baptizer didn't wear soft robes and live in a royal palace, neither did Mary.

"My soul magnifies the Lord," she says.   A less poetic, and less obscure, translation would be:  "My soul extols the Lord."  That puts the emphasis in the right place, but the whole song is about the day of the Lord the prophets warned about:  a day of darkness, not light.  Well, not light to some; the cracks that let the light in are blessing to somebody, if only because the light gets in:

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.

It starts with the internal, the "thoughts of their hearts." It moves the external; the powerful are brought down from their thrones, the lowly lifted up; the hungry fed, the rich sent away with nothing.  Jesus will say the same thing in his most famous sermon:  "Congratulations to you hungry!  You will be fed!  Damn you rich!  You have received your reward!"

Nowhere in the gospels does anyone go into the desert to see a reed shaken by the wind.  And "The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ."  That beginning is part of Mary's cry of joy.  She is not declaring what will happen, or what should happen, or what has to happen.  Her song declares what has happened, just as Jesus said:  "Go and tell John what you see and hear."  And it's not a reed blowing in the wind.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,

who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

It's not that God will execute justice for the oppressed, or will give good to the hungry, or will set the prisoners free, open the eyes of the blind, lift up those who are bowed down:  those are not promises, they are statements.  God doesn't wait; God does.  Congratulations to you hungry! God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

God has done it; God will do it; God is doing it.  The maker of heaven and earth is not a reed blowing in the wind.  And the way has to be prepared:  over and over again, we have to renew this sense of wonder and of mystery and of awe.

God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  It may not seem that way, but it is true.  And if we let the thoughts of our hearts scatter us, then it isn't that God is not present, or attentive; it is that we have joined "the proud."  It could be we whose eyes are not opened, because we won't let them be; we who are still prisoners because we will not walk out of our cell; we who are hungry because we will not eat; we who are sent away empty, because we want to stay rich.  Mary rejoices in what God has done for her, and yet God has done nothing material, and in fact John is in jail.  The powers of the world have imprisoned him, only death sets him free.

At least that's the way the powers of the world would see it.  John is not free, Mary is still poor, and Jesus is just taking over what John had started.   That's the way the world sees it.  But the Lord opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up the bowed down, loves the righteous.  The Lord watches over the strangers and upholds the widow and the orphan; the powerless, the ones at the margin.

And that is the real power of this world.  That is far more than soft robes and palaces; and it is much more than a reed bending in the wind. It is the reversal of all the world was certain was true.  It is the blossoming of the desert.  It is the opening of the blind eye and deaf ear.  It is the dance of the crippled who now walk.  It is water in the dry land, and sorrow and sighing fleeing away.

Happy are those whose hope is in the Lord their God.




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