Advent 2 December 8, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

ADVENT 2  Year A

Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7; 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

 

A commentator on

National Public Radio

was lamenting that

Christmas has been co-opted

by culture –

 

Instead of the slogan

“Keep the Christ in Christmas”

he offered his own:

 

“Free Christ from Christmas . . .”

 

and went on to suggest

that Christians just give up on

Christmas as a holy day

and enjoy it

as the secular celebration

it has become.

 

 

Free Christ from the chaos of Christmas –

 

from the commercialism

and consumerism;

from the banal

Christmas romance movies;

from Frosty the Snowman

and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer;

from the “Little Drummer Boy,

pa-rum-pum-pum-pum;”

 

from the demand to be jolly and bright

when all in our lives is not right,

all in the world is not right  . . .

and never will be right,

until the reign of God

is at last fulfilled.

 

 

He had a point,

and yet

I found myself wondering if Christ

wants to be freed from our chaos.

 

For it is into the chaos

of human living and being

that Jesus deigned

to come.

 

 

The chaos of the little town of Bethlehem

crowded with visitors from the countryside

required to show up for a census:

competing for lodging and food,

making the most

of their trip to town:

seeing the sights,

reuniting with relatives,

partying with friends old and new,

shopping –

picking up souvenirs for themselves,

and gifts for the folks back home.

 

Innkeepers, shop owners, street vendors

no doubt aggressively marketing

their services and wares

to this sudden influx of customers,

delighted at the opportunity

to turn a fourth-quarter profit –

 

Surely thieves and pickpockets

were also making the most

of the crowds and confusion.

 

And the residents of the town

were just trying to get through

the invasion.

 

 

In the little town of Bethlehem,

just half a day’s walk

from Jerusalem

and the cruel garrisons of Roman soldiers,

 

Jesus was born into the chaos

of an occupied land

where things were very wrong.

 

God’s Word made flesh,

a baby,

a mere whisper of a child,

the smallest word

God could speak into the clamor

of a world gone mad.

 

Among the few who heard of it

fewer still

had even an inkling

of who he was,

 

that God

had been born into their very midst,

the whole kingdom of God

in the flesh,

bedded down for the night

in a feeding trough . . .

 

 

 

It always seems to me, in Advent,

that the veil between this world

and the kingdom of God

is especially thin, permeable . . .

 

and we would see and know

things thought impossible,

if only we would stop

our mad rushing about . . .

and pay attention,

. . . notice.

 

 

The readings assigned

for the Sundays of Advent

bring messengers,

harbingers

of God’s coming reign . . .

 

Today,

the prophet Isaiah

and John the Baptist . . .

 

And I’ve invited a guest,

Marie-Joseph Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,

(one person with a very long name)

from my own Advent reading.

 

Let’s listen to them.

 

 

About 730 years before Jesus was born,

during an invasion by the Assyrian army,

the prophet Isaiah spoke words of encouragement

to the people of Israel:

 

“Even if Israel is cut down like a tree,”

he said, “there is still life in the stump;

still juice in the roots of Jesse . . .”

 

“A new ruler will arise

descended from the royal line

of Jesse’s son David.

 

“Filled with God’s Spirit,

he will be the very ideal of a king,

judging the poor with righteousness

and the meek with equity,

and striking down the wicked.”

 

Isaiah’s vision of Israel’s restoration

expands to anticipate the reign of God,

when there will no longer be predator and prey,

either animal or (by extension) human:

 

Wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, lion and ox,

will live together in peace,

so docile they will be shepherded by a child.

 

“They will not hurt or destroy

on all my holy mountain,”

says the Lord,

“for the earth will be full

of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.”

 

About 1,940 years after Jesus was born,

there was a man who searched

the desert wastes for fossils,

to learn what they might tell him

about God and the evolution of God’s creation.

 

This was the Jesuit theologian,

geologist and paleontologist

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,

who wrote his own vision

of the coming of the Kingdom:

 

“ . . . the presence of Christ

which has been silently accruing in things,

will suddenly be revealed,” he said.

 

“Breaking through all the barriers

within which

the veil of matter

and the water-tightness of souls

have seemingly kept it confined,

it will invade the face of the earth  . . .”

 

“Breaking through all the barriers

within which

the veil of matter

                   and the water-tightness of souls

                             have seemingly kept it confined,

          [the presence of Christ]

                   will invade the face of the earth  . . .”   

 

 

“Like lightning, like a conflagration, like a flood,

the attraction exerted by the Son of Man

will lay hold of all the whirling elements in the universe

so as to reunite them . . .”

Teilhard de Chardin, from Le Milieu Divin,

                                 in Celebrating the Seasons,Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, page 7.

 

 

“The presence of Christ which has been

silently accruing in things

will suddenly be revealed . . .”

 

“. . . and the earth will be full

          of the knowledge of the Lord

                   as the waters cover the sea.”

 

 

About 30 years after Jesus was born,

John the Baptist,

that fierce and urgent figure,

appeared

in the wilderness of Judea

proclaiming the nearness of God’s kingdom,

 

warning all Israel to be prepared,

to cleanse themselves of sin

through the Jewish purification rite

of water-washing.

 

Word about John got around.

 

 

People from Jerusalem

and all Judea

and the region all along the Jordan

came searching:

 

the genuinely repentant

hoping for a fresh start,

 

those thinking why not?

it couldn’t hurt

to have a salvation insurance policy,

 

and there were the curious,

 

and the lovers of a good spectacle,

 

a goodly crowd.

 

Even Pharisees and Scribes,

members of

the professional religious class,

came . . .

 

in John’s eyes,

hypocrites whose lives and teachings

were shaped not by the spirit of God

but by

religious complacency

(we are sons of Abraham) . . .

and political expediency

(peace at any price –

meaning cooperation

with the Roman occupiers

of the land).

 

What were they doing there

at the banks of the Jordan?

 

Some, perhaps

came heeding the call

to repent;

 

some, perhaps, thinking

it prudent to check out

what was going on at

this raucus public revival;

 

some no doubt wondering

if this ranting unkempt upstart

might be a threat to their position

and authority.

 

“You brood of vipers!” John shouted.

“Who warned you

to flee from the wrath to come?

Repentance will do you no good

unless it is followed by a life

that bears fruit worthy of repentance.”

 

 

When we picture this scene,

we may imagine ourselves standing

next to John,

thinking that the Pharisees and Sadducees,

over there,

are getting what they deserve.

 

 

(How do you tell a prophet from a madman?

Easy:

He’s a prophet when he makes others uncomfortable,

a madman when he makes us uncomfortable.)

 

We might need to be reminded that,

despite their flaws and weaknesses,

the Pharisees and Scribes

were devout Jews

striving within the difficult context

of their lives and times

to be faithful to God and God’s law

 

even if sometimes they got it wrong.

 

Like us,

despite our flaws and weaknesses,

devout Christians

striving within the difficult context

of our lives and times

to be faithful to Jesus and to follow him,

 

even if sometimes we get it wrong.

 

John’s call to repentance

is a bucket of ice-water in the face.

 

We have no claim to salvation

simply because of our ancestry

or our professions of faith –

 

It’s no good being related to Abraham,

no good being baptized into kinship with Christ

if we do not produce the fruit of the kingdom . . .

 

for God is able to raise up

from stones scattered across the ground

true siblings for Christ.

 

 

“I baptize you with water for repentance,”

cries John, “but one who is more powerful than I

is coming after me . . .

 

“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

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.”

 

John is urgent and angry for the Kingdom.

 

We may object to the harshness of his message

but it sure gets our attention,

and we had better pay attention.

 

Advent calls us to let down our guard,

to peer through the veil of matter,

to open our watertight souls

to things thought impossible.

 

The kingdom of God is near . . .

 

 

God forbid

we should not notice the signs,

 

God forbid

we should stand in its way,

 

God forbid

we should withhold ourselves

from participating

in its coming.

 

 

These three Advent messengers.

Isaiah, Pierre, John,

 

tell of a God who is both savior and judge

who is by very nature both

justice and mercy,

who holds accountable and yet forgives.

 

This is the God whose journey in human form

ended in death on a cross,

 

becoming on the cross

the intersection

and reconciliation

of judgment and mercy

for all time.

 

It’s strange how time goes

when you’re dealing with a God

who dwells outside time

and yet, in Jesus,

gives God’s self

over to the tyranny of time . . .

the God who comes in Christ,

who doesn’t desire

to be liberated from Christmas

or any of the rest of our chaos,

but to enter into it and transform it,

 

to lay hold of all the whirling elements

in us,

in the human community,

in the universe,

so as to reunite them.

 

Advent asks us to slow down in time . . .

letting the rush to Christmas

flow around and past us . . .

 

so that we might be in this moment,

notice what is happening even now . . .

 

the gradual attraction

of all things to God in time,

the presence of Christ silently, tirelessly,

accruing in things across time,

until the tipping point of the Kingdom is reached

and time ends for all time.

 

 

This is the mystery of a God

who is both far from us and deep within us

and always drawing near,

 

God, revealed as love

in the very madness of it all,

come to break through our barriers

pierce our water-tight souls

with a baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit.

 

And when we least expect it,

and in a manner we cannot hope to predict,

righteousness, justice, equity,

the reign of God,

will spring forth for good . . .

 

and the earth will be full

of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

 

 

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