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To donate to relief for tsunami victims ...

... just click here. Episcopal Relief and Development has been on the ground there, is already disbursing aid to victims, and is a truly responsible and effective agent for long-term solutions for those needing relief.

Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor thee with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
— BCP, p. 827

Blessings,

Dylan

December 30, 2004 in Current Events, Special Feature | Permalink | Comments (0)

Second Sunday after Christmas, Year A

Jeremiah 31:7-14 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 - link to NRSV text

It's hard to appreciate the full impact of the stories about Jesus' birth without entering into the brutality he confronted even as an infant as well as the vulnerability a peasant family like Jesus' experienced. Last week, I recommended Richard Horsley's book The Liberation of Christmas, and this week I'd like to echo that recommendation -- that book is what really got me thinking about what Luke and Matthew are telling us in their narratives of Jesus' birth and infancy, and I'm referring to it extensively this week.

So what kind of a ruler was Herod the Great, Jesus' rival for the title of "king of the Judeans"? The first-century Jewish historian Josephus documents Herod's struggles to secure his territory, which he eventually did with extensive help from Roman troops. He thanked his benefactors not only by taking on titles like "Admirer of Rome" and "Admirer of Caesar," but by undertaking extensive building projects -- temples, gymnasia, statues, and even whole cities (Sebaste and Caesarea) named after the emperor. "Since he was involved in expenses greater than his means," Josephus writes, "he was compelled to be harsh toward his subjects, for the great number of things on which he spent money as gifts to some caused him to be the source of harm to those from whom he took his revenues" (Antiquities 15.365, as cited in Horsley, pp. 43-44).

The more the people chafed under Herod's rule, the more repressive it became:

No meeting of the people was permitted, nor were walking together or being together permitted, and all their movements were observed. Those who were caught were punished severely, and many were taken, either openly or secretly, to the fortress of Hyrcania and there put to death. Both in the city and in the open roads there were men who spied upon those who met together. ... Those who obstinately refused to go along with his practices he persecuted in all kinds of ways. As for the rest of the populace, he demanded that they submit to taking a loyalty oath, and he compelled them to make a sworn declaration that they would maintain a friendly attitude to his rule. Now most people yielded to his demand out of complaisance or fear, but those who showed some spirit and objected to compulsion he got rid of by every possible means.
Antiquities 15.366-369, as cited in Horsley, p. 47

These words came immediately to my mind when I read a story yesterday about rendition, the practice of forcing detainees onto a jet to be taken secretly from a country in which harsh methods of torture are banned to a country in which they're allowed. What a world we live in! I wonder what would happen if we put even half the ingenuity, technology, and resources into finding ways to get disaster relief to the incomprehensibly high number of people affected by yesterday's tsunami as we put into striking back at those suspected to be our enemies. The powers and the principalities of this world would drive us by fear to violence, by greed to indifference, and by disasters like the Asian tsunami to the conclusion that the world itself is cruel and senseless.

What a world we live in! Is it naive to hold on to hope and to speak of salvation in such a world?

Not at all, if we take the stories surrounding Jesus' birth seriously. We're too often tempted to reduce the scenes surrounding Jesus' birth into an adorable tableau of children transformed into shepherds with tea towels on their heads, a scene as peaceful as it is heartwarming. But the gospel stories of Jesus' birth were very clear about just how great and how oppressive the powers and principalities were from which Jesus came to save us. I think that when we gloss over that, we're tempted to view the darknesses of our own world through the lens of self-pity, and to conclude that the problems we face are greater than those faced before, perhaps even greater than Jesus' power to redeem and make whole.

That isn't true. Jesus was born into a world ruled by a Caesar who spent resources glorifying himself as "savior of the empire" that would better be put to use in saving his subjects from poverty, famine, or Rome-supported client rulers like Herod. Jesus was born as "king of the Judeans" in a Judea ruled by another who claimed that title, and who would stop at nothing to hold on to it. He was born to a people who had been delivered from slavery in Egypt, but ruled by a king who drove him and his parents back there as refugees. Christ our savior wasn't in the dark about the extent of the problems we face in the world, but his faith in the God of Israel who called him was such that he knew no darkness could hold out against the Light that has come into the world.

Sometimes we think that we have to enter into denial to hold on to hope, but that isn't true. Hope is not saying that problems don't exist or that they're not serious; it's keeping deeply in touch with the more fundamental truth that the whole universe was created in love and is destined for love. When we do that, when we make the decision to seek God's will in the midst of turmoil, then the power of the tempest teaches us how much more powerful our Redeemer is, and we can find peace amidst the storms.

The greatest gift we can give our children is not a fleeting illusion that "all is calm, all is bright" -- they're far too observant to be taken in by that for long, especially if we don't believe it ourselves. We give a far greater gift to our children by teaching the the meaning of compassion -- that great tragedy and great need are met by greater love. We teach them the meaning of hope -- that we recognize both the darkness and the fundamental truth that the deepest darkness must give way when it meets light. That's something we have to be deeply in touch with ourselves to pass along to our children, and to share with our world.

So I was pleased to see Joy Carroll Wallis' recent call to put Herod back into Christmas. I'm grateful to Matthew for telling us that Jesus knew the oppression of Egypt. How else would Jesus be able to lead us in Exodus? And I believe that Jesus came to do that. There is no Egypt, no Herod, no Caesar, who can stand against the testimony that we offer that Jesus is Lord. There is no need so great and no pain so deep that it can't be met with greater compassion and healing through Christ our savior. The world was made for love, and the redemption of the world comes as God's gift through Christ, poured out freely by grace. But in Christ, we have the opportunity to accompany Jesus to see the redemption of the world firsthand, to experience the love which is the primal force of Creation as our touch and our generosity minister Jesus' healing and grace to a world that, though it is in darkness, has seen a great light -- the Light of the World, dawning anew in Christmas.

Thanks be to God!

December 28, 2004 in Christmas, Current Events, Jeremiah, Justice, Matthew, Prophets, Year A | Permalink | Comments (1)

Merry Christmas!

A joyous Christmas to y'all!

I'll be posting on the Jan. 2 readings tomorrow.

Blessings,

Dylan

December 27, 2004 in Administrivia, Personal Notes | Permalink | Comments (0)

Christmas bonus!

I asked my partner to pick up a book for me today from the library. It's one that I've got SOMEWHERE in my own library -- unless it's one of those books I've lent to someone and didn't get back -- but I couldn't find it yesterday, and I knew I wanted to look through it yet another time to get ready to preach (and blog, of course) on the readings for January 2nd. And as I was explaining why I so wanted this particular book because "it should be required reading for anyone who has to preach at all during the Christmas season," my partner wisely pointed out that such a thing might be worth mentioning in blogland. So here it is:

Richard Horsley's The Liberation of Christmas. It might be too late to order it, have it delivered, and thumb through it for this Christmas season (although if you can pick it up from a local theological library, do it!  You'll be glad you have it on January 2nd). You'll be glad to have it next year, though.

January 1, 2005 edit: The book is out of print. Drats! Try to get a used copy, or read a library copy. It's good!

February 11, 2005 edit: The book has been reprinted, and is available once more from Amazon.com at a reasonable price.

Also, I know that many of you are preaching for both Christmas Eve/Day services and on December 26th, so I thought it might be worth mentioning an angle on the reading from John 1 that's on the lectionary for December 26th. Were I preaching on both days, on December 26th I would probably go for this angle: what are the implications of "the Word became flesh and lived among us" as we seek to interpret scripture? What does it mean that when seek God's Word, we are seeking a person rather than a book, let alone an idea about a book? And if we are Christ's Body in the world, how are we called to enflesh the Word for the world, as Jesus the Christ did for us?

December 23, 2004 in Books, Christmas, Special Feature | Permalink | Comments (0)

Christmas Day and the First Sunday after Christmas

Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7 - link to NRSV text - (Option 1 only)

Luke 2:1-20 - link to NRSV text - (Options 1 and 2 only)

John 1:1-18 - link to NRSV text - (Option 3 for Christmas Day; gospel for First Sunday after Christmas)

I am bringing you news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Lord, the anointed!

Last week, my sermon asked the congregation to imagine for a moment what it would mean if it was really true, really a message from the God of Israel, that Jesus saves us from sin.

Imagine that: everything needed to overcome every dark force or impulse that isolates us from one another and from God came into the world two thousand years ago. The fall of sin itself! That's a change bigger than the fall of communism, bigger than the fall of terrorism.

We who receive Jesus, the Christ, are not just living in a new era: we are living in a new world.

That can be very hard to hold on to, though, when things are dark. There's a lot of bad news in the morning paper. Every day, headlines tell us how many more have died in Iraq. Many of us have loved ones serving there, or in Afghanistan, and we fear for their lives. There are headlines about corruption, turmoil, disease. And then there are the private sorrows that don't make the headlines, the dark moments of a child caught in the crossfire when a drug deal goes bad, a woman whose life is in danger from an abusive husband, an illness that seems as senseless as it is painful.

Sometimes, it feels overwhelming. How can we look at the world as it is and still say that Jesus has conquered sin and death? How can we look at the world as it is and still say that Jesus is the Lord? How can we look at the world in its darkness and say that the Light of the World has come?

We are not the first people to struggle with these questions. Luke portrays Jesus' birth as taking place during the census of Quirinius, governor of Syria [*]. A census may sound harmless enough -- but then take a look at 2 Samuel 24:1-17, in which David's taking a census is presented as a sin so grievous as to be punished with the deaths of seventy thousand people. More to the point, Luke knows that the specific census taken by Quirinius so represented the unjust taxation and oppressive rule of Rome that it inspired a revolt led by Judas the Galilean, as Luke mentions in Acts 5:37.

Luke knows that Jesus was born in dark times. He knows about the dark times that followed as well -- the famine in Judea that necessitated Paul's collection for Jerusalem from churches across the empire, the war with Rome that broke out in 66 A.D., the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., strife within synagogues as Christian Jews refused to take up arms even to defend Jerusalem and the Temple, the persecution and martyrdom of Christians whose refusal to honor any lord other than Jesus and any father other than God angered their families and neighbors as well as the Roman authorities. John's gospel also reflects the turmoil of its times, of rejection and persecution and martyrdom at the hands of those who think they are doing God's will by killing. Those were dark times indeed.

But Good News!

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness--
on them a light has shined.

Jesus has come among us. God's glory is revealed! We can "see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has revealed" (Luke 2:18), if we choose to follow the signs.

And what are the signs? A child, wrapped in ordinary cloth and lying in a manger. A peasant girl, narrowly spared from being stoned to death by her village after her husband-to-be found her to be pregnant with a child that wasn't his. An overwhelmed father, doing his best to find shelter for his family on a night when they are homeless and friendless. A gathering of shepherds, among the lowest of laborers.

It doesn't look like a special-effects moment, so far, does it?

I think in some ways that what makes the Christmas story such an effective representation of how our hope of salvation is born. The Christmas story tells us that the world doesn't have to be made perfect before it is made new. The world doesn't have to be rid of sinners before we are freed from sin. The world doesn't need to be rid of darkness before we can walk in the light. Indeed, Christmas tells us that God's glory is revealed in the muck of a stable and the pain of a Roman cross as it could never be in the brightness of the heavens, because the greatest glory of God is God's love.

It's an extravagant love, poured out for each one of us as if we were the only person in the world to love. It's a generous love, lavished upon us in unlimited supply. It's an unconditional love, offered without reservation or regard for what you have and haven't done. It's love without borders or limits, as the Christ whose birth we celebrate this season has called all people as God's people, chosen and cherished.

Prophetic words through the centuries testified to this love, but a love like that is beyond comprehending. And that's why we needed Jesus. Jesus is more than a teacher who can help us understand the words in scripture. Jesus is the Word made flesh. We don't have to figure it all out; we can experience it in relationship. And Jesus isn't just an admirable character in a story, given so that we can imagine what he might do. The power and the hope of Christmas comes to us here and now, again and again, because through the Spirit whom Jesus sent to us, you and I and all who are called by God are the very Body of Christ. Every Sunday as we gather for worship, every time any two or three of us gather anywhere, we are invited to experience God's love not as a passive observer, but as an active participant. We come to Jesus' table, and the Word made flesh meets us in the flesh.

It's a new life. It's a new world. Right here, right now, we are invited to experience the Incarnation we celebrate in Christmas by living and loving as Christ's Body in the world. That's the light we walk in, that shines all the more brightly in the darkness that cannot overcome it. That's the hope that sustains us, the peace that keeps us centered amidst life's turmoil, the joy that makes eternal and abundant life present in the here and now. 

Jesus the Christ is born! Our salvation -- the salvation of the world -- is here!

Thanks be to God!


* Quirinius became governor in 6 A.D., while Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. This means that, historically speaking, we can't reconcile Matthew's claim that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great with Luke's claim that Jesus was born while Quirinius was governor of Syria. I think it's fair to say, though, that neither Luke nor Matthew were not concerned anywhere near as much with what year Jesus was born as they were with the theological significance of Jesus' birth. return to the reflection


December 20, 2004 in Christmas, Current Events, Isaiah, John, Luke, Pastoral Concerns, Prophets | Permalink | Comments (1)

Top Five from 2004

Bob Carlton has asked bloggers to supply lists of their top five posts from 2004, so as a toast to the theological and emerging-church blogging communities, here's my list:

  1. Good Friday, Year C: "Christ Our Passover: Our Exodus from the Narrow Places"
  2. Proper 19, Year C: "The Parable of the Ninety-Nine, Or Why It's Probably a Good Thing that Sheep Don't Talk"
  3. Proper 21, Year C: "Bridging the Chasm"
  4. Fifth Sunday in Easter, Year C: "The Anglican Altar Call"
  5. Proper 20, Year C: "Unjustly Forgiven"

I've valued the dialogue on this site and others in the community a great deal over the last year.  Thanks, all!

Blessings,

Dylan

December 17, 2004 in Best of 2004, Special Feature | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

Romans 1:1-7 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 1:18-25 - link to NRSV text

Rules are rules.

We need it to be that way. Rules make life predictable, and to make meaning, we need things to be at least somewhat predictable. Rules are how we know what's what -- something we need especially with respect to something that's really important. In some ways, you can tell what's really important in our culture by where we tend most to stick to rules -- things you do because that's how it's done.

Rules help us make sense of the senseless. When I was growing up in the 70's and 80's, there was a rule that had become law, and we called it "Mutually Assured Destruction." There were two superpowers: the U.S.S.R. and the United States. We each had nuclear weapons. We each were held back from launching them by the certain knowledge that the other superpower would launch theirs ... but we knew that couldn't last forever. When I was in high school, there was a television miniseries called The Day After that gave voice to what most people my age believed would happen before we had the chance to see old age: by mistake or intention, someone launches theirs, and we launch ours, and the world ends -- fire, followed by ice, with famine and unspeakable global destruction. Mutually Assured Destruction -- the rule that accounted for how we didn't kill each other, and told us how we would eventually kill each other.

But not all rules are so grim. Weddings are important in our culture. Women who, in their day-to-day lives, have not only assumed responsibility for themselves and their decisions as adults, but are responsible for many others as heads of organizations, companies, or families often choose on their wedding day to be "given away" by their fathers -- not because they belong to their fathers to be given to another man, but just because "that's how it's done." Men who are already living and sharing household expenses with the woman they love go to incredible lengths to squirrel away enough to buy a diamond ring (and for a woman who doesn't wear jewelry) when they want to propose marriage because, well, "that's how it's done."

Imagine that amped up about ten thousand times, and you have some idea of how set ancient customs about betrothals (which go WAY beyond our ideas about "engagement") and marriages were. I highly recommend the treatment given to this in Bruce Malina's and Richard Rorhbaugh's Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. It's serious stuff.

And rules are rules. That's what justice is, isn't it?

That's what Jesus upsets from the beginning -- even before he's born.

Here's the rule about what happens if you think the woman to whom you're engaged is bearing someone else's child: both the woman and the man whose child it is get death by stoning -- assuming you know the identity of the father, and that the woman is seized in an area in which someone could have heard her screams if she cried out. Joseph is a righteous (dikaios) man, but he refuses to expose Mary to public disgrace to carry this out.

So Joseph plans to divorce (a measure that would have to be taken to nullify a betrothal) Mary quietly. It's the best option he can take to avoid claiming a child that wasn't his (Who knows? He may have assumed that Mary loved the father, and that the father would love the baby.)

Of course, the dilemma Joseph faces stems from another "rules are rules" issue, this one biological: Children have fathers. God knows that children were meant to have two parents: one man, one woman! If Joseph didn't have sex with Mary, then somebody else did.

I guess rules were made to be broken.

There are a few other rules that get broken in this passage. They're rules of far less importance in ancient Mediterranean cultures, but they are important in some cultures we encounter -- rules like, "the written word -- especially in Scripture -- is of utmost importance, and all pious people must be faithful to it." They whole "THEY shall call his name Emmanuel" thing is not in Isaiah 7:14; Matthew was either quoting from a version of that text which is not preserved in any version of what we Christians or Jews call scripture, or the author was taking liberties with the biblical text -- something that many 20th- and 21st-century people find uncomfortable.

Ancient biographies , unlike modern ones, weren't interested in stages of development, and they certainly weren't interested in surprises. Subjects of ancient biographies were shown as being the same to their dying day as they were the day they were born -- the same the stars proclaimed they'd be at their birth. Jesus was no exception, in Matthew's biography.

Matthew's Jesus is "King of the Judeans," but the first people to recognize his coming, other than Joseph and Mary, are not Jews, but are astrologers, or magi, from eastern kingdoms. Jesus is the person who showed us what true honor is by acting shamelessly, befriending tax collectors and sinners and dying a death on a Roman cross that would -- by the rules, anyway -- be called shameful. Jesus, who has no human father and had no children of his own, incarnates for us the one who is Father to the fatherless.

In other words, Jesus' whole life -- and his being raised to life by the God of Israel after his death -- is, like his conception and birth, a paradox, a justly broken rule.

Here's another rule, one that's trustworthy, by sensible reckonings: you reap what you sow.

But consider that the angel's word to Joseph in this Sunday's gospel is true: Jesus came to save to save people from their sins.

Take a moment to think about what sin is and where it leaves the world -- about everything that speaks and enacts brokenness, despair, dehumanizing people made in the image of God, despising God's good gifts. Think about it. Think about the solutions people have proposed for those things -- a war on poverty, a war on terrorism, eugenics as a "final solution" to make sure that humanity's weaknesses become extinct. Those are from the optimists. The pessimists among us say that there is no salvation from our sins: the poor get poorer, the sick stay poor and (no insurance? sorry -- can't help you!) thus get sicker, violence begets violence, and there is no out -- just doing the best that you can to keep what you've got and protect those who are yours in a world that is steadily going to hell, with or without a handbasket.

Think about it: an angel of the God of the universe told Joseph that the child who was to be born -- the child whose birth we anticipate in this last Sunday of Advent -- will save people from their sins.

We will not reap what we sow, what our parents sowed.

I started out this week's mediation talking a little bit about the world I grew up in, the world of the Cold War and of Mutually Assured Destruction. And I can tell you about the day when I saw that world come tumbling down. I was in seminary at St. Andrews University in Scotland, and one morning while we were all having coffee in the common room, someone told us that the Berlin Wall was coming down.

That wall was more than a wall -- it was a world. The world of the Cold War was coming down, and people were dancing on it as it was crumbling. Students left St. Andrews in droves and hitchhiked to ports, bought tickets on ferries, did whatever they had to do to get there and dance with the dancers. They brought back chips of the wall, that thing that was built before we were born and told us how we and the world would die.

One of the few regrets I have in my life so far is that I didn't go.

I had things to do -- classes to attend, papers to write. I had a job waiting on tables. I was afraid to lose it, afraid the little money I had wouldn't get me to Berlin or wouldn't get me back. I was so busy with the life I was living in the world that was ending that I didn't read the signs: that world was ending, and I had the chance to dance with those who were welcoming a new world, one that wasn't doomed to end in massive fireballs or nuclear winter.

This is the last Sunday of Advent. We have spent the last few weeks waiting, listening, watching as people in darkness who yearn for a sign of the light. And the Light of the World is on the horizon now: his name is Jesus, for he will save people from their sins.

The whole world of sin is ending. It's ending now. It's bigger than the end of communism, the end of terrorism; it's the end of ending and the beginning of beginning.  I was a fool to miss the fall of the Berlin Wall because I was afraid of missing a few classes on the theology of John's gospel. I don't want to make that mistake again. So now, I look to Jesus' Advent, to Jesus' birth. I see that the world of sin is falling, and when I'm really in touch with that, there's nothing I wouldn't drop to dance on the ruins as they fall.

I'm serious -- a world-changing event that makes the fall of the Berlin Wall look like trivia is on its way. It's not a pie in the sky; it's a tree growing from an undying root planted when Mary said "here I am" to God's call, and nurtured by Joseph's doing the right thing by refusing to do what the Law required. It's the end of every damn thing that damns us. Who wouldn't skip class, risk hitching a ride, do what it takes to get to where God's people are dancing there?

It's all happening! There are five days of Advent left to watch for it and get there -- figure out what's holding you back from going to where the stars will reveal the Christ, and make a decision to drop it. The time in which rules are rules is over. What would you do if the ONLY thing to do were to seek God and God's anointed?

We have received grace and apostleship to bring that to the peoples of the world ... starting with us, here, now.

Thanks be to God!

December 13, 2004 in Advent, Best of 2004, Eschatology, Matthew, Romans, Year A | Permalink | Comments (5)

Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Isaiah 35:1-10 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 11:2-11 - link to NRSV text

If you haven't seen my entry for last week, you might want to check it out, as it discusses this Sunday's gospel as well as last Sunday's in ways that could be helpful.

Some historical trivia related to this passage: some commentators remark on John's being able to communicate with outsiders, such that he can send messengers to Jesus to ask a question, as if this were odd or unrealistic. It isn't. Ancient prisons didn't provide prisoners with food and other necessities; prisoners depended for these entirely on family members or others to provide for them. Someone like John, who was a popular leader, would have followers bringing him food and such, and they would have plenty of opportunity to convey messages. Others prisoners weren't so lucky, which is why Matthew 28's "parable of the sheep and the goats" points to visiting those in prison as a vital ministry. Without visitors, prisoners wouldn't just be starving for companionship; they would starve.

I find an interesting parallel in Luke 4:16-30 to what's going on in this Sunday's gospel passage from Matthew. Luke 4 shows Jesus claiming a passage from Isaiah -- Isaiah 61 -- as his mission statement. Jesus makes an important change to the passage, though, eliminating one phrase -- "a day of vengeance for our God" -- from the Isaiah 61 passage, and substituting a clause from Isaiah 42:7 -- "the recovery of sight to the blind" -- instead. In other words, Jesus rejects bringing vengeance as part of his mission.

That story doesn't appear in Matthew, but the thrust of it does appear, and particularly in the material Matthew shares with Luke (the material that scholars hypothesize comes from a shared source we call "Q") about Jesus' relationship with John the Baptizer.

This Sunday's gospel comes from that material. John is in prison, but he receives word from his followers about how Jesus is carrying out his mission -- and John is not pleased. John spoke of a mighty one coming to baptize the righteous with the Holy Spirit and the wicked with fire to destroy them. Jesus talks about and does plenty of Holy Spirit things -- healings and Good News and liberation -- but he doesn't talk much at all about fire and destruction, and more importantly, he hasn't DONE any of the fire and destruction stuff at all. He doesn't even seem to talk about it as part of his future plans. So where's the smiting?

I'm not particularly proud of it, but I do speak with authority as someone who's longed for some smiting myself. I'm guessing that if any of us were being completely honest, there's someone, if not a whole group of someones, out there whom we really think the world would be better off without (like KoKo's list from The Mikado). There's someone who we think is holding back the kind of world God wants to bring into being, and we think that God can't bring that world until people like that either get with the program or (more likely) get what they deserve.

God preserve me from getting what I deserve when I'm tempted to think like that.

Or -- old habits die hard -- maybe God has a different way of reckoning "deserving."  In the end, it really IS "who you know," and on some level (anyone seriously into natural theology or Romans 1 admits) we all know the one who created us, the one God whose child we are. What would it do to our ways of reckoning who deserves what if we took Jesus seriously as the Incarnation of God, and Jesus' treatment of people as the ultimate demonstration of what God thinks we deserve?

We deserve healing, and teaching -- and honesty, to be sure, but honesty delivered with pastoral sensitivity to each person's condition. And what happens when we treat God's healing, and teaching, and honesty with disrespect? What happens when we reject it, or even reject God?

Look at what Jesus did when he was disrespected, rejected, even murdered in the most brutal and lingering of ways. He took it all, and forgave those who dished it out. When he came back afterward, he didn't come back like Arnold Schwarzeneggar in The Terminator, rising from each blow to dish out better than what he got to the one who gave it to him; he came back pretty much with the same attitude and behavior he exhibited before his crucifixion.

So what kind of Jesus are we expecting will be coming back at the climax of all things? Are we hoping that this next time, or at the last time, Jesus will finally come back as The Terminator? If so, we'll be just as disappointed, if not more so, than John the Baptizer was in Matthew 11. Or is it the Jesus we're longing for, the Jesus our lives as well as our lips confess is coming again to judge the living and the dead, the Jesus whom John's followers were told about?

That's the only Christ there is. That Jesus -- his humble service to the poor, the outcast, and the sinner, his willingness to eat with Pharisees as well as tax collectors and prostitutes, and most of all, his willingness to die on a Roman cross rather than retaliate against those who treated him and his people brutally -- is the judge of the nations, God's final answer to the question of what humanity, at its worst or its best, really deserves, in God's reckoning, in God's time. the extent to which I can finally embrace that truth, the extent to which I can receive others with the kind of generosity with which Jesus received those who came to him, is the extent to which I can understand just how boundless God's generosity, forgiveness, and love are toward someone like me.

And so I can say with all my heart, Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

Thanks be to God.

December 6, 2004 in Advent, Eschatology, Isaiah, Matthew, Year A | Permalink | Comments (0)