12.02.2009

2nd Sunday in Advent, Year C

Throughout this season of waiting, we are struck by the reality that this pilgrimage we find ourselves on has neither an exact beginning nor an exact end. It is neither all about darkness nor light. It is not all about the world being bad or good. We are journeying toward something that we cannot completely know. In particular, this week, we find ourselves caught in the tension of a spectrum that lies between Destruction and Restoration.

During Advent, as we read the lectionary passages, we remember that we are observing history and living into the present and anticipating the future. And as holy scripture, we believe these selected texts speak in all of these places and times. The Hebrew scriptures shed light on the prophetic tradition of Israel, of the Jewish hope in a Messiah. In the gospel texts, we experience first hand accounts of how early followers interpreted and understood the birth of Christ looking back from his resurrection. And in the epistles, we consider how the earliest churches were interpreting their experience in light of recent history - the destruction of the Temple, the reality that no life altering second coming had occurred, and the tenacious belief that there was still hope.

Early on in the Hebrew scriptures, prophets speak of a coming power - understood to be sent, ordained or empowered by God - who would once again redeem the lives of the Israelites. This is no rosy picture - as Malachi prophesies, this is a refining force, one that will remold and remake the people, purifying them. The result will be a return to relationship "as in the days of old and as in the former years." The prophet speaks of a return to a previous order and understanding.

Instead of the typical Psalm, our lectionary readings include the Canticle of Zechariah, a praise text from the gospel of Luke, spoken by Zechariah upon the birth of a miraculous son - born to an old couple who has lost hope. The couple awaits the birth of John - who will be known as John the Baptizer or John the Forerunner...Already they know that his birth foretells the coming of a much awaited force for the Jewish people. And we can't overlook an important role reserved for John - he has the unique task of bringing people to repentance of their sins, "to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." Hmm. None of that task is particularly finite...it's a step in a new direction. The way of peace is a path that people will find themselves traveling.

In Paul's letter to the church at Phillipi, we read a fairly traditional greeting that establishes Paul's relationship with the community. This is a time of persecution, and this community shares with Paul a commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and awaits the time when all will be restored. Of particular note is Paul's prayer that this community's love may overflow with knowledge and insight so that they will know what is "best." Not what is absolute. What is best...lying on a spectrum without beginning and end.

Finally, in Luke's gospel, we hear of John's call - in the wilderness he is called to prepare the way. The text sets a political stage as well, establishing the prevalence of foreign rule and control. John sets forth in an occupied land to speak of a new "Lord" who is not the emperor, not Caesar, not Roman. The text points very intentionally back to the prophet Isaiah. John's actions are fulfillment of an expectation now hundreds of years old.

And so, as we are looking back at the ancient and less ancient Israelite / Jewish hopes and expectations and understandings of Destruction and Restoration, what do you imagine they were dreaming toward? Were they hoping for a return to the way things were before? Were they hoping for a new and different Kingdom where they replaced the rulers of the day?

What about today? Are you afraid we are headed toward Destruction? What would you expect Restoration to look like? Do you / we have any role or responsibility in either the Destruction or Restoration?

God we dream of Restoration and we fear Change and Destruction.
We desperately desire things to be Just As We Plan.
We often do not appreciate the things we do not know.
Help us to find a way to be comfortable with the Unfathomable.

© matt & laura norvell 2009 www.settingourstones.org
we want to share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.

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