Thursday, December 29, 2005

It's Time - Christmas 2/New Year's

The calendar offers interesting options this year for one who preaches. Christmas 2 holds this rich story of Simeon and Annna - one that fits the liturgical season with unique specificity this year.

For a Methodist, though, how can I ignore what the "new year" has meant to our movement?

And while the calendar gives opportunity on this front, Epiphany is going to be truncated, to say nothing of Baptism of the Lord. There's significant theological "stuff" to mark the time of a new year over the next two weeks. Getting to it all with integrity is a challenge.

But for January 1, Christmas 2, I'm going to lean most heavily on that text from which comes the line most commonly used by those who observe The Daily Office's evening setting - the nunc dimittis.

Keep watch here as I build some thoughts for the preaching moment this Sunday. In the meantime, a day or two more with family in these days of Christmas.

The following is the sum of outlined thoughts that sprung more extended thoughts for January 1. I am grateful for Daniel B. Clendenin's site from which the concise thoughts of the desert monastics was found. Sometimes I carry this much into pulpit, other times more, often times much less.

What I'm looking for when I take less printed work into the preaching moment are "triggers" that will kick off the moves that I've worked out internally.

When it works, it's magic.
When it doesn't, well, crash and burn comes to mind.
Regardless, I take to heart that prayer that Michael Williams prays before he preaches (and one I pray to myself even as I offer the routine pre-sermon prayer)

Lord, if I screw this up, please make something of it anyway. Amen.

It’s Time
Christmas 1 Luke 2.22-40

New Year – Christmas
Reflection upon what’s been
Projection of what’s to be.

The presentation in the Temple captures all this and declares that to which we too often give little attention – the “now” of any moment.

For Simeon and Anna – It’s time for they have seen the Messiah – and upon seeing him they declare, in effect, “it’s time.” That’s what the nunc dimittis is.

Time to move on
Time to die
Time for Redemption

Why? Because the promises of God have been and are being fulfilled in this very moment.

And they saw him because they believed they would.
Believing is Seeing

The new year is a “it’s time” opportunity. Too often reduced to "resolutions" we know we won't keep, why can't we look upon the new year as a new claim of spiritual disciplines. And today, we call upon the wisdom of those who’ve gone before to guide our way - the desert monastics.

1. Never stop starting over: "Abba Poeman said regarding Abba Prin that every day he made a new beginning." "My God, do not abandon me. I have done nothing good before Thee, but grant me, in Thy compassion, the power to make a start" (Arsenios, 5th century).

2. Live intentionally, not aimlessly: "Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort" (St. Mark the Ascetic, 5th century).

3. Pray simply, not stupidly: "Often when I have prayed I have asked for what I thought was good, and persisted in my petition, stupidly importuning the will of God, and not leaving it to Him to arrange things as He knows is best for me. But when I have obtained what I asked for, I have been very sorry that I did not ask for the will of God to be done; because the thing turned out not to be as I had thought" (Evagrios the Solitary, 4th century). Abba Macarius said, "It is enough to say, 'Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.' And if the conflict grows fiercer, say: 'Lord, help!'"

4. Renounce all self-justification: According to John the Dwarf, "We have put aside the easy burden, which is self-accusation, and weighed ourselves down with the heavy one, self-justification."

5. Stop judging others: "The monk, says Moses, must never judge his neighbor at all in any way whatever." "They said of Abba Macarius that just as God protects the world, so Abba Macarius would cover the faults he saw, as though he did not see them, and those he heard, as though he did not hear them."

6. Celebrate theological modesty: "St. John Chrysostom says that we do not know wholly even what is given in part, but know only a part of a part" (St. Peter of Damaskos, 12th century).

7. Be ruthlessly realistic: "Saint Anthony said to Poemen, 'expect trials and temptations until your last breath.'" "I am convinced that not even the apostles, although filled with the Holy Spirit, were therefore completely free from anxiety...Contrary to the stupid view expressed by some, the advent of grace does not mean the immediate deliverance from anxiety" (St. Makarios of Egypt, 5th century).

8. Read the obituaries: "When the death of Arsenius drew near, the brothers saw him weeping and asked, 'Truly, Father, are you afraid?' 'Indeed,' he answered them, 'the fear which is mine this hour has been with me ever since I became a monk.'" "At the moment of our death we will all know for certain what is the outcome of our life" (St. Gregory of Sinai, 13th century).

And today, as we approach the Table, what do you see? Could it be the one Simeon and Anna saw so long ago?

Could it be? It is – Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s time.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A "Word" If You Please - Christmas Day

The following is among the scribbled notes I'll carry into this morning's Christmas service.

It is outline in nature with a few key phrases to trigger some extended thought.

The order of the day, however, is brevity. Otherwise, my kids will revolt!

There are some texts on some occasions that are not to be "preached." They are the sermon - the homiletical task is to avoid getting in the way.

A "Word" If You Please
Christmas Day 2005
John 1.1-14

In the beginning was the "word," the Logos.

The Feast of the Nativity cannot come apart from the realities of the world into which the Christ is born.

Even as angels sang and shepherds kept watch there were principalities and powers at work to divide, conquer, destroy. The very census that demanded Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem in the first place was a means for Rome to keep control of it's territory.

Neither can we ignore the realities of our day even as we proclaim "Joy to the World." For such a word breaks into the principalities and powers that perpetuate hatred, division, war and puts them on notice "the Lord is come, let earth receive her King." To do so is to pervert the radical news of Christmas and reduce it to sentimentality thereby robbing it of the scandal that it is.

But the Nativity reminds us that God does not shirk from the redemption of the world in the face the turmoil we can bring upon ourselves. To the contrary, despite our capacity to make a mockery of all things Sacred, and maybe because of it, God comes and breaks out camp right in the middle of it all and dares us not to notice.

Even more than that Christmas is that "outward and visible sign" of what has always been true that we have never been apart from God's presence, we never will be and that

3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1.3-5

When we turned away and our loved failed, your love remained steadfast. The Eucharistic Prayer

While invitations are freely given to be people of the light, to live the good news, I'm wondering now if Christmas is that last best kept secret to turn our lives into something different than they've been.

As the angels told the shepherds, so to, are we told, to come and see this thing that has taken place.

And so, today, sisters and brothers, a "word" if you please.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 -->who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 -->And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. John 1-12-14

Epilogue to "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Only You Can Keep The Chi in Xmas

A few thoughts in these concluding days of Advent - -

For all those folks getting their knickers in a bunch over Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas or whatever - get over it.

C'mon, are their any Jeffersonians out there?




Thomas was so right on this point - there is to be a wall that separates church and state.

That does not mean that people who represent the state can't be religious.

And neither does that mean that the church cannot be involved in matters of the state.

It means there is no "state religion." Our founders knew something about that.

And you know, I'm really o.k. with that.

But somewhere we've lost our way on this point.

And in response to "not wanting to offend" anyone, we do the worst possible thing - we strip the distinctiveness of religious expression into a warm tub of emotion and use words like "the real meaning of the season is giving," or we'll talk about spirit of the season. Or, we'll talk about Happy Holidays.

Well, that's not what the season is about.

If it's Hanukkah we're talking about it is distinct.

It's the "Festival of Lights".

These days are significant for our Jewish sisters and brothers.

If Christians would learn the story of God's provision in the scarcity of the moment, of one day's worth of oil that burned eight affirming God's presence in the face of one's adversaries, we might find some resonant points to our own faith experience.

Do I have to have a nativity scene out on the court square or else Christmas has gone straight to the dogs? No.

Can't there be a place for multi-faith observances of religious tradition? Yes.

And there is.

It begins in our homes and in our houses of worship.

Look, I'm Christian.

Christmas, beyond the cultural trappings that too often enslave me, means something distinctive to me.

Christ is born.

God is with us.

"The Way out of no way" has a story, and it begins in Bethlehem.

What I feel about it is irrelevant.

It is what it is.

If I count myself Christian, I have a bounden duty (that should be matched with my joyful willingness) to proclaim "Gloria in excelsis Deo!"

Where should I be on Christmas Day? Among other places, with my family of faith, in my Church, giving thanks to God for the collision of the Divine with a broken world.

It's far too easy to criticize mega-Churches right now who are not worshipping this Christmas because the holiday falls on the Lord's day.

Yes, it's poor form.

Yes, it shows that convenience yet again trumps faithfulness.

Yes, it shows the incongruity of those congregations who fancy themselves leaders of the 21st century Church by not taking the moment to lead.

And yes, I have to live with the "Dad, do we have to go to Church on Christmas Day?" pleas from my "preacher's kid" children who'd prefer to stay home and play with their gifts, but know that their dad never cancels church on Sunday - ever.

But what this little upset brings into high relief for me, and offers conviction for far too many of us - is that we who are up on our high horses who are worshipping on 12/25/05, but didn't on Christmas Day in 04 and won't in 06 need to shut up in our criticism of others.

The question isn't whether or not we should worship on Christmas Day in 05 because it's a Sunday - but whether we should be worshipping every Christmas Day because it's Christmas Day!

If I'm not willing to honor the day wherever it falls on the calendar, then I really have no right to complain about how we've let Christmas go away.

If Christmas goes away, it's only because those of us charged to observe it let it happen.

And make no mistake, this is not about whether or not a nativity scene can be displayed on the court square.

That's a cop out. It's not the job of the state to keep Christmas "real" for me.

If our varied communities of faith truly honored the day, we wouldn't need to get upset about public nativity scene displays being removed. The culture, the country, is not charged with obligations to the One whose name is claimed.

We who confess Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, are.

It's just that simple.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Imagine - Advent 3/4

The following was preached Advent 3, December 11. "The Magnificat" was an alternate text for the day instead of Psalm 126. "The Annunciation" is the text for Advent 4. However, my choir is singing the Advent 4 service, and this would be my last shot at preaching until Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Over my years, I have come to develop a subtle Mariology that convinces me that Protestants need to embrace her differently. Truth is, most Protestants don't embrace her at all - she is little more than the conduit through whom their Savior is born.

Luke 1.26-36, 46-55

Luke 1.26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1.46-55
And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

This reading from Luke 1 contains two different episodes, each of which has a particular name that would be familiar to you during this time of year.

The story of the visitation of the angel Gabriel to Mary to deliver the news of what is to happen to her is called, in church-speak, “The Annunciation.”

After that, and during her visit with Elizabeth, and Mary breaks forth in song – that passage is called “the Magnificat.”

It hearkens words of proclamation, exclamation – magnifying the One who is making possible all this is about to take place.

In a word, “The Magnificat” is magnificent.

And interestingly enough, within “The Magnificat” you find the bedrock of what would be Jesus’ theology in his own preaching.

We know of Jesus as God’s child, to be sure, but a lot of his theology, by God through her, came from mama.

Listen –

‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;. . .
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

Can’t you hear Jesus saying words like this when offering some of the most confrontational language you can imagine toward the religious and political elite of his time?

Yes, Mary has a role to play in the story of Jesus beyond his birth. She lays the groundwork in him for all that will come thereafter.

What’s most interesting to me about Luke 1 and 2 is that these words, in too much of Church tradition, have become a litmus test as to whether or not we really believe that Jesus is who the Bible says he is.

I actually know of one United Methodist Church who will interview its potential clergy (something they’re not supposed to do) and ask them if they believe in the virgin birth (in the way they think you're supposed to believe in it) before you’re even allowed to be considered among the clergy "good enough" to serve that congregation.

Needless to say, I ain't a'goin.'

It’s interesting what’s happened to the Church over the years, how we’ve locked into “you’ve got to believe this” in order to have your faith validated, and not just believe it happened, believe it happened exactly the way the Scriptures indicate it happened (at least from a literal perspective).

This week, as I’ve lived with these texts, and read, prayed, studied, thought a bit, ...what I’m determining about these readings, perhaps about the whole of the Scripture, is that too much of the church suffers from a lack of imagination.

We are so “fact” based, and we like it that way.

We want to know what happened –

How it happened –

And we associate belief or opinion about someone or something based upon what the facts seem to indicate.

We are so enlightened, and the way we approach the Scriptures and the way we approach virtually everything in life is based no longer on imagination, but on that old saying -

That says it - That seals it - I believe it - That’s it.

Friends, this book, the Bible, is a book of imagination.

But that does not mean it’s not true.

It’s book of remarkable story. Look at the stories that are found in the Scripture.

Holy Imagination.

God inspired imaginations of the people telling something of God’s character, of God’s persistent love for God’s people, of God’s deepest desire to be in Communion with us.

And yet, we want to reduce it to “you’ve got believe it because it says it.”

What happens when we introduce other translations into the mix? And the words are not exactly the same?

I guess that’s when we fall back to the “authorized” version of the Bible. How arrogant of those to mandate a version of the Bible based upon the desires of a political figure in 1600’s England.

Wasn’t the first time politics manipulated religion. It’s fairly clear in our day that it won’t be the last.

But let’s not get other translations involved, it makes the whole case a little fuzzy.

Use your imagination people.

Because where there is no imagination, there is no faith.

And make no mistake about it, this whole "intelligent design" business that's going on in schools these days is a joke.

"Intelligent design" is based on fear and not on facts, and certainly not on faith.

Fear of imagination.

This season is about imagination. God gifted imagination.

In fact, if Advent can do anything else, maybe it can rekindle the imaginations that we have for too long shunned as beneath us, incapable of sustaining us, whatever it is we do that allows our imaginations to die,

Perhaps the fires that burn around the Advent wreath . . .

Perhaps the fires that burn as we stand and sing “Silent Night, Holy Night” on Christmas Eve might inspire the imaginations of our hearts to see God doing far more than we ever thought God could—

With us.

With the Church.

With the world.

Could it be, if we’d just imagine, that the stories that we find the Scripture don’t need critique as to their historic veracity in order to "believe" them, we see the truth that lives in them as they tell us the remarkable story of the God who comes to us, among us, as Tex Sample is fond of saying, the God who “pitches tent” to dwell right where we are.

And God chooses, in this imagining time, of all people, a poor girl. Whatever her sexual history is in this story, it can’t be as miraculous as the reality that God chooses to reveal God’s self, “Emmanuel” through a peasant girl.

Among the most powerless of people, even she magnifies the Lord. Even she, at the visitation, asks, “how can this be?” In the words of the angel she finds her answer, “for nothing will be impossible with God.”

And upon her hearing that, she responds with confidence, “let it be with me according to your word.”

Yea, we really are fixated on detail, upon fact. We are children of the computer age, are we not.

How is it that the word “data” is common in our vocabulary, but words of imagination are far too scarce? What’s wrong with us?

The sum total of our life these days, our communication, our entertainment, our correspondence, our financial information, is basically nothing but varying sequences of 0’s and 1’s. That’s all that it is. Yet we are completely beholden to it.

It’s just so technical.

But there’s nothing technical about the coming of the Christ.


Imagine God loving you enough to desire to be in communion with you.

Imagine God loving you enough to show you how to bridge those gaps in your heart, life and relationships that you’ve thought were too wide to cross.

Imagine God articulating a world in which those whose voices have been squashed, are the ones through whom God’s truth are first revealed.

Imagine God, through a peasant girl, telling us, not that God will do these things, but is doing these things.

And if you approach the world with some imagination, I believe we’ve have far fewer problems.

If we approached the world with more imagination, we wouldn’t have denominations threatening to beat each other up or split over issues that we just don’t understand or that scare us.

If we just had more imagination, maybe we’d find ways to resolve conflict other than the way we always seem to go back to when seeking to settle our geo-political disputes.

Maybe, if we’d imagine.

25 years ago, this past week, those of us of a particular generation know what anniversary occurred. And as I was living into this text this week, I picked up the guitar and played wondering if I should do it here and now, and the answer is, yes.

from "Imagine" by
John Lennon
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...
You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one,
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.
God is coming.



Saturday, December 10, 2005

Chapter and Verse

Back before "The West Wing" jumped the shark, and while Aaron Sorkin wrote every word the cast uttered, it was, without question, the best written and acted show on television, maybe ever. Even now I don't miss it, and sometimes it recaptures some of the umph of it's early days. But mostly, I watch it now in appreciation for how great it was then.

I was remembering this episode about Pres. Bartlet's encounter with a right wing radio host, who attended a White House function. Given the ferment of our time, it seemed something worth remembering. Because if we're going to go the route of chapter and verse to prove our points, let the following serve a cautionary note.

Thank God for Google where the dialogue was found.

Let the following simmer in the consciousness of your thoughts. Maybe in moments like these, the arts will reveal the greater truths we have too hard a time talking about.

From the episode - "Midterms"

Setting - at a White House reception for media folks, the President comes in with the event already in progress. As the President enters, all stand, per protocol, except for Dr. Jenna Jacobs, a radio talk-show host, who has used the airwaves to condemn the President and his social policies.

President Josiah Bartlet: You're Dr. Jenna Jacobs, right?

Jenna Jacobs: Yes, sir.

Bartlet: ...Forgive me, Dr. Jacobs. Are you an M.D.?

Jacobs: A Ph.D.

Bartlet: A Ph.D.

Jacobs: Yes, sir.

Bartlet: Psychology?

Jacobs: No, sir.

Bartlet: Theology?

Jacobs: No.

Bartlet: Social work?

Jacobs: I have a Ph.D. in English literature.

Bartlet: I'm asking because on your show, people call in for advice and you go by the name Dr. Jacobs on your show, and I didn't know if maybe your listeners were confused by that and assumed you had advanced training in psychology, theology or health care.

Jacobs: I don't believe they are confused, no, sir.

Bartlet: Good. I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.

Jacobs: I don't say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President, the Bible does.

Bartlet: Yes, it does. Leviticus.

Jacobs: 18:22.

Bartlet: Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here.

I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?

While thinking about that, can I ask another? My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or is it okay to call the police?

Here's one that's really important because we've got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football?
Can Notre Dame?
Can West Point?

Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side-by-side?

Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?

Think about those questions, would you?

One last thing, while you may be mistaking this for your monthly meeting of the Ignorant Tight-Ass Club, in this building, when the President stands, nobody sits.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends, Once More

My old friend is at it again -
Check out his latest post on the recent goings on in the church, as only he can put it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Past Is Prologue - Advent 2

A Prayer by Janet Morley
Spirit of Truth
Whom the world can never grasp,
Touch our hearts
With the shock of your coming;
Fill us with desire
For your disturbing peace;
And fire us with longing
To speak your uncontainable word
Through Jesus Christ. Amen.

What’s past is prologue. - The Tempest, Act II, Scene I

The season is here and we are wrapped up in it like the packages that are starting to amass under our trees.

There's much we could say about these days leading up to Christmas.

It's far too easy to mention how the culture has co-opted this sacred occasion with this high octane infusion of the market economy.

I don't have to tell you have ridiculous it is that stores had Christmas supplies for sale in September.

It's too easy. And in the words of a famous scientologist, it's just a bit "glib."

To focus too much on that excuses us from something that is fundamental, if not essential, to understanding the nature of God's incarnation through Jesus of Nazareth.

God's coming is "good news."

But the announcement of the prophets of the past becomes the prologue for our encounter with the Divine - in a word - get ready.

Advent is as much warning as it is anyting else. A warning that indicates the type of preparations that are necessary for each of us who claim faith.

Advent not meant to evoke the sentimentality of the season. And sure, there's plenty of that to go around.

Hey, I want to have a "holly jolly merry little silent night white Christmas" like the next guy, because I think that's what I'm supposed to have - and I'll adorn my home with decorations aplenty - I'll shop for presents for those I love, and I'll secretly long for certain things I hope to receive, but will, of course, say, "Oh, I don't know," when asked what I want. But what has become more clear to me the older I get is that I can have all of that, but if in my preparations, I've prepared the way of the Lord and made straight a highway for my God, I'll miss it and it'll miss me.

Advent - announces God's coming as an inescapable truth that should be received as good news for those who seek liberation, and warning for those who don't think they have anything from which to be liberated.

Advent is meant to shock us with the reality that the way of the Lord is being proclaimed.

And from where does the advent emerge?
Not from the marketplace
Not from the emotion
Not from the decorations

But from the desert places.

John the Baptist announces the coming of the Christ from the desert wilderness - the desert.

In effect, from the margin of where we' find ourselves spending most of our lives.

The God who shocks us when God's self is revealed will do it still. What is the mystery of faith we proclaim everytime we gather at Table?

Christ has come. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Prepare the way of the Lord.
What’s past is prologue.
Prepare the way of the Lord.
What’s past is prologue.

But we do so much to "get ready" for this season.
Gifts to buy.
Seasonal decorations to bring down, pull out, hang up.

There's a certain "spirit" we feel obliged to get into framed not on faith, but on the culturally contrived expectations that we are "to be" a certain way during this time of year.

It is self-perpetuating, and we often feel we have failed the season and each other if we have not, somehow, been like we've been before - if the repetition of holiday expectations do not rise to the romanticized notions of what once was.

The past observances of what we do and how we do it become both present and prologue and based on something other than what John calls us to.

We are called to the desert places.

We don't want to think of this time of year as anything other than the presumption that it’s supposed to be pleasant.

John calls us to prepare for the revelation of God from the desert.

But the desert is not a place to which we aspire.
Because we seek comfort...we want to feel good.

In Advent, however, the desert is precisely where we are called to go.
To hear words of repentance and preparation
To hear the announcement of God's Realm coming into being...

If you’re not going to the desert places to start this journey, you’re living too much into ways of the world and not coming from the places, the margin of your life to subvert the perversions of this season as something that is only wrapped up into “feel good” theology.

Make no mistake about it. John, from the desert, is announcing a cataclysmic collision of the Divine with all of creation – the aftershocks of which we feel across the millennia, even now in this moment.

It is powerful, it is dramatic. It is the word of the past that is prologue for our tomorrows and it proclaims the words of Isaiah, of John the Baptist, of any who, across the ages, have reminded us that all that has been, all that is, and all that will be is altered for all time by these words:
This is the nature of the God who comes in the Christ – to make level our lives a highway for our God.

It is dramatic, traumatic…it is subversive.

Mark begins his take on the Jesus story with words that to us look innocuous, but are, in fact, an announcement from the get go that something subversive was going in the person Jesus of Nazareth.

And it’s all wrapped up in this one little word – “gospel.”

Ched Myers book, Binding the Strong Man – A Political Reading of the Story of Jesus, is of immense help here.

The first hearers of that word, as Mark tells it, would be shocked. “Gospel,” euangelion, ‘glad tidings” was a technical term connoting a military victory. Roman political propaganda used the word, in addition to the understanding of Caesar as divine, to announce the coming into power of the emperor.

Of the announcement of gospel for one coming into power in Rome, one ancient inscription says: “The birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of the joyful messages which have gone forth because of him.”

How does Mark begin? “The beginning of the good news* of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.*

As Isaiah did, as Mark did, as any do who announce the coming of the Lord, Mark is serving notice that Jesus is challenging the powers that be. The opening of Mark’s “glad tidings,” good news, uses the same language as Rome to announce the birth of the One who will do battle with it and prevail (Myers 123-124). The victory is won.

So, what does this mean for us?

The Advent of Christ is a good thing to be sure, but it is something that confronts and subverts the places in us too often captive to the culture, and too comfortable with our own way of being.

The coming of the Christ – the One for whom John announces that we are to prepare the way – subverts us still.