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.