Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Repent

Week two of Advent is underway.

We are waiting.

And while we wait, we repent.

To repent means to turn around—an active change of behavior. It is more than feeling sorry, or even sincerely feeling sorry. The biblical idea of repentance involves a willingness to turn one’s life around in the sense of a complete reorientation.

This seems a bit more of a challenge than the waiting part of Advent, am I right?

Yes, waiting can be and needs to be active. Advent is a time of waiting and hoping, of renewing our trust in God’s merciful love and care and of reflecting on the several comings of Christ in our lives. This is another way of talking about waiting and hoping.

Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?!

John knew something was coming. Something much larger than him and he urges action:  repentance, for the time is short. John wants God’s people to be ready. In repenting, the people will see how they have wandered away from the teachings of the Torah. They will see the way back to God’s peace.

Here’s what I love about John’s sermon. Notice how John doesn’t say “repent or the kingdom of God…” – the kingdom of God is not to be feared; it is to be welcomed.

Nor does John say, “repent and the kingdom of God…” – the kingdom of God is not contractual either.

What John declares is that we need to repent, for the kingdom of God has drawn near—what is about to happen is not dependent on us. God is God and will always be God and it was, it is, and will always be God who brings about God’s reign. The dreaded ‘c’ word, CHANGE is inevitable with God.

John called for the repentance of God’s people because God was coming in the person Jesus, the Christ.

Let me put it this way:

God’s reign has drawn near
Ready or not, here it comes
Repent, watch out, church

To repent means to change our minds. Biblical scholars have broadened the word to mean something like reorienting, reordering, or re-centering. Or maybe it is like resetting. Here is an example:

Recently, I watched my friends at By the Bean coffee shop make a pour over. I watched their attention to detail—the weight of the water, the weight of the coffee grounds, and then the weight of both when they began to pour the water of the coffee grinds. It is a beautiful process for a cup of coffee. However, sometimes the scale gets a little off and the miscalculations of the values alter the taste of coffee. The scale needs to be reset.

The writer Anne Lamott once said that most things can be fixed if we just turn them off for a while and back on, including ourselves. When our values are off, we need to be reset...reordered, reoriented. That is the essence of John the Baptist's message: We need to reorder our lives, reset our priorities, and return to God...for the kingdom of heaven is here...and we don't want to miss it.

God’s love isn’t an ‘if-then’ equation. God loves us. God loves you. God wants all to know this love.

In a time when it feels like the rules are rigged, John's message ushers in hope. A new era and a day has dawned, and it is a light that shines for and on all people. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

Or don’t.

The choice is yours…

Friday, December 2, 2016

Through Stained Glass: An Advent Mid-Week Reflection-Wait

1st Sunday of Advent Year A

Advent is a time of waiting. For Christians, it’s a time of waiting for the arrival of the Christ child. For others, Advent is a time of waiting for a hoped-for future, waiting for the time of bleakness to pass and for new joy to arrive.
We spend a lot of our time in life waiting. Waiting for the arrival of our own newborn child. Waiting to get that promotion at work. Waiting in line at the checkout counter. Waiting for the light to change. One person I know said, after returning from a recent trip to Disneyland, he realized that an amusement park is 10 percent thrills and 90 percent walking and waiting. I think it is safe to say this same equation works for most of life…including Christmas. The greatest challenge then in life is to enjoy the 90 percent.
Therein lies the challenge of Advent, right? Advent charges into the temple of cynicism with a whip of hope, overturning the tables of despair, driving out the priests of that jaded cult, announcing there’s a new day and it’s not like the one that came before it.
Advent whispers in the dark, “the not yet will be worth it.” Advent brings us back to the reality of how what we are waiting for has actually already happened. We are looking for something that already happened. It is both right now and not yet. To enjoy the 90% requires us to actively deepen our awareness of God’s presence every day; to pause in the right-now to see evidence of the yet-to-come.
However, has it ever struck you as strange? Each year as we begin this season of preparation before the feast of Christmas, the gospel of the day speaks of the end of the world. What does the final judgment have to do with babies in mangers? And yet, on this the first day of a new year, here we are reading a story about folks being kidnapped at work and someone breaking into your house and robbing you. For those who may desire a deeper faith with Jesus, this may not be the best place to start. After all, there’s nothing sweet and cuddly about that possibility. Nor does that sound like something really worth waiting for.
Yet, there is, right? Because we know this gospel lesson is an apocalyptic text and these texts were often code for speaking about the world the people at the time lived in; they were a way for people in politically dangerous situations to speak the truth about power—they were more commentary than prediction. And, yes, they are disturbing texts, but partly because they represent a genre we just aren’t familiar with. Contained in this passage though are themes for Advent the church has often elevated as stepping stones that lead us to a deeper relationship with Jesus.
Specifically the call to stay awake, to be alert, and to be expectant while we wait for the return of Christ—which is what Advent is all about. Yet how can we be ready for something we don’t know is coming? How can we be ready for the unexpected?
Well, honestly, we can’t.
Here’s the thing friends, like the house owner, knowing what to look for as a way of avoiding being robbed is only advantageous if we assume being robbed is a bad thing. But perhaps having an unknowing brain allows us to be taken unaware by the grace of God, which is like a thief in the night. Maybe it’s good news that Jesus has been staking the joint and there will be a break-in. The promise of Advent is that in the absence of knowing while we wait, we get robbed. There was and is and will be a break-in because God is not interested in our loss-prevention programs but in saving us from ourselves and saving us from our culture and saving us even from our certainties about God’s story itself.
Advent waiting is not intended to be a passive practice. Rather, to make ourselves available to the new graces before us, to allow God to rescue us once more, and to bring about the kingdom of God Christ ushered in once already, we must be proactive while we wait.
We are in a world pregnant with hope, and we live in the expectation of the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. As we wait, we also work, cry, pray, ache; we are the midwives of another world.
The gospel lesson was written to a particular people in a particular time that found themselves in political and probably personal turmoil. The author writes to remind them not to give up on caring for on another; to remain vigilant in their efforts to subvert the kingdom that preached power and wealth over humility and peace; and it reminded them, and it reminds us today, to keep Christ’s promises ahead of us, assured that at some point the end will come, and we will see Christ’s ultimate victory—and the dream Isaiah offered up will be a reality among us.
           While it’s good to look ahead to some hoped-for event, there’s a danger in all this waiting, too. The danger is that, in waiting, we become so “future-focused” that we forget the gifts of the present moment. We overlook what we have in anticipation of receiving what we want. And then there’s the danger of disappointment. When we pin our hopes on a wish or a dream, we can be crushed if it doesn’t come true. This day, that hour, we don’t know. In fact, no one knows. But what we do know is that Christ’s Second Coming has something to do with our response to Christ’s first coming. It has something to do with whether we are truly living into our vocations as the Body of Christ in our time. Advent is about anticipating the birth of Christ. It’s about longing, desire, that which is yet to come. That which isn’t here yet. And so we wait, expectantly. Together. With an ache. Because all is not right. Something is missing.
In the spirit of the season, Simon John Barlow, a British Unitarian minister, urges us to wait for a particular gift in a particular way: “Prepare the way to welcome your inner-Christ child — the being of love and light, the spark of holiness that lies deep in us all. Seek the signs of hope and promise in your life and the world around you — the stars that point the way to the Light of God. Make your way to the stable of peace and acceptance in the secret depths of your heart.”

Advent is upon us, dear friends. My hope is that your waiting will be not only peaceful but also, gratifying. Don't be afraid to wait different this year. My wish for you is that your waiting allows your hearts to soar to a longed-for future and your feet to stay planted in the goodness and gladness of today. Indeed, may this season bring you joy in your present, in your presents, and by and through your presence.