Sunday, November 20, 2005

November 27, 2005 - Year B - Advent 1

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Advent begins with a dawning awareness of the difficulty facing a new creation to be born in the midst of a new creation. We will need to look at some most difficult realities and still proceed even in the midst of horror at ourselves and others and the world at large.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Steven Donaldson would be an excellent series of speculative fiction to read to get a feel for Advent.


  1. Mark 13:24-37

    "Advent is a time for Christians, every year, to practice being part of the people of God in a damaged creation. Part of this practice includes faithful and sharp-eyed examination of the realities of life in this world. Part of this practice ought also to include meditation on the situation out of which Jesus spoke the words in this scene in Mark's story. Jesus lived late in the messy aftermath of the Maccabean rebellion, a complicated mix of victory and defeat, of freedom and bondage. Jesus lived in the shadow of the Roman Empire in a family and faith uneasy under foreign domination. Jesus embodied the tensions that lead to the first and second Jewish revolts against Rome.... That means, at the very least, that the Jesus we encounter in this scene is shaped both by the rich, insistent hope of Jewish faith and by the wise realism of Jewish faith.... Christians, as they prepare for Christmas, have a lot to learn about hopes that shatter the skies and about realism that remembers the deep pain of real loss...." Provoking the Gospel of Mark: A Storyteller's Commentary, Year B by Richard W. Swanson

    "And because it is this generation in which these things happen, it is also this generation which senses the arrival, the advent of the reign of justice and generosity and joy, the advent of the truly human. This is the generation bound in solidarity with all those, in whatever part of the earth or in whatever time, who have stood where we stand, on the brink of history.
         This advent is not something that is realized in the inward moment of decisions as the existentialists (following John) supposed, Rather this advent is recognized in the public sphere of witness bearing, of martyrdom. For what is at stake here is not simply the fate of the individual, but the fate of God's creation." The Insurrection of the Crucified: The "Gospel of Mark" as Theological Manifesto by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.

    Whether through story or manifesto there is the realism of loss in advent. We have lost. Now it is not time to strike back, it is not time to take over, it is not time to add to terror. It is time to watch for the bloom of a new shoot in the midst of destruction and to spent the inconsequential time of nurturing it through the surrounding blight. If we are stabbed in the back while bending over to tend to this new possibility, so be it. We are awake to this fragile shoot of hope more than to the all too real power of a principality.

    May we be so awake.

  2. 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

    As in foreground/background studies, grace is most clearly revealed in a time of stress. Just as we are not to sin the more simply for the joy of forgiveness, so we are not to revel in difficulties for the blessing of grace.

    There are, of course, those moments of grace upon grace, but mostly we recognize grace against a backdrop of some form of suffering (remember, for some suffering is always but a form).

    Here the parallelism is "the grace of God that has been given" to "strengthen you to the end." Again, grace appears as antidote to giving up in the face of "disaster" (however that is defined). Christ is equated with this process and, so, when we are so encouraging folks, we are Christ/grace to them; when we are so encouraged, another is Christ/grace to us; and when we encourage together, Christ/grace is in our midst.

    How long has it been since you recognized yourself as graced/Christed? If it has been awhile, grace's half-life may have faded in your life. Time to get prophetic. It is one of the quickest ways to move into harm's way (the status quo being as sharp as any two-edged sword) and to again, joyfully, find your salvation connected with fear and trembling.

  3. Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

    Come to save us
    Restore us
    How long will you be angry
    You make us the scorn of our neighbors
    Give us life
    Let your face shine, that we may be saved.

    = = = = = = =

    It does indeed sound like there is Trouble in River City and that starts with "T" and it rhymes with "D" and that stands for Disaster. Any way you cut it we are in the midst of social disaster.

    Went to a presentation last night by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, authors of the new book, "Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy."

    James Madison is quoted as saying, "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." Is disaster not where we are when no questions can be raised about war, when it is against undefined terror? Come to save us . . . indeed!

    Elections are participated in by fewer and fewer people and the results are less and less believable with poorer and poorer paper trails. Is disaster not where we are when the truth can't be told about what candidates are saying out of both sides of their mouths and there is a disconnect between their stated intentions and projectable consequences? Restore us . . . indeed!

    The gap between the rich and the poor increases daily. Is disaster not where we are when the key value is making the rich richer so three more crumbs can trickle off their table to unemployed and unemployable Lazarus below? How long will you be angry . . . indeed!

    The numbers increase by the hour of those without health insurance or prenatal care. Is disaster not where we are when we deny the human right to a minimum standard of preventive and early care to everyone (not just Western chemical intervention, but Eastern energy adjustment). You make us the scorn of our neighbors . . . indeed!

    The hungry die by the thousands every day. Is disaster not where we are when the standard of obesity keeps so many so focused on their next unnecessary mouthful that the only distribution of food that means anything is that which brings me tasteless strawberries in winter (with heaps of whipped cream, of course). Give us life . . . indeed!

    The stupidity of intentional confusion about the human variability of sexuality isolates and destroys our selves, our families, our neighbors, and, eventually, God. Is disaster not where we are when the externals of race and culture and women are presumed cared for, but are only buried the barest millimeter below awareness and old cants againt them are reorganized by the power-brokers into one variation or constitutional amendment or another of "hate the fags." Let your face shine, that we may be saved . . . indeed!

    Let us be clear about disaster that we might be clear about salvation. This clarity comes with our finally talking with one another and a key starting point is an active Free Press. Be sure to sign up with them.

  4. Isaiah 64:1-9

    Isn't it lovely to have a God to blame for our ailments. We can speculate that God needed more needing than we needed to need. With this "need" deficit on both sides we bump into that wonderful time when we give first. Now we need to need saving. So we stand afar and cry out our need as a reverse form of praise that we might be given relief.

    Verse 9 ends with, "Now consider, we are all your people." This is one of those lines that calls for a decision about how it is to be read. In the context of looking for relief from "enemies", is this a limited phrase that applies only to the oppressed feeling overrun or is this an expansive phrase that includes even oppressors?

    There is an understanding here that God is not as far gone as we had experienced. Here is an available prooftext to see a glimmer of understanding that everyone is in everything together. Ourselves, our enemies, and GOD beyond either, are all intertwined.

    While appreciating the need to pay attention to context and claim this as a parochial "all", it is helpful to also hear in such a limited context a seed that will later grow to provide a crack in the boundary of me and mine and expand a limited covenant between God and one people. Here I'm willing to see the variety of people that are the Israelites (those who praise "O Lord" and those who need "Father" and those that don't) and hold that as a holographic representation of, simply put, the variety of all people.

    In the midst of disaster there is yet a whisper of a new way. May we be alert to the whispers in the midst of our own disastrous times and follow where it beckons - to the well-being of all.

  5. 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

    To be called into a fellowship with such as Jesus Christ is to be called away from some immediately disastrous situation or some current edge that will later come to naught. To get caught up with Jesus Christ is to get caught up with someone who plays with death in a way that is never in fashion if you have any idea at all that you'll sneak through life or if you know you have an advantage. Jesus asks you to put yourself "all in", as in the poker rage of the moment.

    Principalities and powers can claim that Jesus has thrown his lot in with them, that he finally saw the benefit of Satan's offer in the desert, and can be commodified by them to bolster their control. But they don't know the kind of risk of kindness that they are comparing themselves to and the eventuality that they will be seen for the hypocrites they are.

    Have you been invited to a fellowship with a living, crucified, dead, and raised Jesus Christ? Be careful if you think you can control where that fellowship will lead. Odds are you, too, will need to learn to play with death without succumbing to its emptiness. Ready, or not, you are invited to play a "losing" hand with a sense of being in a faithful hand.

  6. Mark 13:24-37

    So we can see a fig tree and figure out the season. In some environs we can see the moss on a tree and tell directions. Those externals are relatively straight forward. If, however, when we look at moral values and connect them with darkened and falling stars, we can still be just as clear, even if any number of desires and philosophic, historic, economic, etc. overlays try to cloud otherwise straight forward moral judgments.

    Try these tests of moral judgment from Peace March Speech by Dr. Robin Meyers (PDF).

    How do these look? What morality is expressed through these actions?

    >starting a war on false pretenses

    >acting as if your deceptions are justified because you are doing God's will

    >breaking the very rules you set down for others

    >claiming Jesus is the Lord of your life, and failing to acknowledge policies ignoring his teaching

    >ignoring the gospel teaching that the way the strong treat the weak is the ultimate ethical test

    >helping the rich get richer by tax breaks

    >pushing the poor into ill health by insurance policies

    >winking at the torture of prisoners while expecting not to be tortured

    >claiming the world can be divided into the good guys and the evil doers

    >seeing only the good we do and the evil someone else does

    >creating an enormous deficit that hangs like a great millstone around the necks of our children

    >using hatred of homosexuals as a wedge issue to turn out voters

    >favoring the death penalty, and yet claiming to be a follower of Jesus

    >dismantling countless environmental laws designed to protect the earth, God's gift to us all

    >putting judges on the bench who reject people in favor of a constitutional/economic theory


Thank you for blessing us with your response.