Monday, December 03, 2007

Matthew 3:1-12

Advent 2 – Year A

Matthew 3:1-12

This being the second week of Advent, is there a sense of progress being made? Are we any closer to being ready this week than we were last?

Well, we have moved from one being taken and one being left, so "be ready", to a sense that even if we wanted to be ready we would only make it to the category of viper (no not the lovely automobile). So, in some sense, our progress is that of taking a step backward – out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak.

There is no longer a 50/50 shot at ending up at a good place (those who are left behind to enjoy a good creation, G*D's presence come on earth). Anyone who approaches is now 100% in trouble.

No matter if we double the number of brightly glowing candles this week, we are in a darker place – fleeing from a wrath to come.

While not wanting to denigrate the usefulness of wrath as a motivator, the image that is more energizing for many is that of hooking their star to a larger purpose – preparing a better future than we now have present.

A rallying cry for Methodists at their beginning was, "Flee from the wrath to come." This still makes good economic sense in today's world, but, theologically, its fear-based presentation needs to find its relevance in light of a promise of "Today you can be in Paradise".

Either way, we have to deal with repentance, a change of focus. If we are going to participate in a formation of a better future by what we do today, we will be called upon to change our ways, as continuing them will only bring us back to where we are, not move us on.

A question is how powerful an appeal to a better future is when compared to the fear of a worse future? During Advent time we wrestle with which of these is going to hold our heart. Can we be terrorized into better behavior and if so how long might such will behavior continue after the terror is removed? Can we be loved into better behavior and if so how lasting might such behavior be when it reenters its previous environment?

As practical people we usually propose that we need a little of both, terror and love. We just need to know when to apply which.

Unfortunately our tendency is to begin applying a little more of what worked most quickly last time without a reappraisal of a new situation and eventually find ourselves addicted to one mode or the other with no way to return to a considered diagnosis as to which to apply now.

Given this, it may be healthier to run with one. Even though wrathful language does periodically show up in Scripture, it shows up in trying to motivate us to a changed present that a better future might be available. I basically disagree with the idea that you can threaten someone into salvation. Therefore I recommend an Advent of practicing models of promised better living as though our whole culture had finally arrived at such as its norm.

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