Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Meditations on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, December 6, 2009:

First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4

First Reading (Alt.): Baruch 5:1-9

Psalm: Luke 1:68-79

Second Reading: Philippians 1:3-11

Gospel: Luke 3:1-6

This week's Gospel brings us back to John the Baptist, who went to the wilderness to hear the word of God. He comes back from the wilderness to tell people to prepare, that the paths will be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.

Today's Gospel takes me to several places. First of all, I wonder about the nature of God and the wilderness. How often does God appear to Biblical people in the wilderness? What does this say to those of us who never get any wilderness time?

I also think of John hearing God's word in the wilderness and his getting to work to tell preaching a "baptism of repentance." It's an interesting thought--if one hears God's word and believes it, how would one's actions change? What kinds of turning around might we expect?

We might also think in terms of the old tent revival preachers: if you knew God was coming back this month, coming to speak to you, what would happen next in your life?

On the RevGalBlogPals website, I came across this Bonhoeffer quote:

"It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming, so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God . . . . We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for every one who has a conscience. Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love."

The recent Thanksgiving holiday may have made you painfully aware of all the crooked pathways within yourself that need to be made straight. I'm am always aware of how I have tried very hard to be a more patient person, and how often I fail so utterly to be the patient person I want to be. I'm easily frustrated, especially by problems which are really just money problems. A friend of Anne Lamott's reminds us all that "if you have a problem you can solve by throwing money at it, you don't have a very interesting problem" (Traveling Mercies 259). I am so often not grateful for the gifts that I have, the ones that money can't necessarily buy: my good health, the fact that most of my loved ones are on this side of the grave with me, a boss who treats me well, and time to carve out a creative life.

Our personal failings are often mirrored in the larger culture. We live in a world full of the crooked and the rough. We live in a world desperately in need of the sanctification that God offers. In The Reason for God, Tim Keller reminds us, "The Biblical view of things is resurrection - not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater" (32).

We might say, "Well, lovely, but that doesn't help me right now. Right now, I'm irritated with my family who drives me crazy, and I'm irritated with myself, because I can't seem to do basic maintenance tasks, and I'm fed up with watching all the governments whose actions affect me so deeply."

When I'm feeling that way, I try to take a page from the ideas of John Keats, the great English poet: I try to see my struggles as soul making. In Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott says, "At some point you pardon the people in your family for being stuck together in all their weirdness, and when you can do that, you can learn to pardon anyone. Even yourself, eventually. It's like learning to drive on an old car with a tricky transmission: if you can master shifting gears on that, you can learn to drive anything" (219-220).

God comes to us in so many ways, and we don't even notice. Advent reminds us to be watchful, to wait with anticipation. Advent reminds us of the promise of God's presence, no matter what issues we struggle with in any given day.

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