Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 27, 2016:

First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5

Psalm: Psalm 122

Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14

Gospel: Matthew 24:36-44

So, here we are preparing for Christmas, and we get this apocalyptic Gospel. You might have been expecting a passage about the angel Gabriel visiting Mary. You might have thought you'd hear some prophecy about the coming of the Messiah. You would have even settled for those strange passages from John which talk about the word becoming flesh and moving into the neighborhood (as Eugene Patterson paraphrases it in his The Message paraphrase).
Maybe you don’t think of Advent as an apocalyptic time. Maybe you’re one of the church members who says, “Why can’t we sing Christmas carols?”

Again and again, our holy scriptures remind us that we need to stay alert and watchful. Again and again, our holy scriptures warn us that God is coming and that God won't always take on the shape we expect. Sometimes, our spiritual ancestors are lucky, as Abraham was, when he invited the strangers into his tent, and found out he was having dinner with God. Sometimes our ancestors aren't as lucky. Think of all those contemporaries of Jesus, many of them good, observant Jews, who were on the lookout for a different kind of Messiah. They wanted someone to deliver them from oppressive Roman rule. What did they get? A baby in a manger.

We think that we wouldn't have been so stupid. We would have recognized the Divine, as Christ moved among us.

But think of our own lives. Many of us are so busy that we can't even adopt traditional practices that move us closer to God, practices like regular prayer or tithing. Would we really recognize God in our lives, especially if God took on an unexpected form?

We might adopt another ancient spiritual practice for our Advent discipline. We usually think of Lent as the season of discipline and denial, but Advent cries out for a similar rigor, especially in our culture that goes into hyper-consumer-overdrive this time of year. This year, practice seeing the Divine in difficult people. It's easy to look at a little baby and to see God looking back out of that face. But for a few weeks, practice treating difficult people as if they are the embodiment of God. Your evil boss? Your difficult teenager? The homeless guy at the corner who won't take no for an answer when he asks for money? Your sad mother-in-law? How might things change if we treat these difficult people as the embodiment of God, as Christ incarnate?

Our changed approach might change their difficult behavior. However, let's be realistic. It probably won't change their behavior permanently.

But hopefully, if we approach everyone as God moving in the world, our attitudes will change. But even if they don't, this adjustment in perspective is good training. Again and again, Christ warns us to stay alert and aware. We live in a culture that wants us numbed (from too much TV, too much spending, too much drinking, too much working, too much, too much, too much). We need to adopt practices that train us towards a different way.

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