Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday reflections - Advent 1

I cannot say why I have always been struck by and attracted to the phrase from Isaiah "O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down" but it seems quintessentially "adventine." [You may have noted that I go for the older translation; I think "rend" is much more elegant than "tear open" - ugh.]

The verse captures something of our yearning for God to DO SOMETHING about the mess in which we find ourselves, so much of it of our own making.

A great deal of apocalyptic imagery plays on this theme, with the Son of Man coming in the clouds much like images of YHWH the divine warrior striding on the clouds (or Marduk of Babylon and other storm deities before him). The divine warrior comes charging in, like the cavalry in the final reel, to rescue everyone from all manner of evils and disasters.

The Bible seems replete with instances of tweaking the listener/reader, however. We want a Messiah like King David and we get a very different sort of king in Jesus, for instance.

In the season of the Incarnation this imagery is drawn on, though with less violent overtones, with the Word leaping down from the heavenly throne to come to earth.

Yet what we see happening in the First Advent is something that really challenges our three-story universe and our imagery of God, or the appointed Savior, "coming down." Or, for that matter, overturning the universe and the laws of physics.

A child is born. Incredibly ordinary. Happens every day all over the planet.

In other words, the cry of the human heart may be answered but the answer does not come in the form we expect.

So as we continue to echo ancient yearnings for an apocalyptic sorting out of things we might do well to keep an eye out for other ways God might be at work. After all, God keeps coming when and where and how we least expect.

I believe God comes to us all the time. And that God's saving actions are, by and large (if not entirely) in the form of an emerging from within rather than an intrusion from without.

Norm Pittenger has a lot to say about this in his book The Incarnate Word. If I took nothing else from wading through that dense tome I did take this: a new way of seeing God at work. I now see the Incarnation as the flowering forth of that which has always been there (or, if you will, God was always with us).

In any case, Jesus clearly tells us to stay awake, alert, open, ready.

And as for all the false prophets out there, and deranged bible teachers and prophecy interpreters, a gentle reminder: no one knows when and we must always be ready. So when it comes to all your "prophetic" details, you would do well to just be silent. There is a long history of erroneous identifications and every generation was certain it had it right.

In the meantime, we do well to call upon God and wait upon God. And, in the classic formulation, pray as if all depends on God and work as if all depends on us. It's really an excellent combination.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

--the BB


FranIAm said...

This is so beautiful- thank you!

Paul said...

Thanks, Fran. I don't know if I will be able to match last Advent's discipline of almost-daily posts and make no promises, but I am sure it will be good for my soul to try.

Margaret has been doing wonderful work with the Daily Office readings for some time now.