Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunday Reflections - Advent 2 - updated

Incipium evangelii Iesu Christi Filii Dei
The incipit of Mark's Gospel
Lindisfarne Gospels

At the core of the Christian faith lies the belief that Good News becomes incarnate. God's love for creation takes material form. This was, and remains, shocking for those whose ideal of divinity must be "above" matter and temporality.

Incarnation is more than a matter of God taking human form; it applies on many levels. The moral attributes of deity such as goodness, wisdom, love, righteousness, mercy - these are all supposed to be realized in the friends and followers of such a deity. They are to take flesh in us.

This morning I ran across a quote attributed to Cornel West:

"Justice is what love looks like in public."

That is a very incarnational attitude. We are surrounded with sentimental gushings about love, in society and in the church, many of them quite false or misleading. If we ask ourselves, "What does love look like?" our minds may quickly rush to images of young lovers kissing or old ones holding hands or a child with a puppy. It is more profound and accurate to to think of actions that build an equitable and humane society, providing accessible health care for everyone, struggling for decency and upholding the dignity or all, preventing disease and slaughter, healing the planet, and carrying out the trash. These are the public incarnations of love and correspond with the divine injunctions to do justice and love mercy.

Incarnation can also take very small-scale and even humorous forms. When I left New Orleans to return to Albuquerque I could not help thinking of Isaiah 40, that great passage of good news for exiles whom God was bringing home again. I even sang (silently in my mind, with Handel's setting, of course) "make straight in the desert a highway for our bear." It was grace and joy and a lifted heart and I did not mean it blasphemously at all. The promise that day was for me, and it took the form of a couple of Southwest Airlines jets that were going to carry me toward the high grasslands where I live.

I also thought of the verse during the September road trip as we drove through long, straight, level stretches of desert (cf. the photo above) in Arizona and California (where they were especially level).

We, all of us, experience various forms of exile. The geographic kind is both the most obvious and probably the most superficial. One of the most insidious and pervasive is being exiled from our own hearts. We become displaced: alienated from God, from others, from creation, from ourselves.

Into our dislodged existence there breaks a cry that shakes our wilderness existence and calls us home.

Advent ask us if we are ready to hear it.

Have we become so accustomed to our exile, so comfortable in the ways we cope with alienation, that we cannot hear Good News?

Are we ready to go home?

Are we willing to go home?

Will we allow our exilic coping patterns to be disrupted so we can move into a more authentic existence?

Have we become so at ease in Babylon that we resist the call to return to Zion?

Make no mistake. Returning to our deepest reality - in God and in our own heart - involves upheaval and change. That is the threat of joy; it shatters bonds and it rips veils of illusions, forcing us into often painful reality - the prelude to new life.

This is why John the Forerunner and Jesus the Christ both called for repentance. We must turn around. We must have a renewing of mind. We must learn to see things from a fresh and greater perspective. We must leave the shallows and head out into the deeps. We must leap into God's promises. And, most terrifyingly, we must allow ourselves to be changed.

The "get ready" theme of Advent carries within it all these questions and challenges.

Are we willing to get ready?

Are we willing to come home?

Are we willing to come more alive than we have ever been?

Today, while preparing the graphic immediately above, I thought of it in a different perspective. Perhaps if we got real, let go of our lies, became honest, and allowed truth to spring up from the earth then righteousness would shower down from heaven.

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I meant to include this song and just found it.

--the BB


Diane said...

hey! I'm in a place where I can't hear the music right now, but think you for this great meditation on Advent 2 and on Exile. I am meditating more and more on our experience of exile...

Paul said...

You're most welcome, Diane.

Exile, returning home, or not being able to return home are major themes in my fiction writing. Obviously it hits me rather deeply inside.

susan s. said...

We sing Return Again sometimes at church. I love it. Thanks.