Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday reflectons - Advent 3

I am adding a bit of music. This Guadete by Steeleye Span is anticipatory, since it is Christmas music - Rejoice, Christ is born of the Virgin Mary.

Now, here is the actual introit for today:

We have come to one of the year's two "Rose Sundays," so named for the liturgical color. At the current price of vestments, few churches have rose vestments and altar hangings. It is the one liturgical color I had not added to my own collection, though I have sufficient yards of rose moiré fabric to make them. Just never got around to it.

Gaudete Sunday is named for the opening word of the traditional Latin introit for this day, taken from Philippians 4.4 (see graphic above).

John the Forerunner is featured in the lessons of Advent 2 and 3 since he is the hinge person between the pre- and post-Incarnation eras. Standing in the line of prophets calling people back to God, he represents the heritage of God's spokespersons. Pointing to the one who comes after him, he signals the way forward into God's promised future. In the icon above we see him clothed like Elijah and pointing toward Christ.

I believe today's Gospel calls us to join John in bearing witness.

ουκ ην εκεινος το φως αλλ ινα μαρτυρηση περι του φωτος
--John 1.8

"He was not that light but that he should bear witness concerning that light"

Bearing witness, testifying, speaking up and speaking truth - this is a critical element in both doing justice and proclaiming Good News.

Scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures tell us that it was a shared belief that words DO something. The prophetic word, once uttered, unleashed the process by which God's message became a reality, whether the word was judgment or salvation (and they usually went hand in hand and in that order).

One can see that in order to take action on the injustices and ills of the world we need first to become aware. Those who speak up repeatedly about genocide, torture, climate change, corruption, disease, etc. keep reminding us over and over until, collectively, we pay attention. We first become aware, then uneasy, then sufficiently troubled (or frightened) to act. It may take a long time, way too long, before action is taken, but the first step is bearing witness.

Those who bear witness often feel that their words fall on deaf ears. This was not unknown to the prophets of old nor is it unknown to the prophets of our own era. Still, one must speak.

I often discuss really uncomfortable topics on this blog: genocide and torture being, perhaps, the most disquieting. Corruption, natural disasters, and the unspeakable price of war add to this. I do not expend this effort to dwell on the negative; I do it to bear witness, to remind myself and you of things we should not brush aside and ignore.

Now I know that the likelihood of my changing the course of history is pretty slim. For that matter, I am mostly preaching to the choir since we all tend to read the blogs of those we find to be congenial and like-minded sorts. So there is little chance that I am changing minds or behavior.

Nonetheless, I hope to provide information and encouragement to the chorus of witnesses overall. Just my drop in a vast ocean yet the ocean is made up of water that comes in drops.

[At the moment it is coming in snowflakes that are dancing in front of my window, swirling about in the breeze.]

Because the Holy One loves justice, we are called to love justice and to do it. We cannot remain silent and still be faithful.

This has its positive side also. The old prophetic refrain is "turn and live." The turning may list all the ills from which we need to turn but it is always, ultimately, a turning TOWARD, a positive turn toward God and toward life.

For this reason we bear witness also to love, and life, and faith, and hope, and humility, and steadfastness, and loving-kindness.

One Ash Wednesday I preached on our need to deal with both the shit and the Shekinah. I did not use either of those words. The former is not suitable for sermons and the latter is too much technical jargon for the average person. I spoke of the sin and misery and mess of our lives that we resist acknowledging and also the glory and grace of our lives that we also resist acknowledging. Facing reality and becoming whole involve both of these and we need to break out of denial and integrate it all.

So we must bear witness to Good News. We need to be a people of, and voices for, hope. The disciples were not turned into valiant witnesses on Good Friday. Though they proclaimed a crucified Savior they would not have proclaimed anything if he were not also a risen Savior. We are an Easter people and our lives need to be shot through with alleluias.

So even in the midst of the faithful waiting and eager readiness of Advent we are called to rejoice. Not in an empty manner devoid of context. This is not an abstract imperative to be happy. We are called to rejoice IN THE LORD. And we are called to rejoice always.

We have a long story, one that is anchored in slaves being set free, in exiles coming home, in love being stronger than death, in compassion outlasting evil, in light that darkness cannot overcome.

We bear witness to that heritage every day in the way we live, the way we see, the way we respond, the way we take action, and the words we share with others.

And because of this heritage of a collective experience of grace we are enabled to give thanks in all circumstances.

As I look at the graphic immediately above I think not of Hobbes the tiger but of the late Alice Higgins, my neighbor in West Hollywood. Mrs. Higgins led a severely circumscribed life yet whenever anyone greeted her and asked how she was she invariably replied, "I have a lot to be thankful for."

She stands high on my list of the living saints in my life.

I have a long way to go to be as grace-filled as she.

May we all grow in grace and rejoice in the Lord always.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

--the BB

1 comment:

FranIAm said...

Rejoice indeed. This was an extraordinary post Paul and with such amazing musical accompaniment!

Thank you.