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THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – December 2, 2012

 

The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 33:14-16

St. Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

The holy Gospel according to Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

 

What preoccupies your thoughts as we begin this new liturgical year?  Do the events reported in the nightly news challenge your faith?  Even as there is promise that some wars will ebb, others continue as new arenas of contention arise.  Death tolls mount and there is talk of sending more troops into battle.  Then there is the state of the economy and the number of unemployed.

Or, perhaps you are preoccupied with things more personal, the state of your health, or difficulties in your primary relationship.  You might be mourning a loss.

As you sit under the Word this Sunday, what is the message you long to hear?

I asked a friend that question the other day.  The answer I got?  Just tell me it’s going to get better, that my troubles will end.  My friend had just gone through a divorce.  I reminded him of what I remind you now” The word gospel means good news.  This liturgical year on most Sundays we will hear the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ as it comes to us from Luke.  Each time we stand for the proclamation, we will stand to let the Good News wash over us and inspire our assent, our ongoing conversion, our continuing transformation into the Body of Christ, i.e., the Church that is the People of God.  In that context and strengthened by faith, even difficult scriptures become good news because of the hope they inspire.

As we enter into this Season of Advent, it is important to remember that there are two comings the season proclaims: the birth of Christ and Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time.  The renewal of the first strengthens our hope for the second.  What is important for us as we journey through Advent is acknowledge the longing.  We long for the rebirth of Christ in our lives and we long for Christ’s return in glory when all that is promised will be fulfilled.  We yearn for peace.  We pray to be delivered from the depths of mourning and find reason to hope again.   The Word proclaimed promises fulfillment in Christ and the healing of all our wounds.  So enter into the silence.  Sit with the Word.  Let your heart be open.  Listen.

We ought to be able to hear the reading from the Prophet Jeremiah.  The times in which it was written were desperate.  Four centuries after the era of King David, Jerusalem was in shambles and the Jews are enslaved in the Babylonian Captivity.  The darkness of despair enshrouds the people.  Some of them, including some of their leaders have taken up the ways of the Babylonians and their god Baal.  Will the terrible times never end?  Has God forgotten the promises that they would live free in their own kingdom?  Will Jerusalem ever be restored?

There is no wanting of prophets of doom in our own times.  Have you noticed how popular apocalyptic stories are these days?  Have you noticed the warnings that the end of everything will happen on the 21st of this month?  That’s when the Mayan calendar runs out, as do the predictions of Nostradamus.  What more evidence do you need?  Why shouldn’t we despair?

Jeremiah says to the troubled and nearly broken people and to us: The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the House of Israel and to Judah.  Remember that the Lord had promised that David’s reign would last forever.  It’s hard to cling to that message during enslavement.  What physical evidence could the people seize upon to support their trust in that promise?  I will raise up for David a just shoot…in those days Judah shall be safe.  The prophecy serves to strengthen the people so that they can be faithful to the One who chose them to be a people peculiarly God’s own and to believe that God will never abandon them.  Where is God now?

We see the fulfillment of the promise in Jesus as the Just Shoot rising up from the stump of David’s family tree, the Messiah, the one who is sent to bring Good News, the One who is our hope and our salvation.  Even as Jeremiah’s prophecy reverberates in our consciousness, we hear the Gospel.

Jesus speaks to us from those final days before his passion, those final days before his disciples will witness the greatest test to their faith in him.  Jesus warns that the apocalyptic times will be filled with dreadful signs in the heavens and disastrous natural events on earth.  These will terrify even the strongest.  People will die of fright before the roaring wind and rushing waves.  There is no mention of earthquakes, but they might happen, too.  The challenge for disciples, those who walk with Jesus and believe in him, is to be different from the rest of people and stand tall in the face of all this turmoil, suffering, and even death, as we recognize in those dreadful signs that our redemption is at hand.  Did you hear Jesus say that that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth?  Remember that this is Gospel, Good News.  Why?  Because even in the face of the worst that can happen, Jesus is our hope and our deliverance.  We will not be defeated nor lost forever.

In these times that are so difficult for so many, we must hear Paul’s words first addressed to the church at Thessalonica.  May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.  In other words, Paul is urging them and us to live what we have become through Baptism, Christ’s other self.  We are challenged to do what Jesus did.  That will be the great sign that encourages and strengthens.  It is all about love; love that binds the community together and reaches out even to those who are not part of the community.  Imitate Christ.  Be a people whose lives give evidence to the fact that we believe, that our hope is in our Lord Jesus Christ, that like him, we are willing to pour out our lives in service so that even the least will feel the embrace of God’s love that comes to us through Jesus.

Now do you see why the Eucharist must be at the center of our faith lives?  Does it make sense that our lives must revolve around the Sunday celebration of Eucharist and is the source and summit of all we do?  We come together at the Table of the Word to be transformed by the proclamation.  Wearied by the labors of the past week, we gather at the Table of the Eucharist to be transformed by rite we celebrate in renewing Christ’s dying and rising.  The Assembly is transformed into the Body of Christ and, having shared in the meal, is sent out for another week to be that presence in the market place.  Just as the Bread was broken and the Cup poured out in order for us to share the Meal, so must we be broken and poured out until all are fed.

Perhaps this Advent it is important for us to make the operative challenge for us to be in the word all.  There is no shortage of those sewing the seeds of judgmentalism, fundamentalism, and division.  Even in the church, there are those telling others they are unworthy to approach the Table.  The judgment is made that they are sinners and therefore condemned to hell.  Are we forgetting that we are all sinners and that our forgiveness is in, with, and through Christ?  Jesus did warn that what we sow we would reap.  What does that say about sowing the seeds of judgment and condemnation?

These are dark days.  The Advent Season for us in the Northern Hemisphere happens as the daylight hours become fewer.  Maybe this year we should focus on the darkness and imagine what our lives would be like without our faith, what it would be like to be still in our sins.  And when the darkness threatens to envelop us, then remember the Light whose coming we will celebrate this Christmas.  Jesus is our hope as he comes with a love that is universal and unconditional.  His table fellowship proclaimed that message.  So should ours.

Sincerely,

Didymus   

 

BEHOLD THE MAN

General David Petreaus’s affair and his subsequent resignation are the fodder for late night talk shows.  Some must find the guffawing and finger pointing and the tsk-tsks funny.  There is no question but that the general’s liaison with his biographer was wrong and in certain circles deemed sinful.  No doubt lessons will be learned from observing this giant’s downfall.  But I wonder, had the final act played out to a different curtain, if a more powerful teaching moment might have been the result with a far more lasting impact.

Petraeus is highly educated with a Ph.D. from Georgetown University.  It is thought that following his retirement; his desire was to teach at Yale.  This four star general served over 37 years in the United States Army.  His last assignments were as commander of International Security Assistance Force, Commander of U. S. Forces in Afghanistan, 10th commander of the U. S. Central Command and the Commanding General of Multi-National Forces – Iraq.  He resigned as the Director of the CIA.  He has received a multitude of awards, ribbons, medals, and citations in addition to his 4 stars as a general.

When the FBI uncovered Petraeus’s extra-marital affair with his biographer and reported this to President Obama, the president summoned him to the White House and he submitted his resignation.  And here is where I wonder if a different conclusion might have afforded the president with a more powerful teaching moment.

Would there not have been a collective gasp on the part of the public had President Obama refused Petraeus’s resignation and instead advised him to take a leave of absence and go home to work out the painful situation with his wife, Holly, and their children?  When his household and marriage were in recovery, he could have returned to his post.  Does one moral lapse have to define a person?  Can’t there be repentance and subsequent determined renewal?  (As I write this, there is no evidence of a violation of national security on Petraeus’s part.  Obviously, were that to change, so would my conclusions about the case’s resolve.)

History is replete with great who had flaws and lapses in judgment.  Many recovered and went on to greatness.  In the main, their sins were forgotten and became footnotes in their biographies.  That’s true of some of the great ones in our religious history.

Think of the great King David.  He was the youngest of his father’s sons, deemed by the father not to be impressive enough to be brought before Samuel to become God’s anointed one.  But God sees differently from the way people do.  The young shepherd, handsome to behold, David, was anointed as God’s chosen one.  Many were his great deeds leading up to his being King of Israel.  Then, in the evening light, he gazed upon Bathsheba, lusted after her, seduced the married woman and sired a child with her.  When he learned that Bathsheba was pregnant, David summoned her husband from the battlefield and gave him a time off to be with his wife that Uriah might conclude that he had fathered Bathsheba’s child.  But Uriah stayed at the palace and did not go to his wife.  So David sent Uriah into battle to be abandoned by the other soldiers to ensure his being killed.  That happened and David took Bathsheba as a wife.

The story doesn’t shock us because we are used to it.  We probably filter the story through sun-lit stained glass.  David’s moral lapse is a story of adultery, betrayal, and murder.  But it is also a story of repentance and forgiveness.  When confronted by Nathan with the evil he had done, David said, “I have sinned against the Lord,” only to hear from Nathan that the Lord had forgiven him.  And once reparation had been made, David went on to become the great King of Israel.

There is no denying the sin, the evil David did.  But there is a proclamation that no sin is so great that it can’t be forgiven.  Every sinner can make a new start.

That’s what I would have liked to see come out of General Petraeus’s affair.  When he was confronted by what had been learned about him, he immediately resigned.  That would seem to speak to acknowledgment of evil perpetrated.  His thoughts regarding the issue have not been made public.  He had ended the affair months before and it seems obvious that he wanted his marriage to survive his dalliance.  And apparently his wife is willing to work toward reconciliation.  No doubt it will take time.  But time and hard work can heal the wounds.

Had the President refused Petraeus’s resignation and encouraged him to take time away to work on restoring his marriage, some would have denounced him as being weak in the face of corruption.  But I rather think that many would have seen the wisdom of Solomon at work.  There would have been no masking over of the morality issues.  Instead there would have been an acknowledgment that even the mightiest can stumble.  History gives ample evidence of that.  And there could have been a declaration that the sinner can rise from the ashes and live again to do good things.

That’s what David did.  So did Peter following his three-fold denial of Jesus.  Go through the Litany of the Saints and see how many in the canon are repentant sinners.  You’ll see they are not a few.  To acknowledge that is not to go soft on sin; rather that is what gives us sinners hope.  Perhaps it is only in repentance that one can come to accept that God’s love is unconditional and forever.  Isn’t that the lesson of the Cross?

Maybe this can only happen in faith communities.  Although some would say it is not even happening there these days.  There seems to be much more about judgment and condemnation in this winter of discontent.

An absolving of General Petraeus might have done wonders to rekindle hope.  If repentance and forgiveness can happen in the world, it might be able to happen in the church.  You never know.

Sincerely,

Didymus

OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THE KING – November 25, 2012

 

The Book of the Prophet Daniel 7:13-14

The Book of Revelation 1:5-8

The holy Gospel according to John 18:33b-37

Dear Jesus,

Let me repeat at the outset what you already know.  I love you.  All I desire is to be known as one who follows you.  That is the only reputation that matters to me.  I notice that we are finishing another liturgical year.  We are about to celebrate the Sunday that proclaims our kingship.  I hope I do not offend you when I say that I have long found this to be a strange feast.

Please do not misunderstand me.  From the day I began to believe and to experience your call to follow, your call to discipleship, I have wanted you to reign in my life so that I could be part of the church’s extension of your reign in the world.  But when I sift through various proclamations that you made to the crowds and how you always seemed to focus on the little ones, the poor and the disenfranchised, I don’t hear one who wants to be a king.  Kings aren’t popular in this country, as you know.  Our ancestors fought a long and bloody war to end a king’s rule of the original colonies.  A king implies domination.  Subjects must be subservient.  The people of this country take pride in being free participants in a democracy.

I’ve noticed lately that I always seem to be questioning apparent realities.  I have to rethink assumptions I have lived with for many years now.  I am not trying to be obstinate, much less impertinent.  We have journeyed together through another liturgical year.  A lot has been stripped away in the process and I wonder if I am any closer to knowing what it’s all about.  I just want to understand.

Sudden and unexpected deaths may be clouding my thinking.  My emotions are on the surface.  Within a week’s time I received two messages informing me that friends dear to me had died.  The first was a young friend that had drowned in a rushing river where he was trying to cool off following a hike taken during the heat of a summer’s day.  The second call was from a grieving son to tell me that his mother had died suddenly in the midst of an asthma attack. Neither deserved to die.  They were both faithful servants of yours and could have had many more years to journey with you.  Yes, I believe in the life after this one, but the separation that death brings weighs heavy and I find myself asking, “Why?”

Isn’t a king someone who rules over all his subjects?  If that is true, shouldn’t we have a better Gospel selection to proclaim on this day that would emphasize your reign instead of one that proclaims your kingship in spite of your standing before Pilate on trial for your life?

Daniel’s vision in the first reading is appropriate and is more in line with the revealing of a king.  There’s conflict in Daniel’s dream as he sees the worldly powers oppose the coming kingdom of God.  Then he sees one like a Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.  The church believes you are that Son of Man who receives from the Father dominion, glory, and kingship.  But that kingship, it seems will be exercised only at the end of time when all people, nations, and languages will serve you.  Would that that could begin now.  And while you appropriate Daniel’s vision to yourself in the Gospel, it will be your crucifixion that will follow.

Are you a king?  The question is apt.  The sign that will be tacked to the top of your cross will read: Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews.  What kind of king has no subjects?  Your Jewish brothers and sisters rejected you for welcoming sinners and eating with them.  Even your disciples fled in terror, except for your mother and the Beloved Disciple.  A resplendent reign is hard to reconcile with defeat.

My thoughts go back to the poor and to all those suffering atrocities in the war-torn lands.  I think of children abused and abandoned.  And I think of my two friends.  It’s here, isn’t it?  This is the lesson you want understood if we are to celebrate Christ the King.  You are the king of the desperate.  You reign in hearts that open to you and are otherwise empty.  You are the king of those who have no one else to whom they can turn.  You won’t be king for those who think they can save themselves.

So often you challenge me to remember.  I’ve come to understand that that means to remember with all that remembering entails.  To remember is to make all things present.  To be remembered by you is to be present to the whole mystery that is you.  When your disciples remember all your actions and your dying and rising become timeless.  Celebrating Eucharist is that kind of action.  Do this in my memory is your challenge to live the mystery, and living it, to make the whole Christ event present.  That is how you bring us to God.

We have to be empty and desperate in that emptiness. We have to have relinquished every other refuge, anyone else on whom we could rely.  We have to admit our sinfulness.  We have to know what helplessness and hopelessness mean if we are going to enter into your reign.  There is no other way to know other than to have lived the experience of being helpless and hopeless except for you.  That is what makes sense out of the Meal we share gathered around your table.

I think of my two friends in their dying.  To drown or to suffocate is to experience ultimate powerlessness.  That must be like a plunge into a deep and dark chasm.  And just when they thought their situations were hopeless and that they were helpless, you rushed in and lifted them up.  I believe that just as I pray that will be my experience on my last day.

Am I getting close to what you want me to learn as I celebrate the Feast of Christ the King?  I believe that you are supreme over the church and all creation.  But I have to need you and let you reign in my heart.  That is it, isn’t it?  I have to let you be king.

What a dolt I am.  I must be the epitome of the slow learner.  It just occurred to me now that because of our baptismal union with you we already share in your reign.  We celebrate that, too, on this feast.  If I share in your reign I had better reign the way you do.  I can do no better than imitating you in pouring out myself in service.  Yours is not a community of triumphalists, if there is such a word.  Yours is a community of servants who aspire to nothing loftier than being foot-washers.  I must recognize you in the poorest of the poor and serve you in them.  When I gather with my brothers and sisters in the faith, in that number there had better be representatives of all walks of life, especially the lowliest, and those who are known to be sinners, and the disabled physically and mentally had better be welcomed or ourgathering will not be the Body of Christ that you want the church to be.  I remember a quotation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who understood what the kingdom that is the church should be like: It is much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitue, than a vain person praying.  Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.  If we are a people in whom you reign, we know what it means to be a sinner and to wonder if we would ever be free of the sin.  And then we come to know what it means to be surprised by grace.

Please, Jesus, as you enter your kingdom, don’t forget me.  And please let my friends, newly in the face to face vision of your glory, know that I look forward to seeing them again when that day comes.

Sincerely,

Didymus