Thursday, December 14, 2017
December 17, Advent 3, "Come, Lord Jesus!" #3: Flowers and Vengeance
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28
John. Well, there’s two Johns. There is the John who wrote our Gospel, John the Evangelist, one of the twelve disciples, and the best friend of Jesus.
And there is John the cousin of Jesus, identified as John the Baptist in the Gospel of Matthew, John the baptizer in Mark, John the son of Zechariah in Luke, and in John he’s just plain John. The cousin of the Son of God.
He’s not the Word of God but the voice for the word. Not the light but the witness to the light. Not the Messiah but the pointer to the Messiah. John the pointer, the testifier, the witness, the voice, the confessor.
He is a mystery. When he’s asked about himself, he says, “I am not,” “I am not,” and, “No.” He is non-self-referential. Not, not, no. Then what is he? You can tell him in Christian iconography by his boney physique and leather belt and wild hair and his wild garment of camel’s hair. He is a man apart, a man whose life is his message. He’s a messenger for someone coming. He points into the crowd: “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.” We can’t tell whom within the crowd he’s pointing to. Not yet, because the one who is coming is hiding in plain sight.
There is mystery in the faith that we confess. Even the basic facts remain a mystery, the ones that we keep singing every week: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” His coming again is of two kinds. His ultimate coming again will be the final great unveiling for every eye to see, and when that will happen, no one knows. But in the meantime he comes again each week. Christ will come again this week, but hidden in plain sight. He will come again this week, hidden in your week’s encounters and activities. “Among you stands one whom you do not know.”
And it’s our job as witnesses to point into the crowd and testify. If we’re not cousins of the Son of God, we are the sisters and brothers of the Son of God. We too give voice to the Word that is not heard. We too are witnesses who testify to the light within the darkness. We point to the one who is hidden among us in the crowded course of human events. We are the witnesses who testify in the great long trial of human history.
But if he’s hidden how can you point to him? Fair enough, but he told us whom he’d be hiding among, and what business and activities he’ll be hiding in. This morning he tells us in our reading from Isaiah, which you can take as the Lord Jesus telling us about himself, because this Isaiah passage is the one he chose to read when he introduced himself within the synagogue.
He’s telling us, look for me when you bring good news to the oppressed, look for me when you bind up the broken-hearted. Look for me when you proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, look for me when you comfort those who mourn, who mourn for their city. Look for me when you build up the ancient ruins, look for me when you raise up the former devastations, and repair the ruined cities, and repair the devastations of many generations, in East New York, Brownsville, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monrovia, Liberia. Christ will come again this week, today is a day of vengeance of our God, the year of the Lord’s favor. So the vengeance is a favor, a favorable vengeance, against the negative, against the devastation, robbery, and wrongdoing. It is a vindication. And he says that’s where you look for him.
I’m thinking of your pointing to him like in a courtroom, when the attorney asks the witness to point to the accused. “Is that person here in this courtroom? Can you point to him?” And where you point is into the seats of the onlookers behind the rail. What! Everyone turns their heads to figure out whom you’re pointing to. “Why should we believe you? What credibility do you have?”
Your credibility as a witness is your ordinary life. You’re not asked to witness in the subway or the street, you aren’t John the Baptist. Yes, you might be called out for active prophecy, if the community of Jesus designates you to speak out in public, or just sit down in the front seat of the bus.
Mostly it’s more mundane, and no less difficult, to bear your witness in the crowded events of ordinary life, in buying and selling, eating and drinking, working and playing, partying and sleeping, winning and losing, suffering and grieving, and through it all, in the words of First Thessalonians, rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances, not quenching the Spirit of God in the world, not despising the strange words of the prophets in our Bible, testing everything around us, holding fast to what is good around us, abstaining from every form that evil takes within the world, letting ourselves be sanctified by the God of peace. To live like this we don’t remove ourselves from ordinary life, which gives us credibility whenever we point to him.
Always rejoicing is not so much a feeling as a choice. Always giving thanks is not an optimistic disposition but the choice to pray without ceasing your thanks to God, in every circumstance. It is a discipline. It’s costly. To always rejoice is its own kind of repentance because it’s your surrender of yourself. Joy comes from knowing what you’re not! Praying thanksgiving without ceasing is a kind of repentance because it forces your awareness and your sensitivity. It requires a habit that you learn, an attitude you practice and reinforce. You choose for joy in order to be joyful. When John the Baptist calls you to repent, you answer, Okay, I will rejoice! And when St. Paul calls you to rejoice, you answer, Okay, I will repent!
Advent repentance is not forcing yourself to wear the scratchy cloak of camel’s hair. Maybe for Lent, but not for Advent. Yes, you take off the clothes you chose to come in, that’s your Not, Not, No, and the Advent repentance is putting on new clothes of rejoicing. Back to Isaiah: You accept the glittering garments of salvation, the rainbow robe of righteousness, a garland of flowers like a bridegroom, and all the lavish jewelry of a bride. You rejoice in getting all decked out and you repent in wearing the costume that he gives you.
Isn’t this the joy of the pageant? That we get to dress up as angels and shepherds and wise men and sheep? Even for just a few minutes we forget ourselves, and inhabit the simple roles that ordinary people have dressed up in, once a year for how many centuries past. What is your garment of salvation? Shall you dress up as an angel? A shepherd? Or would dressing up as a donkey bring you more joy? Of course it’s beneath us to dress like that, but beneath us is where the joy is.
Is it delusional to choose for joy? Diversional, silly, irresponsible? Shouldn’t we be serious, considering how awful everything is right now? How can we rejoice amidst all the devastation and the robbery and injustice? How can we rejoice in the day of vengeance of our God? But the vengeance is the vengeance of flowers, a vengeance of jewels upon a bride. It’s the vengeance of life against the darkness and the cold, the vengeance of new shoots of green in the barren ground, the vengeance of a homeless mother giving birth out back among the animals behind the inn.
Choose joy to disconnect yourself from the evil that you witness against. Choose joy to abstain from every form of evil. Choose joy to judge the evil that you’re up against as stupid and banal, for all the power it claims. Test everything with your joy, and all the pretension fails the test of joy, and glamour cannot match the joy of dressing up as donkeys. Choose for joy to be open against depression and suppression and oppression, to not quench the Spirit. Choose for joy to judge the evil of the world without revenge, choose for joy to bear witness to the good.
Choose for joy in order to feel the coming of the Lord Jesus into your heart. And if joy is not self-absorbed, if joy is un-self-referential, if joy is outwardly directed (not necessarily extroverted, so often very quiet, in the listening) then you will feel the coming of the Lord Jesus into your heart when you are the one in whom he hides his business in the world.
You will feel his coming when you are comforting those who mourn. You will feel his coming when you are binding up the broken-hearted, when you are bringing liberty to captives and release to prisoners. You will feel his coming when you are raising up the former devastations and when you repair the ruined cities.
Whether as an angel proclaiming or a donkey as a beast of burden, you will know his coming when you share the wonders of his love, the wonders of his love. You will feel the joy of his coming in your heart, when you take your part and dress up in the wonders of his love.
Copyright © 2017 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.