Friday, December 28, 2018

December 30, First Sunday of Christmas: Born of God

Isaiah 61:10—62:3, Psalm 147, Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7, John 1:1-18

Our gospel for this morning is also the ninth and final lesson in our Christmas Eve service. I’m the one who gets to read it, and it’s the moment when Christmas finally arrives for me. Up till then my Christmas Eve is all about the details and distractions of managing liturgy and people, and I am not a first-class manager. But that’s all done by the time of at the ninth lesson, and I get to stand up in the darkness and read it: “St. John unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation.”

The Incarnation is claimed in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we have beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” I’m not going to preach on that today, but on the previous two verses, which are about you, and how you are children of God: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” 

That’s you. You were born of God. It’s remarkable that the birth which St. John presents in the opening of his Gospel is not the birth of Jesus but the birth of you! You, believer, are a child of God because you were born of God.

Well, no you weren’t! You were born from your mother. You are the child of your parents. So this is a metaphor, but it’s a very basic metaphor of Christianity. “If anybody asks you who I am, who I am, who I am, if anybody asks you who I am, tell them I’m a child of God.”

Judaism does not speak this way. Jews regard themselves as Children of Israel, and Israel is the other name for Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, so for Jews it’s more literal than metaphorical. The Torah never calls God “our Father,” and the psalms and prophets do so only rarely. And Islam never, ever calls God a father, and Muslims do not call themselves the children of God; indeed, the very word “muslim” means a willing servant who submits to God.

This “children of God” language of the Gospel circles back to the natural religions and the mythologies which claim that we’re descended from the gods. But we’re not. We are descended from the same primitive primates as the monkeys are. And so was Jesus, in his fully human nature. And yet uniquely, by the hovering of the Holy Spirit upon the womb of Mary, he was the son of God, the only begotten child of God. His unique identity as the Son of God is the stone cast into the water, and the expanding ripples on the water are you, the children of God.

Let’s explore the metaphor of being children. A first point of the metaphor is that you belong. To be a child is to belong, and to belong to someone other than yourself, but with a belonging that is different than servanthood, which is being owned. It is a belonging which is not contractual, it’s not even covenantal, it’s a belonging which you cannot break. Yes, you can be at odds with God, as children can be at odds with their parents, and yet they have a connection which is deep and tough and physical and emotional and is broken only by violence against nature. You belong to God in a way that was not your choice any more than being born was your own choice.

So then, as born of God, you can presume that sense of belonging, that easy sense of security, which children have within their families (if their parents do their job). So you can presume the security and the comfort of having been born of God.

Galatians develops the metaphor. St. Paul writes that we are children of God, and that is by adoption. What difference does that make? Adoption can be a dicey thing. My youngest sister and brother are adopted. It took some time for them to feel like they belonged. And it wasn’t easy. They didn’t have that physical connection with my parents that we older ones had, that genetic connection which reinforces the belonging. And yet somehow, over the years, my adopted brother connected with my father in ways more powerful than did the rest of us.

It was my adopted brother who gave the eulogy at my father’s funeral. Perhaps their connection was more powerful because there had been some choice in their relationship, some moving toward each other. Those two had a friendship that the rest of us did not have. Adoption can be a stronger connection than natural descent. What my brother stressed in his eulogy was the Christian faith that my father had bequeathed him.

For St. Paul here the significance of childhood is inheritance. Not genetic inheritance so much as cultural and legal inheritance. Because you are God’s children, even by adoption, you inherit things from God. In many genetic ways I am like my mother. But my inheritance from my dad is very great. He was a Reformed Church pastor born in Paterson, New Jersey, who was serving a church in Brooklyn, New York. I should change my name to Marvin Meeter Jr.

Some of my siblings miss my father more than I do. I feel like he’s living on inside me. Which is another meaning of the metaphor. If you are God’s child, then God is living in you. God’s eternal life is in your life right now. God is present within you. You’re not so different from other people, except that there’s always some small feeling or something of God just under your awareness, just beneath the surface, and all it takes is a bump for you to feel it and a scratch for it to come out.

You also inherit the world. Your being a child of God is not to disconnect you from the world but to get you at home in the world, as it is God’s world. It’s not that you belong to the world, but that the world belongs to God. God created it and God is saving it. That salvation is for creation is very strong in both Isaiah and Psalm 147.

It is not coincidental that St. John’s Gospel opens by quoting from Genesis: “In the beginning.” The great mystery of the Incarnation is that the miracle of Salvation comes into the naturalness of Creation for the revival and renewal of Creation. Your salvation is not to free you from the world but to give you freedom in the world.

You are not a slave to the world, but you are as free in the world as the child of the owner of the world can be. Now at the same time your childhood means that your freedom does not deny the appropriate dependency and humility of children. You are not the measure of your world, which fact gives you greater freedom and joy in it than if it were your own.

One last thing, and that’s the way we talk to God. I refer you to the opening line of the gospel: In the beginning was the word. That translation is not wrong, but you could also translate it as “in the beginning was the talk.” The conversation. The word of God is not just dictation, it initiates a conversation. God wants you to talk back. You are God’s children after all.

Did you know that Christianity is unique among the religions in the room it gives for free prayer, informal prayer, for prayers made up on the spot. In other religions the prayers are formal and prescribed. You learn them, and you don’t think to make up your own. But we Christians act like we can talk to God with all the familiarity of children talking to their mother or father. Precisely.

It can go too far. Just as children can be undisciplined and disrespectful, and talk to their parents in unseemly ways, so too do we Protestants especially. So much of Protestant free prayer strikes me as shallow, impulsive, and clichéd. There is great value in the discipline of formal prayers, in how they convert your mind and train you to pray more deeply and widely than you ever could on your own.

I pray the Daily Office every morning, and almost all of it is the traditional readings and prayers, but every morning a time is reserved for my own made-up prayer, and I am not ashamed to confess that my made-up prayers are little different from those of my childhood. Let me recommend the same to you. The formal prayers are for your great benefit, not God’s, and what God loves to hear is your own most personal voice, with all the open naiveté of a child.

You are a child of God. You have a status more intimate with God than servants do. Yes, it’s okay to be known as servants of God, but today Galatians wants us to say that you are not God’s servant — God does not own you, you do not owe to God your service, you do not owe God anything but your love, and everything which comes from love. That is what God wants from you, you who were born of God — what God wants from you is your love.

Copyright © 2018 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

December 23, Advent 4: Living Between the Times: Expecting

Micah 5:2-5a, Song of Mary, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-45

In our gospel story today we get a glimpse of the Virgin Mary between the times—between the time of her getting pregnant and the time of her giving birth. She’s in the intermezzo of expecting. She’s expecting the promise inside her to come true.

This event we call The Visitation. It follows on The Annunciation, when the angel announced to Mary that she would bear a son. She said, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and then also that her elderly cousin Elizabeth was six months pregnant. That extra news was the incentive for her Visitation.

Mary races to visit Elizabeth. You can imagine her desire for the confirmation. She probably had not told anybody yet. Pregnancy is something you keep secret at first. And she can imagine her trouble when the news gets out. Pregnant before wedlock. A sinner, a slut, or just a victim, but we blame the victim. Doubtless Mary could sense from the start what she would be up against to carry this child, so for confirmation she races to visit Elizabeth.

Elizabeth will be showing by now, while Mary is not yet far along. But Mary does not have to show for Elizabeth to know—from her own baby leaping inside her. A prophet already before he’s born—John the Baptist, the forerunner, the announcer. Elizabeth gets prophetic too, by the Holy Spirit, when she blesses Mary, twice. And Mary answers with her own prophetic song. Both mothers are prophetic. Those two boys will take after their mothers more than their fathers. These four persons make a little prophetic community. In fact, it’s the first Community of Jesus ever.

I love the emphasis on women in the Gospel of St. Luke. The first prophetic song in St. Luke is Mary’s song, her Magnificat. From the Latin for the first line: Magnificat anima mea dominum. In Greek: Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν κύριον. Literally, “Magnifies my soul the Lord.”

The Greek original and the Latin translation are both compact, but the modern English versions are wordy and diffuse, and they underplay the femininity and the sexuality. In the last line, she does not say “descendants.” What she says is “seed” (literally “σπερμα”), and you know what that means. She’s singing about her uterus no less than about her soul. She is singing about her womanhood. She is young and pregnant, and she’s got God inside her body like a little seed. Was that scary or thrilling or both?

It’s an assumption among scholars that Mary could not have written this song—that St. Luke must have put these words in her mouth, like a librettist for an opera. But hold it, why not? Because she’s young? Because she’s a girl? Maybe she’s smarter than the scholars are! What other sort of woman would God choose to home-school the Messiah? At least we can say that the Holy Spirit that dwelt in her uterus could also dwell in her mind! I’m going with Mary as the singer of this song.

She sings that God made her great–with child!–and so she magnifies God right back. That’s daring talk. As if a girl could increase God’s greatness. Who does she think she is! Well, she’s been empowered by her obedience to God. She says, “All generations will bless me.” Yes, we will, world without end, because of what God has done in her, but isn’t it presumptuous of her to claim it?

Not according to St. Luke. She can claim her own experience as a demonstration of all the rest that she’s singing of: God casting down and raising up, God filling and emptying. And when God gets done with all of this, especially with her, then God is even greater than God was before, if not mathematically, then historically. God is great in her, she is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of the church.

The last line of the canticle has a paradox. She says that God “remembered the promise God made to Abraham and his seed forever.” But there was no seed of Abraham in her. She conceived her child as a virgin. No sperma. So the seed of Abraham that she mentions must be herself. She, and not some man, is the bearer of God’s promises. This was daring. So greatly does she conceive herself.

I love the Blessed Virgin Mary. So do Muslims, did you know that? We Protestants should love her more, and Roman Catholics should love her more as flesh and blood. Her devotion to do God’s will cost her greatly, but it meant no diminution of herself. Just so, you are made greater when you make God great. I don’t mean greatness of wealth or reputation. I mean the capacity of your soul. How much God asks of you, and how much you gain by what God asks of you. That’s my only take-home today: You are magnified when you magnify God.

She sings that “God has remembered.”  Why that? That feels like an old-person thing to say. Why, when you’re a young woman just getting used to the idea of being pregnant, which is challenging enough and then scandalous on top of it, and your mind is all on the next nine months, why would you sing that God has remembered? Maybe I would get it if I had ever been pregnant!

I guess the point is that you can feel remembered even before the fulfillment, even before the promise is delivered. You can feel remembered when you get the earnest before the payoff. You can feel remembered while you’re still expecting, while you’re living in between the time of the promise announced and the time of the promise delivered. You can say that even though you don’t have it yet you know you’re not forgotten. This is the experience of a great deal of the Christian life.

Promises and memories behind you, incompletion before you, and beyond that it’s all unknown. The world. Your own life. Your health. Your loved ones. If you’re pregnant, what your child will be, and how will her life turn out in the end. If the future feels uncertain, the present feels uncertain too, and as you get older even the past gets less certain. “Am I remembering right?”

God remembers. God remembered Noah. God remembered Joseph in Pharaoh’s prison. God remembered Israel in Egypt. God remembered David. God remembered the Jews in captivity in Babylon. God remembers. Why else do we pray every day? Not that God ever forgets, this isn’t philosophical logic here, but the gist is that God bends God’s attention to God’s promises.

I invite you to believe that God remembers you, that God has made promises to you, and even though those promises are not yet fulfilled, God remembers you and reminds you in so many ways that you are on God’s mind. And in your waiting and your expecting, God actually makes you greater, greater than if you were not expecting. The arc of God’s promise is long, but it bends towards remembering.

Which is why it’s remarkable that God’s remembering gets enfleshed in a little baby who has nothing at all to remember. Isn’t that odd? And then his life will be short, just over thirty years, just getting started. What he had to remember was what his mother told him and what he read in the sacred scrolls of Israel’s memory, all the promises of God that were set out in the Holy Book and waiting to be kept.

He gathered that remembering and made it his own life. In the words of our Epistle, “See God, I have come to do your will, in the scroll of the book it is written of me.” From that literature he remembered all the years of longing and expectation of his people, and he offered himself to keep those promises in body and soul.

But the first years, while he was still young, his mother had to do the remembering for him. We know that she pondered so much in her heart. And I’m guessing she taught him what she knew, and from her own experience, for she did the same herself, though not in death, but she offered her body to the pain of labor and the sacrifice of pregnancy, the sacrifice that every mother makes to that beloved parasite inside her body, her sacrifice to the future of the species.

His mother did first what Christ said later, in the words of the Epistle, “animal sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me. Then I said, ‘See God, I have come to do your will.’” From his mom he learned not just to be a prophet, but also to be priest, because she offered up herself. And a priest because she begins the gospel liturgy with her song. A priest, a prophet, and the queen-mother of Israel.

We do the expecting and God does the remembering. For living in-between the times. Keep your expectation on the love of God. I invite you to choose for love. Choose to be expecting of love, especially the love of God that we remember in this Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of our infant Lord.

Copyright © 2018, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

Friday, December 14, 2018

December 16, Advent 3: Living Between the Times: Joy.

Zephaniah 3:14-20, First Song of Isaiah, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18

In my final year in my third congregation, in Hoboken, my wife Melody developed a Christmas pageant that I was very proud of. It was based on a medieval mystery play and had all these cool parts for the children, from Adam and Eve to Joseph and Mary. (I should credit Gretchen Wolf Pritchard.)

So when I went to my fourth charge, in Grand Rapids, a big church, I was excited to introduce this kind of pageant, especially with the assistance of this big staff under me and lots of resources for music and costumes. But one of the education staff had designed his own Christmas pageant a couple years before I arrived. And the first time I saw it I disliked it very much. It contradicted everything I valued in a pageant.

So over the following months I shared my vision of what a Christmas pageant should be, but my education person was not buying it and neither did the children’s committee. I did not like this resistance. I was the senior pastor, and I was supposed to be the visionary leader. Eventually I realized I was going to have to yield, and I was not happy. And I guess my unhappiness got out.

Because on that next Advent Sunday when I came to church and I stepped inside the door a senior elder came up to me. He had been a pastor once himself. He took my hand and he looked me in the eye and he said, “You will enjoy this pageant and you will show it.” He was right, I knew it right away. He was commanding me to rejoice, and let your gentleness be known to all, just like St. Paul did.

Rejoice. The Latin word is gaudete, the second-person-plural present-active-imperative, which is why the third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. You-all–rejoice! It’s a command, do it! But how can joy be commanded? Shouldn’t it be spontaneous, a feeling that rises inside you? How can you command a feeling?

Well, in Christian terms the feeling of joy is only one result of the practice of joy, and the practice of joy may have all different kinds of feelings not typically recognized as joyful, such as very quiet contemplation or even “weeping with them that weep.” In all these feelings you have to choose for joy, but if you pursue it directly it will evade you, you have to get it roundabout.

You can pursue happiness. The pursuit of happiness is your inalienable right. I’m not against happiness, even though I am a Calvinist. But happiness is not the same as joy. Happiness is based on your circumstances, your happenstance. “Life is good, these are the best of times, I wish this could go on forever.” Happiness prefers the status quo, and it is not for living between the times. So happiness can get in the way of joy. Your pursuit of happiness can be an obstacle to your joy. Because what joy looks for is news, news of something coming, news of a change, news of hope. Joy responds to what is outside of your control. Joy gives in.

Which is why the prophets like John the Baptist come along to disrupt your happiness. How disruptive are his words: “You brood of vipers!” Yet the people come out to him anyway, they are drawn to him, even tax collectors and soldiers, who sense the disruption coming, that they are living in between the times. They hear his harsh words as good news. It was good for them because when you repent you disrupt your own happiness in order to give room for joy to come in. You give room and you give in. Like I did on that Advent Sunday in Grand Rapids when that elder admonished me.

Joy is your obligation as a Christian, so when you are commanded to rejoice, how shall you obey the command? The mistake is to try to generate your own joy within yourself. To force yourself to be joyful does not work, and it misses the meaning of joy. When you are commanded to rejoice, the best way to respond is by your belief. Belief is how you obey to the command to rejoice.

You believe it’s true, you believe that there is something outside yourself, you believe that there is something beyond your circumstance and happenstance, beyond your happiness that even judges your pursuit of happiness. When you believe, you open a window, and when the window is open the joy comes in. When you repent you open a crack in yourself, and through the crack the light comes in. Repentance and belief are the roundabout to joy. 

This is precisely why that, while sorrow may be the opposite of happiness, it is not the opposite of joy. You can have joy in the midst of loss and sorrow. You can have joy within your grief and pain—because of what you believe, despite your happenstance. The literature of religion has many testimonies of people knowing joy in the midst of their sorrow, and not just only Christian testimonies. You can be in a dark room, but the window can be open. That’s how you know the difference between happiness and joy, because joy is a gift against your circumstances.

In the Christian view, joy is not some general quality or aether or independent energy. Joy comes from God. God is joyful and the source of joy. In our Christmas hymn we sing that Joy is to the world because the Lord is come. Can I say that joy is God’s aroma, the body odor of God, and not a stench but a fragrance? The window is open and it smells like the Holy Spirit in here.

According to the prophet Zephaniah you can have your joy because the Lord God rejoices over you. Can I say that God enjoys you? And the joy of God comes into you inspiring you to your own joy, which you would not have on your own.

I love the picture that Zephaniah gives us of God singing. When I think of all the familiar depictions of God, from Michelangelo to Monty Python, I can’t think any picture of God singing. Or of Jesus either. What if God only sings, what if whenever God speaks it’s always to music? Whatever, by your belief you open your window to the singing of God and the joy of God, who gives that joy to you. Joy is always a gift, and it is God’s gift to you to help you live between the times.

As Christians we say that we are living between the times of his coming once at Bethlehem and his coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead. But as ordinary citizens we feel that we are living between the time of recent prosperity and the time of looming crisis and disaster from global climate change. The end of our world as we have known it, and not because of God, but because of our mismanagement and greed. It’s not the judgement of God that we fear but the judgment of Nature.

In my sixty-five years I can’t remember such general cultural pessimism. You call up someone on the phone, “How you doing?” “Not bad, considering everything going on.” Of course the people in many parts of the world would say that we are only finally feeling the loss of our privilege and domination, which they have been suffering under for so long. And so we are tempted to be both aggressive and defensive in our pursuit of our happiness. This is America right now.

In the midst of this pessimism some Christians feel that we are called to judgment. Maybe. But if the Lord is near, I say leave the judgment to him. What you are called to is joy. Not to pretend that the pessimism is unreasonable, not to falsify the awful truth of how bad things are, but by your belief to keep that window open to the presence of God, the judgment of God, the grace of God, and the joy of God.

As you walk down this long corridor of time, between the time behind and the time ahead, as you walk you keep on opening the windows. It’s not a tunnel, it’s a cloister walk under the sky, it’s a passage under the stars, a gallery of windows, and you keep opening them to the presence of God till you arrive at the great hall of the feast. You are commanded to rejoice as an invitation to believe, to believe that the Lord is at hand—so close at hand that nature sings, and the fields and the floods repeat the sounding joy.

The joy can be raucous and foot-stomping, or it can be contradictory, like when you hold the precious body of a loved one dying, or it can be quiet and peaceful, like when you hold a newborn baby in your arms. That Christmas memory tells us that the aroma of joy is the fragrance arising from the substance of love, the Spirit of love, and that God is joyful because God is love.

Copyright © 2018, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

December 9, Advent 2, Living Between the Times: Transformation

Malachi 3:1-4, Song of Zechariah, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6

Are you a prophet? Do you know anyone who is? What makes a prophet a prophet? Someone who foretells the future? That’s too narrow a definition. It’s not just foresight, but also insight. A prophet is a truth-teller about the present—with future implications. And Christian prophecy never treats the future as inevitable, it always leaves room for human choice to change the future for the better. The prophet puts you in a crisis, the prophet says to mind your ways and mend your ways, please do!

Prophets aren’t always welcome. The full truth about the present can be uncomfortable. And inconvenient! Prophets are unpopular. They are people who don’t get along, and difficult. It’s no fun to be a prophet. People in power do not like prophets. People in positions of prestige and prosperity do not like them. It’s the poor and oppressed who generally have no problem with them.

A prophet says, Stop! A prophet says, Wake up! A prophet says, “You’re a miserable offender,” and you say, “I’m not that bad.” A prophet says, “There is no health in you,” and you protest your health. You want to justify yourself and preserve your self-regard. But can you let go, surrender your self-regard, and what’s even harder, risk your investments in the future as you have bet on it so far? If your pension fund is invested in ExxonMobil, and if the prophet is warning you of global climate change, then you might resist the prophet to protect the comfort of your retirement!

Do you have a vision for the future of your life? Are you a visionary? The late president George H. W. Bush was famously hobbled by what he called “the vision thing.” I have been as well. When I came to my fourth charge, in Grand Rapids, I was repeatedly asked what was my vision for that church. I had no answer. I had never been asked that in my three former charges. “What do you mean? You called me to come and be your pastor. I came!”

“But a church like ours needs a vision for our future!” So I brought in advisers and I went on retreats, and finally I presented to the Consistory a vision plan—which they voted down 23 to 3! “We like you as our pastor but that’s not where we want to go!” Two years later, after I had been in Brooklyn for a while, I was talking to a friend back in Grand Rapids about where Old First was headed and he said, “Dan, your vision was right all along. You just had it for the wrong church!”

Well, nice, but did my vision come from God? Was it a prophetic vision? Not every visionary is a prophet. And many truth-tellers are simply pundits. The difference is your truth comes from God, your vision comes from God, when these are not available to human deduction apart from the gift of God. A prophet is a messenger, an instrument, even an oracle. The Christian prophet’s personality is never to be separated from her message, but her source is ultimately not herself. That’s why I never preach to you except from out of the Bible, because I’m supposed to be your prophet.

Does that mean that God still speaks? That God still talks today? Yes, but my speaking is not equal to God speaking, nor is even the Bible equal to God speaking. Where God speaks is in our making sense of the Bible together. In the interaction of this ancient text with our common life is God still speaking, so that God makes us a prophetic people, God makes us a visionary people.

But not as we just are. As it transforms us. If we prefer the status quo, if we don’t desire our transformation, then we cannot be prophetic. We have to participate in the transformation that we call for. And our transformation is guided by our vision, a vision that we seek from God, from our common interaction with the Word of God as it’s been given to us within the Holy Bible.

We say that we “offer a vision of the kingdom of heaven.” For the past few years we have been preoccupied with our sanctuary as the expression of that vision. The day is coming when we can enter back in it.  And then we will have to do the further work of making that sanctuary “a space of unconditional welcome.” What does that mean? What about security? What about safety? What about good behavior? Is the kingdom of heaven ever in tension with the unconditional welcome?

Not all behaviors are welcome in the kingdom of heaven. Not if we believe in transformation. To sort out which behaviors are welcome is our task as a prophetic people, and we assign this task to the Board of Elders (which please remember as we are choosing new consistory members). The task isn’t always easy, and it can’t be just our preferences—we must be interpreting and applying the gospel of God that directs us. It must come out of our sense of mission given us by God.

Our consistory is accountable to a wider assembly called the Classis of Brooklyn, and just last Sunday we had a meeting with its officers. The Classis of Brooklyn cannot support our mission of full acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ people, our visions differ on the kingdom of heaven, and so we explained our request to be transferred to a different classis.

We testified that we dissent from the traditional expectation that LGBTQ people should behave straight somehow. No, and we believe that the vision of the kingdom of heaven is calling us to ever new realities of unconditional welcome. God is not finished speaking yet, and is always addressing new developments. The vision is of the future, not the past. The golden age is still to come, and it’s waiting for us with God.

Of course all of us require transformation, in whatever ways that are appropriate to our several conditions and orientations. Also needing further transformation is our unconditional welcome. We can never say that we’ve arrived. Are we fully welcoming to trans-gendered people? Are we fully welcoming to the poor and dispossessed? If we look at our building we must admit that our space is only very conditionally welcoming to disabled and differently-abled people. How with our building can we yet make the crooked straight and the rough places plain? How more open can we yet be?

Why are we on these topics in December instead of talking more about Christmas? Well, mostly because that’s where our scripture lessons are—they’re not yet about the fulfillment, but the longing, the pregnancy, the time of expecting and not yet the time of delivery, and we are living between the times, this space within the time of  prophecy and transformation, the season of Advent.

Advent is a penitential season, because transformation has to begin with repentance. But the repentance of Advent is different from that of Lent. It is not mortification and self-examination but openness and expectation. You open up your soul like Mary’s womb. You open your heart like Mary’s uterus. You open your mind to the prophecy that sounds too strong, too critical, extreme, and you say, Well, maybe!

You don’t answer back, you listen. I think the greater part of repentance is just listening to the prophecy. To entertain the prophets in all of their difficulty is repentance in itself. Of course the prophet doesn’t have the last word, but is for preparation between the times.

The last word belongs to the savior himself, for whom the prophet prepares the way. And the savior comes in the way that we need but not how we expect him. The savior surprises even the prophets. The prophet Malachi expected him to come like fire, which burns, or like bleach, which stings, and not like an infant who needs to be kept warm. The prophet John the Baptist expected him to come like a warrior-king, building his military highways in the deserts like the Roman soldiers did, and not like a baby needing to be held and touched and comforted. A wonderful surprise.

So the preparation you need to work in this Advent season is conditioned by the character of the savior who comes at the end of it wrapped in swaddling clothes, which means a preparation of receiving, embracing, holding in your arms, holding on your chest. You need to open up your love. If you are resisting the stringent purging of the prophet, you are also restricting your love. If you resist the overly critical urging of the prophecy you are closing off yourself from the overflow of love. You are trying to keep control, you are trying to be the boss, you are in the way of God in you.

The marvelous thing is that he doesn’t wait for us to be ready. Ready or not he comes. His coming does not depend on what we do even though we are called to do it. For I am confident that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ. Why would God wait for you to get ready first when God has such great love for you?

Copyright © 2018, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.