The Rev. Daniel J. Isadore, Deacon Assistant, St. Andrew's Church
Advent II, December 6, 2015
Advent. Arrival. Appearance. Who is coming? For what are we waiting? We know…don’t we?
The nation of Israel thought they knew…The Pharisees had their ideas of what the Messiah would be. They were the curators of Israel’s national identity, and the strict observers of the Law. They knew that Messiah was coming to set up a powerful earthly kingdom. The Sadducees were convinced they had it right. These were the politically savvy priests, the guardians of the temple. They knew Messiah would build the true temple of God. The Essenes, those who separated themselves from the rest of society, they were waiting in eager anticipation for Messiah, who would establish establish the true people of God. And the Zealots thought they had it altogether as well. These revolution-loving warriors were awaiting Messiah’s arrival to come and conquer the Gentiles. And what did they all do when the Messiah came? “Crucify him, crucify him!”
The Romans, even though they weren’t waiting for a Jewish Messiah…they knew what kind of Lord they were looking for. He was to be strong, a winner of wars. He was to be wise, politically savvy and able to rule well. He was to be able to hold the nation and its territories together, and to ensure peace and safety throughout. And yet, when the true Lord of world came, what did they do? They nailed him to a tree.
Even the disciples, those who followed Jesus day after day, his closest friends, those who heard his every word and observed every sign…those who left everything to follow him…where were they when religion and politics were nailing Messiah to a tree? Excepting a couple of brave women, and John, they were nowhere to be found. And even John and Mary were baffled by what they witnessed…
Do we know for whom we wait this Advent?
Martin Luther, the great reformer, brilliant theologian, and, at times, out-of-his-mind German pastor, is said to have begun the Reformation by nailing his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg…This was the first of those theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Luther, in other words, believed that repentance, a changing of one’s mind in light of the coming of Messiah, was something that was never finished. That repentance was not a once-and-for-all act or decision but the way of life that was to characterize the followers of Jesus. This “baptism of life-change” as Eugene Peterson puts it is what John, son of Zachariah, was preaching that the people must enter into in order to be prepared for the coming Deliverer.
But what kind of sense does this make? Surely we have to make up our minds, don’t we? This is how we have learned to work in the West. We gather the data, we systematize it, and we create expectations in light of those systemizations. We then use these expectations that we use to construct nice, neat categories to help us navigate the world. There is, of course, much to commend about our methodology…but what if our expectations and our categories are wrong? What happens when new data doesn’t fit our preconceptions? Will we allow space for that?
Luther and John are telling us, and society (religious, political, and social) at the time of Jesus’ coming has showed us, that if we do not allow for that space when it comes to Jesus, then we, too, will miss Him. That is to say, if we do not permit an opening for correction within ourselves, if we will not allow for our minds to be changed in light of the coming of our Lord…well…then there is a very good chance that we will crucify or abandon Him at His arrival as well.
Why is this? John the Apostle gives us some help here…John 1:17-18 - “No one has ever seen God,” writes the Apostle. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known.” Matthew concurs. Matthew 11:27 - “…no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” According to the New Testament, if our conceptions of God are not formulated according to the appearance of Jesus, then our conceptions are wrong. And if those conceptions are wrong, what will we do to God incarnate when He arrives? We’ll ignore Him, we’ll abandon Him, and we’ll kill Him.
If we are to know Him, we must open ourselves up to Him and permit Him to make Himself known to us. We must not make our minds up about who He is. Rather, we have to allow Him to change our minds, reforming them according to His Person.
How does this happen?
Anglican missionary to India, Leslie Newbigin, says this: “The gospel is news about a man called Jesus, and there were witnesses who had known him, seen him, heard him speak, and touched him (1 John 1:1). These witnesses had gone everywhere telling the story of Jesus. … But when the hearers began to ask, ‘But who is Jesus?,’ how could one begin to answer the question?” He continues, “…the witnesses can only begin by using words which have some meaning to his hearers. They have to begin by assuming a common framework of language, of experience, of inherited tradition… They can only introduce what is (radically) new by provisionally accepting what is already there in the minds of their hearers.”
Why do we come, each week, and repeat the same basic liturgy of Word and Sacrament again, and again, and again? It’s not to reinforce what we already know. It’s not to make us comfortable, and lock us deeper and deeper into our present assumptions. The liturgy is about opening ourselves up to the mystery who is God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and what this God has done to re-create the cosmos. We do this, over and over, because God is infinite, and therefore we are never finished. We never get it all together. We can’t wrap our minds around this thing. Jesus is never done making God known to us. We do this every Sunday morning to practice repenting, to practice opening ourselves up to this One who has come, who is coming, who will yet come again.
This is what the church is here for: not to help cement our agendas or as a place to further our causes, but to help human beings respond to John’s call. To help us open up space in our hearts and lives for God the Son to appear to us in Word and Sacrament, and make Himself known, again, and again, and again, to the glory of God the Father, in the power of God the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.