Saturday, December 15, 2012

What then shall we do?

Third Sunday of Advent,
Zephaniah 3:14-20,
Canticle 9,
Philippians 4:4-7,
Luke 3:7-18,

If there is no forgiveness in us,
            there is no cause for celebration.”
– Ann Weems, “The Cross in the Manger”, Kneeling in Bethlehem, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980) 77.

Near the end of the gospel of Luke we come across the story of a pair of disciples who are refugees from disaster. After the trauma, loss and grief of Holy Week in Jerusalem, they set out for a village seven miles away from the city. On the way they cannot help but talk over everything that has happened. They look sad. And then they meet a stranger on the road.

What are you talking about?
Don’t you know? Are you the only one who hasn’t heard about what’s been happening?

What about?
About Jesus, they say: Jesus of Nazareth.

We really thought he was the One. That he would be the one to lead us – to redeem us – to be our savior.

We thought everything was going to be all right. This was going to be a peaceful place, free from danger and trouble.

And yet he stepped into the thick of it – and was crucified for his pains. And now we hear they cannot even find his body.

O my dear friends. Your minds have been darkened by grief. Haven’t you been paying attention to what is really going on?

Didn’t you know that Christ had to go through suffering and death, that the road of Jesus leads to the Cross – and only then to glory?

God made us mortal
         because he loves us
         because he loves us
God became one of us
         in Christ Jesus
he shared our nature
         our sorrows, our grief, our joys –
and he is with you now!
         walking beside you
though you may not know it
         or see that it is he
until you share
in the brokenness
and the outpouring of compassion
that is his supper
that is the supper he presides over
a thanksgiving and a memorial meal

This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, poured out for you.

All this he spoke: good news
to two people attempting to flee from the wrath that had come.

Afraid, alone, discouraged, in despair
 – but they had been baptized –
and so their eyes are opened
and they turn
         toward home
to spread the news.

The people who went out to John in the wilderness:
why did they go?

To be baptized, sure, to see a miracle, maybe,
and maybe to buy some fire insurance.

They could see bad times coming.

But why did they stay?

John offered no spiritual anesthesia.

Why did they say, “What then shall we do?”

These are the people who respond to the call to conversion.

What then shall we do? they ask –
if coming for a magic baptism is not it,
what are we supposed to do?

How are we to live?

John says it begins with honesty.

Be satisfied with your wages. Treat people fairly.

It begins simply,
with small actions
day to day
that turn you
into the right road.

And it continues in transformation –
which is painful: preparation for the new life to come.

In the midst of disaster – and these people knew disaster – these, newly baptized, would become the ones to bring hope and peace to a traumatized world, comfort to the people.

The first people to read this gospel of Luke were people who knew tragedy and disaster: the death of Jesus, the destruction of the Temple, the reduction of the holy city to rubble.

And yet, there was hope – not despite of, or in avoidance of, the pain of the world, but in sure knowledge that God is present with us in suffering and even in the midst of tragedy he is victorious. In the midst of it God is with us. 

O come Emmanuel – GOD WITH US – comfort your people. Build our strength.

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that plenteously bearing the fruit of good works
they may herald the coming of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Serene Jones, Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) 23-42.

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