Wright on the Word become flesh … An Advent Sermon

Listen, because the incomprehensible Word, the child, speaks to you.
Don’t patronize him; don’t reject him; don’t sentimentalize him. Learn
the language within which he makes sense. And come to the table to
enjoy the breakfast, the breakfast which is he himself, the Word made
flesh, the Life which is our life, our light, our glory.

These words bring to a close an Advent sermon by N.T. Wright found here.

(HT: Michael at the BHT Advent Blog)

The Dialectic of Advent … Hiding and Not Hiding …

Hiding_from_dangerEugene Peterson gave a series of lectures at Regent College in 1999 titled, "Eat This Book." The second lecture invites one to consider the link between form and content – the content is in the form. Pressing for an understanding of the Scriptures as narrative, story, Peterson suggests the form invites us to both consider and enter the grand story of God. Thus, the content, a new reality in relationship to the God of the Universe, may be understood and experienced in the form, the story of God in the Scriptures.

I was at once struck by the similarity between what Peterson suggests and how Brian McLaren weaves the same ideas in, The Story We Find Ourselves In. Helping a person see the possibilities requires them to understand their location in the story otherwise, the Scriptures likely devolve into a religious informational book along the lines of an encyclopedia.  Nothing more than drafted moralisms come from such a "controlling" use of the Scriptures. In this way, God hides even in the Scriptures. And, God does not hide in the Scriptures

The Old Testament reading for the Third Sunday in Advent came from
Zephaniah 3. The backdrop to the third chapter left me reflecting on
the meaning of the name "Zephaniah" – "the Lord hides." Jesus told the religious leaders in his day to search the Scriptures for there they think they find life and yet they "testify of me." The Scriptures hid the Messiah. The Scriptures reveal the Messiah.

Ominous descriptions of judgment haunt the first two chapters of Zephaniah. No one escapes the watchful eye of God. He witnesses Jew and Gentile, small and great, rich and poor chasing after all but God. They do not find him in the stars – he is hidden. Yet, they could find him in the stars for he is not hidden.

Our notions of judgment and justice often require visible action. We often refer to images in Scripture for our alertness to judgment. Floods and rainbows remind us of the story of Noah and his family boarding the big boat – Ark. The word plagues conjures images of the Exodus, if not Charlton Heston.

What if we looked at these events through the lens of the form (the name of Zephaniah) and found the content (the Lord hides)? Is it possible the consequences of the curse of sin implies God is actively at work holding back the natural results of rebellion? So, man exerts himself, follows his eagerness to be king, gives into his passions and whims and the results would lead to unending misery and yet God holds the consequences at bay out of his great mercy. At what point would the letting go mean the coming of all those things announced as impending judgment. What if when God hides, judgment comes? What if "the Lord hides" and lets us go our own way? Would the results be a form of judgment? Would it result in the kind of things described by the prophets?

I am not arguing for a new way to read the Scriptures as if to suggest these pronouncements were not exactly what God intended. I am simply left to wonder if there is not a case for the withholding of presence as a means of judgment and if that act could help us anticipate Advent all the more.

If the people would be carted off to Babylon and experience exile, there is little doubt they would sense the "the Lord hides." Any talk of things changing would surely provoke a hopefulness. The fulfillment of the "revealing" of the promise would certainly mean singing, shouting, praising and exulting. Rather than exploiting everything around us for our own benefit we would realize God had been for us though we thought him to be hidden. As we see his work to fulfill his promise we cannot contain the celebration. We cannot let our joy be hidden. In that moment, Zephaniah seems to suggest God will take great pleasure in our excitement.

What will your celebration of Advent bring? Will your joy be hidden?

Neglect … Odd what we unite around … another Advent Reflection

"Wouldn’t you want people in your church to know about this?" She replied quizzically.

Zionguy Neglect. Peddlers come to church. Expectations of agreement spur the peddler to pursue an entre’ for her material. Once a brief description is offered I politely decline suggesting my personal disagreement with the views touted by the sponsors. A group put together by Pastor John Hagee intends to hold an event titled, "A Night to Honor Israel." They have secured the Civic Center here in Oklahoma City for a date in January. I warred inwardly while on my way home to meet the appliance repair man. What if some would find common ground with the sponsors? Is it neglect to host their propaganda? Is it neglect to toss it in "file 13?"

One of, if not "the", goal appears to center on the mobilization of Christians who will call their congressperson on any and all occasions where the issue relates to Israel. Each caller should be prepared to impress their congressperson to do whatever it takes to support Israel. The call is for solidarity. In fact the brochure notes,

"to emphasize that the beliefs we hold in common are greater than the differences we have allowed to separate us."

Growing up with this kind of thing is really a false attempt at self-preservation. The thought goes something like this, "Go against the nation of Israel and you will be at odds with God." Solidarity with a people whom you believe needs "conversion." More irony comes when the rhetoric of fundamentalists spills into the media with the likes, "God does not hear the prayer of a Jew."

Is it neglect for Christians to meet at the Civic Center in what for some will most surely be "Sunday go-to-meeting" attire while just blocks away men, women, youth and children fend for food, ask for clothes and hope to find a bed in a shelter before introductions will be made from the stage of the grand hall. Who stands in solidarity with them? On what will most surely be a cold Monday evening in January after a fine meal just prior to the festivities, First Baptist Church of Bethany will have offered sack lunches and soup to those without homes. People will stand for Israel but who will be standing for the very people the prophets charged as God’s spokespersons with the sin of neglect?

Neglect. Standing for the government means standing with the power. What about young people like this who stand across a divide and throw stones? Who stands with them telling them the very Torah requires different behavior toward others. Who stands with the people who suffer under the political decisions of leaders both Arab and Jew? Who stands with the Arab Christians involved in the fray? Standing on the side of power is easy. Speaking truth to power takes courage. We mourn the loss of soldiers in the mire of Iraq. Who mourns with the mothers who lose their sons in constant battle? Who stands with young people whose lives will always be marked by war? It is easy for us to stand in a climate controlled building and sing and inspire but who stands with the least caught in the throws of the social chaos?

I decided not to put the information out. I could not find my way to seeing the holding of this kind of information as neglect. Instead, I found it easy to view exposing people to this contradiction as neglect. Last Sunday’s reading from Malachi indicates the consequences of neglect. The result of missing the weightier things pertaining to following YHWH opened the people up to confusing good with evil and a warped understanding of justice. Reading the "seal" like graphic on the brochure that suggests, "I will not keep silent," belies the silence surely to be expressed when it comes to others. We are never charged to stand with power. We are called to stand with the weak and marginalized.

In the Magnificat we hear,

51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has
scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has
brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53
he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty

Let’s not neglect that for which Jesus came.

Throwing stones … implications for leadership by Horne …

My friend Mark Horne writes a great piece with significant implications for leading and following. Maybe this will whet your appetite or raise your curiosity to click over and read,

All of this points to the way in which a societyâ??Ã?ôs leadership can
either maintain or degrade the civilization in which they have power.
It isnâ??Ã?ôt so much in the actions they initiate, but how they respond to
the actions of those who normally arenâ??Ã?ôt considered leadership material
at all. Pilate looks to the mob to see who he should crucify. False
gossip spreads not because everyone is making up lies about a victim
but because everyone is emulating everyone elseâ??Ã?ìonly one liar needs to
gain the ear of one leader. Or rather only one leader needs to be known
to be aware of the gossip and do nothing about it for the gossip to be
sanctioned for everyone.

And false hysterical accusations start on the internet bulletin
boards and then in the tinier more radicalized â??Ã?údenominationsâ??Ã?ùâ??Ã?ìwhom
normally no one would trust for any theological discernmentâ??Ã?ìand are
tolerated until a relatively marginal seminary gets into the act. And
then the witchhunt moves up into the more established powers.

Who are mimicking the first stone.