Tuesday, November 16, 2010

First Sunday of Advent Year A

First Sunday of Advent Year A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

The North had already fallen to Assyria and the South had bought time by arranging a tributary relationship with the superpower. Isaiah was a realist. He understood and described starkly the dire situation in which people were living. With no obvious evidence to support his claim, however, Isaiah made a bold assertion. His audacity is exaggerated given his stark assessment of current events. He announces that God will establish Jerusalem as an international center where God's ways are studied, learned and loved. The result will be justice and peace.

Composed to be sung on pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the psalmist alludes to the action of walking up the steep hillsides that surround the city, capturing the first glimpses of the skyline and then entering through the city gates. But it is also, of course, a journey for the heart and imagination. The destination in both senses is that place where God's ways are sought and revered.

Writing to the Church in Rome, Paul goads his readers with a sense of urgency because the one thing that we can rely on is that God always does the unexpected-- using the least likely time, place, person or persons and method.

Matthew echoes this peculiar sense of urgency that was a trait shared by the earliest followers of Jesus. But Matthew intensifies the emphasis on God's unpredictability. So how does one prepare for the unexpected? That's the point; we cannot. However, if we are already engaged in seeking and doing God's work, we can be sure that we will be thrilled no matter when, how or through whom God acts.

Biblical hope is unique. It can be invoked even in the direst circumstances. It is anticipated as surpassing our grandest dreams for the peace and well-being of all. But key details are withheld. We long for it, pray for it and eagerly work for it, although biblical hope is beyond human understanding and achievement.

If this biblical hope is not based on conventional evidence yet is proclaimed with such certainty, then how is it accessible to us? One decides whether the proclamation is worth believing or not. Ludwig Wittgenstein asked: is not "knowledge related to a decision?" (
On Certainty entry #362). There are some things about life that are so profound, so basic that are within the grasp of our hearts and imaginations but beyond our understanding. If we do not make a decision about these basic things-- even if we are not consistent-- then we remain trapped in a never-ending maze of uncertainty, indifference, lack of commitment and even despair. It should not be all that surprising that Friedrich Nietzsche saw clearly the decision to be made and the consequences. In The Gay Science he wrote: "The greatest danger that has always hovered over humanity and still hovers over it it the eruption of madness-- which means the eruption of arbitrariness in feeling, seeing, and hearing, the enjoyment of the mind's lack of discipline, the joy of human unreason. Not truth and and certainty are the opposite of the world of the madman, but the universality and the universal binding force of a faith: in sum, the non-arbitrary character of judgments." Each of us makes fundamental judgments about life. From those judgments flow our values, actions, speech and how we prioritize our time, whose exact length is always unknown to us. The Bible proclaims an implausible-- by conventional understanding-- hope. We must make a decision. Is it worth believing or not? The promise is that if we trust in God's hope we have fuller purpose, more enthusiasm, greater focus to how we use whatever time we have. To start and stay with this journey is not going to be always easy. Actually, it will thrust us deeper into the hurts and needs of others. And it will not always be clear exactly where the road in this pilgrimage is going. But it is a destination is so bold, so radical it could only come from God. Paradoxically, the promise is that it leads to abundant life.