Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Isaiah 7:10-16.Psalm 80:1-7,16-18, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 18-25

Is there any concept more loaded with opportunity than the birth of a baby?  At birth, every opportunity, experience, reflection of any one life-time lies ahead. At birth, there is the unique experience of a new beginning, full of promise and hope before any disappointment can arise. Isaiah proclaims the ultimate sign of hope: the birth of a child offers the ultimate sign of hope we an imagine.

Robert Alter speculates that this psalm was composed in response to a specific situation: the North is threatened by Assyria, but has not yet fallen. That is, just before the crisis in which Isaiah lived. It is a cry of desperation as befits the times. The psalmist arouses hope by proclaiming that God will act in the person of a favored, chosen leader.

In Paul's salutation to the church in Rome, he assumes a tenet already established among the first followers: the scriptures (the ancient prophets and psalmists) are filled with promises of a new, ideal leader and all those hopes come to life in Jesus the Messiah.

What is so striking in the scriptures is the natural mingling of the ordinary with the divine. Matthew accounts for all the ordinary details of the betrothal of a young man and woman and with the same ease describes the intervention of the Holy Spirit and the universal meaning of the miraculous birth of a son.

Modernity traps believers in struggles with the scriptures. Some demean scriptures with literal human interpretation while others struggle awkwardly with the divine for "thinking" people. Postmodernity, especially in those writers who investigate the tools of interpretation of any text and in particular the scriptures, insist texts must be understood on their own terms. These readings for Advent IV lose their power if they are not valued for the affect. They use some of the most potent signs we can experience as human beings-- the birth of a child. And they dare to address the deepest longings that literally drive and shape who we are-- the need for hope. The preacher who stumbles into debates about literal interpretation or is embarrassed by the miraculous in the scriptures will miss the opportunity to use words to do something vital-- offer hope that is so certain, so complete, so beyond any human speculation that it could only come from God. As the scriptures demonstrate clearly and beautifully, words do things. They cause reactions.

Ordinary Life

Our life is ordinary.
I read on a crumpled piece of paper
abandoned on a bench.
Our life is ordinary,
the philosophers told me.

Ordinary life, ordinary days and cares,
a concert, a conversation,
strolls on the town's outskirts.
good news, bad--

but objects and thoughts
were unfinished somehow,
rough drafts.

Houses and trees
desired something more
and in summer green meadows
covered the volcanic planet
like an overcoat tossed upon the ocean.

Black cinemas crave light,
Forests breathe feverishly,
clouds sing softly,
a golden oriole prays for rain.
Ordinary life desires.

Adam Zagajewski
(Translated for the Polish by Clare Cavanaugh)

The New Yorker, November 26, 2007, p.100

"Ordinary life desires." The scriptures take such human needs with ultimate seriousness. Mixing the ordinary with the divine, the prophets, psalmists, evangelists and missionaries declare with a boldness rooted in their very lives that that pulsating desire which permeates all of life is from God.

Advent is an opportunity to restore hope that results in action. That scriptural hope is defined by God's justice, which is what we seek and in seeking we participate in the world as agents of justice, even in the most crushing realities of human injustice. For Christians, the clearest expression of God's hope is in Jesus, the Christ, whose birth and the promise of his return renews in the human heart a chance to hope again.