16 DEC 2017
I suspect children the world over have similar ideas about games. Maybe the game involves finding something like a scavenger hunt; maybe a field game like football, or as Americans call it soccer. Somehow they know, they just know how to play. Sometimes kids like to play together and sometimes alone. I liked to do both, but maybe playing alone was the most fun. I had three imaginary friends and we would do everything together. I can even remember their names!! They helped me with my tea parties where stuffed animals or my patents or real friends were guests. I talked to them when I played in my yard; we had all kinds of adventures together. With my real friends of flesh and blood we would turn our beds into space ships and set off for the moon or even Mars. We played all kinds of make believe games in the neighborhood and our parents never worried about us. No supervision. Bikes without helmets, cars without seatbelts. We had cap guns and sticks somehow none of us ever were seriously hurt. I lived at the bottom of a hill and I can remember sailing down the sidewalk on roller skates with no protective gear at all. I rode my bike down that same hill without holding on to the handle bars.
I think Advent is a lot like being young again. When you are a child the world is full of more “possibles” and more true magic. Grown-ups have to behave differently than children; those that do not learn to be responsible and mature make poor adults. But something gets lost along the way. I think it is awe and wonder and a sense of joy. I look in the eyes of most adults and see resignation. Often with good reason. The world is as evil as it is good. Killings occur every day in almost every part of the world. Kids go hungry, whole peoples are displaced from their homelands. Men, women, and children are sold into modern day slavery. And, yes, bad things happen that result from forces of nature themselves: tsunamis, volcanoes, blizzards, hurricanes, earthquakes. People die from cancer or infection or heart disease. The list of evil doings goes on and on. Some of that which makes us sad is inevitable. People grow old and die. Death co-exists with life. We lose parents and family and friends.
The thought of those losses is very hard during a time when everything around keeps sending a message that we are supposed to be feeling good. The problem is that the message is coming from the world, not God. But God is sending us a message as well. Look through the commercials and the “ho, ho, ho’s” Listen!! Comfort oh my people. Those who are high and mighty shall be brought low and those who are in the valley of despair shall be raised up. The mighty will wither like the grass; those who do evil will fade. God will care for and feed his flock. These words were first spoken to people in exile in Babylon, people who had no home and had seen their world torn apart. No hope, no future. We who sit in this church may have lost hope not from exile, but from discrimination, economic hardship, disease, or estrangement from friends or family. Our Babylon may be a physical place but it can be a place in our minds. Today we hear a word to make us rejoice: God’s reign is coming and those in power will be brought down; those who are hurting, whether from physical or emotional pain, will be lifted up.
Yet if we do not retain that ability of a child to believe; to understand that awe and wonder and beauty surround us, we cannot experience the Word and the world that God has in store for us. Our ears will be closed. Take comfort my people. Become again as a child, full of wonder.
After all, being Christian calls you to something so different that we dare not approach it with all the certainty we claim as adults. Suspend all your certainty and then you can suspend your doubts. Advent invites us to a place so different than that which we are used to. For a moment suppose you were living in the time when Mark wrote his Gospel. It was a time of tumult. Revolt against the Roman government was taking place and the empire was responding with violent suppression. Rome itself was experiencing civil unrest, with several men claiming to be the emperor!! Soaring costs for necessities, soldiers laying siege to Jerusalem, a world that is falling apart. Families split, Jews and Gentiles are suspicious and in fear of one another. All that is save for one group that followed a crucified leader they called the Son of God. These people did not fight, did not kill. Instead they proclaimed the Good News about this crucified rabbi!! The audacity in the face of the realities of life around them!! They come to your village with a scroll the begins with the words “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Wasn’t the emperor the son of god? How can there be another? How can that be anything good? But you remember how your ancestors were in exile in Babylon and now you are oppressed in what should be your own land. Good news? Yes!! John was the messenger telling those who were suffering that they would be comforted and that those who had committed wrong they needed to repent. John was speaking to people 40 years earlier; Mark is talking to people facing crushing occupation by Rome. And now, in 2017, Mark is talking to you!!
Look, says Mark, look who is coming!! Look who we preach. Prepare yourselves. Repent of your wrong doings for what is coming is good news for all who examine their lives, admit their wrongs, and turn to the light of Christ.
Adults are not likely to do this, for it is so hard for them to see a world where justice reigns and where the least are the most. I am an adult. I find it hard to escape the bad news that accosts me on a daily basis as I try to find the Good News. But if I go out when the moon is full, the man in the moon smiles at me. The stars twinkle. The woods are full of gnomes. Sunsets are a burst of beauty and promise. Once again I look for reindeer in the sky. I have hope. I look at a Christmas tree and the lights become an inviting beacon. I can repent of my wrongdoings as I hear the messenger. Awe and wonder enter my life again and I can be ready to accept the Savior who was, who is, and who will be.