This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent 2014: Receptivity.


            In the season of Advent, we are waiting for God to come into the world in Jesus Christ.  Of course, we are not pretending that God isn’t already here.  There is a strong sense of remembering in this activity of waiting.  We are at the same time remembering one amazing, miraculous, past event, and anticipating an event that is always to come.  God’s Presence in Jesus is always already here, and always coming.  Advent is when we spiritually focus on our experience of God as coming into our world.
            This is not a nonsensical contradiction.  It is not totally outside of our experience for something to be here and not yet here at the same time.  It is not a matter of God being more or less present; it is about our consciousness and receptivity.  Some things are here, but because we are not conscious of them, they are not here “to us.”  When they do appear to us we use the language of coming as if they were absent.  But it was really we who were the absent ones.
            Here’s an example: Invisible forms of light, like radio waves, have always been present in the earth’s atmosphere.  But humans have only been conscious of them for about 120 years.  It might be said that that is when radio waves "came" into our experience.  Or: when we wrack our brains to remember a name or a fact, we might say, “It’s coming, I almost have it!”  But in reality it is already there, somewhere filed in our synapses, waiting for us to connect to it and bring it into consciousness.
            There is a sense in which God’s Presence in Jesus Christ did not technically come into the world from somewhere else; maybe it is something revealed and disclosed by God, something we discovered, which had been there all along.  What Jesus came into was our consciousness, our experience, and our history.  What was required for this to happen was our achieving a level of receptivity.
            How much of the spiritual life is about receptivity?  God does not often hit us over the head from out of the blue with something we were utterly unprepared for.  That does happen, of course.  But it is not God’s primary MO.  Most spiritual practices are intended to enhance and hone our receptivity.  Spirituality is a matter of become awake to the truth, aware of reality, and conscious of God’s Presence.
            That’s why the season of Advent lifts up and moves between two characters.  First we have John the Baptizer.  He represents the whole trajectory and continuity of God’s activity with humanity through the Israelite/Jewish people.  His whole attitude hearkens back to Elijah and Moses, who met God in the wilderness and brought God’s liberation to the people.  He represents all the prophets who encountered God and delivered God’s Word.  They prepared the people and kneaded them into a form in which they could receive something they were largely unaware of.
            The second Advent character is Mary.  She exemplifies this receptivity, and becomes the focus of it.  The whole Jewish tradition is concentrated in her, a teenaged girl who says “Yes!” to God even at great personal risk.  She is a model of the underclass status of Israel from the beginning as nomads, then as escaped slaves, and then as repeatedly conquered nation.  And it is her magnificent hymn in Luke 1 that proclaims what God is doing in the world, and what God is about to reveal to the world in and through her. 
            In these two characters we find that the necessary receptivity involves both a remembering and a welcoming.  We remember the words of the prophets and the story of Israel.  Their history is about God preparing them to be the medium of this final revelation: Emmanuel, “God-is-with-us”.  And when those words become activated in the visitation of the angel Gabriel to Mary, and the Word actually becomes flesh, we have to welcome him with her words of trust in God: “Let it be with me just as you have said.”
            This is the most dangerous news imaginable to a world dominated by ego-centric self-serving human principalities and powers.  I think this is why our season of Advent has been so thoroughly corrupted and drowned out by the hysterical blaring of exactly the opposite message.  For the full-court press to buy things we get in December has nothing in common with the spiritual practices of remembering and welcoming God.  What have Black Friday and Cyber Monday to do with Bethlehem?  Nada.  Zip.  Squat.
            The real “war on Christmas” is the onslaught of commercial consumerism, the blizzard of tempting, shiny objects that suck up our time and energy, distracting us from the truth we are called upon to remember and welcome in this season.
            That truth is that God is always here in the very heartbeat and breath of creation itself.  God’s love is the stuff of which the whole universe is made.  And God is always calling us back to lives reflecting and expressing the justice, peace, love, joy, hope, and wholeness we see revealed in Jesus Christ.  This season, let’s invest our time and energy practices of receptivity, as we seek to be more open to God’s Presence, that God may come into our lives more fully. 
            On the one hand, we remember with John the truth of God’s love for the world, disclosed in God’s mighty acts of liberation and healing.  And on the other hand we welcome with Mary God’s love into the world in Jesus Christ.  For in him God’s very life is poured out for the life of the whole world, and by his Spirit we live now as witnesses to the truth, which is the infinite love, compassion, mercy, and goodness of the living God.
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