From the Dean’s Desk… Third Sunday of Advent

Streams in the desert
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God… He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert…
(Isaiah 35:4-6)

What a contrast to the message of the machine, the false god of the all-mighty market, the idols of ideologies various and sundry which demand the sacrifice of the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable for the further enrichment of the few and the mighty! That message might read something like this:

Shackle the weak hands, and make crippled the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be afraid, be very afraid!
Here is your master… He will come and crush you.’
Then the eyes of the blind shall be pepper-sprayed, pepper-spray
and the ears of the deaf beaten till bloody; the lame shall be knocked down with batons, and the tongue of the speechless be torn out. For waters shall be stolen and bottled for profit, and streams in the desert shall be reserved only for the one percent…

But, the message of the Scriptures, both the Prime Testament and the New Testament, is that God loves a surprise, and that God has a special place in God’s heart for those whom the world despises, along with a love for the whole creation and all creatures that will not be defeated, even by those who think, mistakenly, that their wealth and power make them all-mighty.
And for much of the world we would be lumped into that category…

The in-the-flesh, in-carnate, message of God’s steadfast love and unquenchable mercy, the living Word, Jesus Christ, makes God’s surprising love crystal clear. The Good News, the Gospel, revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was so brilliantly surprising that even John the Baptist was taken aback, and he saw only the very first glimmerings of it: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus wasn’t playing exactly to the script John thought he knew.

So Jesus’ first coming was a surprise, to many. The message was given first to whom? Shepherds? Those immoral scum! They don’t even go to synagogue! Surely you jest… Magi from Persia? Infidels? Illegal immigrants from the east? Wise men, you say… Probably here to take our jobs, either that or they’re terrorists. Confine them quickly, before they get away!

Jesus’ final coming in glory will be a surprise too, whether it’s tomorrow or a billion years from now. Whatever some may say, its shape and timing remains hidden in God’s heart and mind alone. Any other claim to know, or ‘prophesy’, is illusion at best, deception at worst. But cross and resurrection assure us that, however the mystery unfolds, the future belongs ultimately to God and we belong to God so, as the angels say, do not be afraid.

Jesus in the BreadlinesJesus’ daily coming also remains surprising; he keeps showing up in the oddest places. He appears every day where we insist he cannot and must not; it’s just not proper, and those folks aren’t deserving. They’re, well, poor, and so they must be lazy too, and we all know that God helps those who help themselves. They’re aboriginal or black or fill-in-the-blank and we’re not racist but show some common sense, Jesus!

Thank God for surprises! Thank God for the best gift of all, the one for whom we wait, today, soon at Christmas, and at the end of history, even our own. Thank God that nothing and nobody can defeat the love of God revealed in Christ, not all the tyrants in all of history, nor even all the hosts of good people caught up and tangled in the web of sin and the power of death.

The one laid in that manger made of rough-hewn wood, or carved out of cold, hard stone, was also laid on a rough-hewn cross, and then, after his death, in a tomb carved from stone. But the story didn’t end there… Advent takes us to Christmas, all Twelve Days of the Feast, from Christmas Eve to the Epiphany of Our Lord (January 6th), and Christmas points us, eventually, to Lent and Easter, to the cross and the tomb and, finally, to the Resurrection of Our Lord, the greatest Feast of all, the greatest surprise of all.

Thanks be to God!