A New Beginning
Every time we come to the start of a new church calendar I want to shout “Happy New Year!” It is a whole new beginning of a new season, but also the possibility for each of us to grow deeper spiritually and follow Jesus more faithfully.
Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord . . . teach us his ways . . . walk in his paths.
The “mountain” of the Lord is the place of revelation where God speaks to us and makes known God’s will. Like Moses and the prophets we go up the mountain and converse with God and receive direction. Every time we gather for Holy Eucharist we go up the mountain of the Lord to hear his word, be fed, and sent out to be led by the Spirit. Weekly, the Eucharist helps us as Paul in Romans exhorts us to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
This is serious stuff. God plays for keeps. When we go up the mountain it’s not about feeling warm and fuzzy, but about getting real direction and help for living in the world as it is, especially dealing with its violence as Jesus and the saints and martyrs did. On this First Sunday of Advent we focus, not on the first coming of the Son of Man (as we might think only a few weeks from our celebration of Christmas), but rather on the Second Coming of Christ. In other words, we begin with a vision of the end.
We live in the present day with the last day always in mind. What is our present situation? We are part of an empire, North America, following upon all the great empires of the world: Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Assyrian, and Roman. We share the same characteristics as they did: Accumulation of great wealth and resources (America has 20% of the world’s wealth and uses most of the world’s resources) and a military (America spends 48% of the world’s military expenditures) and an industrial complex needed to protect this wealth and resources. We live in a vicious cycle of needing more and more resources to protect the more and more we accumulate. Preservation of what we have is the greatest priority. What was true for every one of the world’s great empires will be true of America’s as well. (Think: all the talk about “America first”)
So the Gospel tells us we must keep a focus on the end of all things: those who will be taken and those who will be left behind. If you’re familiar with the very popular Left Behind series you’ll know how the story favors the American way of life (the good guys) in the final battle at the end (the evil protagonists will be vanquished). God’s chosen will be “taken” up, raptured to heaven out of the fray, and the unredeemed will be left behind to suffer an eternal death. But a broader understanding of Creation and God’s love for the world and its creatures reverses this thing. Also, the Greek word for ”left behind” aphiemi means “to forgive.” In other words, to be left behind might mean living forgiven in the Kingdom “on earth as in heaven.” To be “taken” might mean to be swept up in the world’s violence, dreading the knock at the door by occupying forces and watching as loved ones are taken away in the darkness.
So, to be left behind is not the worst thing that can happen to us! When the world was destroyed by the Flood, Noah and his family were left behind to build a new society. And, after all, If any one was ever left behind it was Jesus himself! He wasn’t rescued or raptured out of the world’s violence. He took everything that was thrown at him and still loved and forgave his persecutors and those who put him to death. This allowed him to be raised to new life and offer resurrection life to his followers. Don’t worry about being left behind, just be faithful to Jesus now even in the midst of suffering. Swords will become plowshares, spears will become pruning hooks, lambs will lay down with the wolves, Christians, Muslims, and Jews will picnic together, and the left and right wingers will sing in harmony. What seems as a very unrealistic vision of international and natural concord can happen as the Kingdom takes hold. Everything is possible for God!
So what did we hear on the mountain today? How shall we live in such a way to foster the coming of God among us? I’ll conclude by quoting the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. on March 31, 1968, the last Sunday before his death:
It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and non-violence. It is either non-violence or non-existence . . . I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the worlds of the old Negro Spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ to study war no more.”
The Reverend John Smith
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.