Monday, December 23, 2013
Advent Meditation, Week 3, 12/15/13
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand….
Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Isaiah 35: 5--
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened…
Psalm 146: 7--
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Three of the four readings from the Third Sunday of Advent make their centerpiece a powerful metaphor in literature and religion, blindness. For our purposes, the healing of blindness is one of the amazements of God's promised reformation of the cosmic order. All manner of healing will take place: from the restoration of our wounded bodies as we live to the raising to new life of our mortal bodies at the end of time, to the restoring of nature itself, a new heavens and new earth.
The first basis of faith is to find a way to be open to the literal value of the hope of Salvation working in the world, God-with-us one hundred percent. Christians do not believe that their story is a metaphor, not even a good one. The essential mystery of the Incarnation, affirmed in each Sunday’s recitation of the Creed, is that God showed up and walked among us, doing every last little thing that we have to do to get through a human life, however long or short, and transported our human nature to Heaven. True, Jesus did not sin. But sin is by definition something that none of us HAS to do, so Jesus’ not sinning is not a disqualification from his dual nature as True God and True Man. The story of Salvation is, as Tolkein and Lewis would put it, a fact--the one True Story.
John the Baptist, from his prison cell, expresses a doubt: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" Momentarily, at least, he seems blinded and needing to look for some assurance from Jesus. This Gospel reading is from a portion of Matthew that is full of quarreling. There is uncertainty, resistance and the beginnings of dissonance as his followers and other parties begin to awaken to the implications of His call. Jesus is about change, metanoia, “motion of mind and heart.” As much as we might hope to see the truth about our need for renewal, doing so may be uncomfortable.
The extreme, even exaggerated case of quacking before truth is alluded to in the Gospel passage. John’s plea comes from the prison cell where he has been placed for his humiliating criticism of Herod the Tetrarch, a petty despot of shameless concupiscence who had adopted the worst behaviors of the Greco-Roman aristocracy and recognized no boundaries of filiation in the exercise of his lust. John had, as we know, called Herod out for his public adultery with his brother’s wife. John was imprisoned--probably in the vain hope that he would recant his accusation. Ultimately John would be killed when Herod was backed into a corner by his equally impudent paramour who used her daughter to beguile the drooling Herod into handing over John’s head. In the test of real manly character here, John wins hands down. No one is more blind to the truth of his own acts than Herod. His continued blindness when faced with Jesus, who would also be brought to his seat of judgment, is foreshadowed here, also.
We have to hope that we can avoid being Herod. The first step out of blindness is to affirm that God works in us and with us. Our job is to form ourselves, our wills, our relationships, and our world according to the messianic vision in its fulness. Jesus reminds John about these messianic signs. The readings of all the weeks of Advent provide us with images of what God wants for us, and will bring to fruition in us if we allow God’s grace and power to work.
But we have to know ourselves and we have to know God by knowing God-with-us. St. Augustine, author of the first self-conscious spiritual autobiography in Christian history, wrote a poem-prayer whose first line is “Domine Iesu, noverim me, noverim te,” “Lord Jesus, let me know myself, let me know you.” The only way to get it right is to see ourselves in all honesty as we are, and as we are illuminated by God’s “kindly light.” This is frightening to many, of course, for we all have a little bit of the stupid, gullible Herod in us. Truth intimidates us. At the same time, the Gospel truth is that we are the beings that God reaches for and suffers to save.
The mission of Jesus is to bring to reality the prophetic vision of our restoration to wholeness within Creation and at the same time to guide us to wholeness of soul. Our danger is that we will dismiss the literal reality of God’s full self-disclosure through the human Jesus because we hesitate to meet the life of God that exists within our own person. Perhaps this realization is part of what led John to ask his question--can this be true? Isn’t it easier to wait? Won’t we be let down if we commit with the fullness of our hearts and souls to the Kingdom that is at hand? Having already made his very complete and dramatic witness, John experiences that sour note. We don’t hear the rest of John’s story except second-hand, so we don’t know if he hears and accepts Jesus’ answer before his untimely death. It’s up to us to answer for ourselves.
The dramatic element in this story is Jesus’ challenge to John the Baptist: Open your eyes in order to believe. The truth has arrived. We must, as the wise elder James offers, “be patient” with ourselves, yet “make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” In so doing, we also prepare to greet the Christ-child, who would be with us, grow with us, walk with us and love us with all of God’s being.
A blessed third week of Advent!