Luke 4: 16-22
At this point in the story, Jesus was a relatively unknown guy. He’d just come back from forty days in the desert. We meet up with him as he walks back to Galilee into the town of Nazareth. He’s the hometown boy, little Jesus of Nazareth from down the street. He walks into the synagogue on the Sabbath – a pretty standard custom for his community. He unrolls the scroll to the prophet Isaiah and starts reading: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
He rolls up the scroll and sits down. Then – get this – he preaches a one-sentence sermon that sets the whole place buzzing. He says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
They heap praise on him. He’s the hometown hero. He’s the greatest thing since unleavened bread.
The One who came to preach this word from Isaiah is the same who came to bring good news to the poor, set the oppressed and the captives free, give sight to the blind, and proclaim the year of God’s favor. His life, death, and resurrection did precisely all of these things.
And yet we are fully aware of many in our world whose stories still tell of terrible poverty, oppression, and captivity.
I’m writing the final draft of this on Wednesday, December 14th and I’m reminded so vividly looking around the news that we live in that space in-between – that we live in a world where God’s kingdom has begun and is already unfolding, but is still not yet completed.
Earlier this month, I rejoiced with my brothers and sisters as the Army Corps of Engineers denied a construction permit for a key section of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And we saw it. We got a glimpse at God’s reign already unfolding – a piece of good news to those under the heel of the Empire. It was a beautiful moment of “already!”
And then, this week, we have seen increasingly horrifying news coming from the streets of Syria. We are seeing genocide happen in real time and grieve with sighs too deep for words, “but not yet” – although we may use different language to describe it.*
We don’t have to look far to see the “not yet.” It’s everywhere. It’s there every time justice is denied because of power systems that disproportionately advantage white men. It’s there every time the church – the very body of Christ – props up systems of white supremacy. It’s there every time there is a violation against women, immigrants, refugees, those without sustainable housing or food for their families and those in power collectively shrug their shoulders. We see the “not yet” all around us.
So maybe our call this Advent is to remember and point out the ways that God is already breaking into this world. Maybe our call is to participate in that breaking in by keeping Christ in Christmas: by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, and throwing our doors wide open to the immigrant, refugee, and the stranger.
This Advent, may we be blessed in our anticipation of the coming of Jesus. And may we also be blessed with eyes to see the ways in which he’s been here the whole time.
*Earlier drafts of this reflection included such “not yet” examples as the mistrial of Michael Slager, the continued neglect of clean water for Flint, Michigan, horrifying testimony at the trial of Dylann Roof, the election of Donald Trump, the proliferation of boastful racism, misogyny, Islamophobia… let’s face it, we could go on for days.
Eric Clapp is an ELCA pastor in the lakes country of Minnesota. He’s perpetually chasing the perfect cup of coffee and is a firm believer that the one with the most books wins. Catch up with him on Twitter (@eric_clapp) or at ericclapp.com.
Advent 2 - Matthew 3:1-12
Expect the Unexpected
I wonder - what made people follow John the Baptist to the river to be baptized?
What makes a person listen to a person like John? What makes a person stop what they are doing and say “This is what I need. He’s right. I need to be cleansed. I need to be baptized. I need to be ready because the Kingdom of God is near.”
I suspect that there was a second thought… “The Kingdom of God is near… and I really, really need the Kingdom of God to be near.”
Not unlike me. And maybe you.
I find myself longing for the Kingdom of God to be nearer to me in both time and space.
Although, if I’m honest, I’m not sure what the Kingdom of God will look like. It’s been a long time since the Fall of 1999 when I sat in Catherine Keller’s classroom at Drew and worked through eschatological theologies. But it has not been a long time since I cried, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It was mere hours ago, and it was in response to some stressor at my job. I’m not sure exactly what I’m asking for, but I have hope. I have hope that it will be different.
I have hope that whatever the Kingdom of God is, it will be different than this world we have now. I have big hopes and little hopes - no more migraine headaches, no more poverty and disease. No more people fleeing their homes because of war or fire. No more children having no safe place to sleep, no more women afraid to leave their partners because of an inevitable violent consequence. I have so many hopes.
I wonder if I might have a kinship with the people who followed John the Baptist to the river. What were their hopes, what future did they believe in so fervently that they believed they had a role to play and the first step was to go to the river to repent and be cleansed?
Then, of course, I must ask myself - what voice am I hearing in this time when I long for the Kin-dom of God? (I don’t know what it will look like, but I embrace Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz’s assertion that “when the fullness of God becomes a day-to-day reality in the world at large, we will all be sisters and brothers--kin to each other.”¹
I hear the voices of modern mystics and prophets, to be sure, calling me to service. Of practical and public and constructive theologians who are creating the frameworks for asking crucial questions about how our theologies create (for better and worse) the systems by which our institutions frame their work.
I also hear the voice of John the Baptist, telling me “Repent.”
Telling. Me. Repent.
This is unexpected.
And I do not like it.
I need to hear it. I know I do, because when I hear it, I think, “Not me. I don’t need to repent. OTHER people need to repent. I’m good. I’m progressive. Liberal. Queer. Other people need to repent.”
And I’m wrong. (Repent of non-repenting attitude. How meta.)
I need to repent, and not just of systemic -isms, of which I am surely I participant and of what I must repent.
But I also must repent of this idea that has taken hold in my brain that I do not have a role to play in the making of the kin-dom. I rely too often on OTHER people to do the work of preparing the way and making paths straight because I, too often, do not believe enough in myself and what I can do. There are people who can physically do more than I can, limited at times by physical illness that strikes unexpectedly. They can show up to protests, rallies and marches. I cannot. But I can speak. I can have conversations. I can be the pastor my friends and family count on me to be. I can participate more fully in my faith communities - both local and online. I can encourage those others who are doing more physical work. I can be both gracious and grateful.
I will repent of this idea that I am less than a beautiful, amazing creation of the Divine that has the stuff of stars in her. I will listen to John the Baptist, I will repent, I will remember the vows of my baptism, declare what I believe, resist evil, seek and serve God, strive for justice.
With God’s help,² I will repent and prepare the way, actively anticipating and participating in the Kin-dom of God.
¹Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz’, "Solidarity: Love of Neighbor in the 1980s," in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, eds. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite and Mary Potter Engel (San Francisco: Harper, 1990), 304.
² Baptismal Covenant | The Episcopal Church
Regina Heater (@reckshow) is a self-avowed and practicing ecumenist who loves hearing and sharing stories of how we live into the Questions of life. Find her on Twitter @reckshow and on Facebook at facebook.com/LivingMysteria.