Monday, November 30, 2015

Good News of Advent

I know that today is the feast of St. Andrew, and, in honor of my Scottish heritage, I should be writing about him. But I want as many days this week to write about the wonderful lessons for Advent 2C as I can get, so I'm passing over kilts and haggis and fishermen and the nearness of the word to write about the good news of Advent. (Yes, I mean good news.)

Yesterday in church, I announced the upcoming Wednesday-night series for youth and adults called, "It's the End of the World as We Know It...And I Feel Fine." The title itself got a few laughs, but there were a number of chuckles when I said, "We all know that the world is going to end someday, and this series is about how the end is good news for Christians." Apparently, it's funny to hear Jesus say in the gospel lesson that there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars and the foundations of heaven will be shaken and then hear the rector say, "All that's good news, y'all!" Yeah, I get it.

 But it is good news. It must be good news. This season of waiting and watching and hoping for the consummation of God's plan, for the fulfillment of his promises, for the coming of our Lord must be about good news. Those cataclysmic predictions must be good news for those who are waiting on God to show up in a big way. Those earth-destroying prophecies must be good news for God's people. The big and final end must be good news for us. If not, we're stuck in a religion of hopelessness. If we can't hear the prediction of the end of the world as good news, we're either practicing a religion of "get what you can while you can," which is a thoroughly un-Christian hedonism, or we're practicing a religion of "soon we'll escape this physical world for a spiritual reality," which is a gnostic, dualistic way of saying that this earthly life and the creation itself are meaningless. There's no good news in that. As Christians, we must look forward to the end.

And that's why I'm so excited about this Sunday's readings. Yesterday, Jesus got our attention with "Be on your guard" and "power and great glory" and "distress among nations" and "fear and foreboding," and this week John the Baptist will help us see that as good news by "proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins," saying, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." That's the smooth and straight path through cataclysmic destruction and directly to God's salvation.

There is, of course, a tension in this season of Advent between getting ready for Christmas and getting ready for Christ's second advent--the one that comes in the clouds with power and great glory. One is quiet and deliberate and sweet. The other is triumphant and violent and disquieting. But they aren't separate. They are both salvation. They are both good news.

This Sunday, as we pivot away from end-of-the-world language and toward the prophet's call to repentance, I feel a connection of hope that links the two and that leads us on to what's next in Advent 3 and 4. As a minister of the gospel, I feel the need to identify the unfolding of good news that we are in the midst of. God will make all things right. God is making all things right. We are called to participate in that and, if that will be good news to us, we must repent and claim the earth-shattering transformation for our own. But more about that during the rest of the week.

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