Monday, December 9, 2013

Lions, Lambs, and Camel's Hair Clothing

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to
preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our
Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I can now decorate the house for Advent and Christmas!  Hanukkah is over, and the menorrahs and dreidls are put away for another year.  I have hung the Texas-themed Christmas wreath on the house, and pulled out the crates of Christmas lights.  I'm ready, and excited.  

One of my favorite decorations is the creche that my godmother gave me.  Each year, she'd send me a new figurine to put in the set.  I've added to that over time, and it is one of my favorite things to do is to position the characters... and then wait until Christmas Eve to place the Christ child in the manger, and gradually move the three wise men closer and closer.

As I was setting it up Saturday night, I kept thinking about the lesson from the prophet Isaiah:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, 

and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 

The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, 

the spirit of wisdom and understanding, 

the spirit of counsel and might, 

the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. 

His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. 

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, 

or decide by what his ears hear; 

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, 

and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; 

he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, 

and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, 

and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 

The wolf shall live with the lamb, 

the leopard shall lie down with the kid, 

the calf and the lion and the fatling together, 

and a little child shall lead them. 

The cow and the bear shall graze, 

their young shall lie down together; 

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, 

and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. 

They will not hurt or destroy 

on all my holy mountain; 

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD 

as the waters cover the sea. 

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; 

the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious

I don't have a wolf, leopard or lion for my manger, but perhaps I should go look for those, too, as a reminder of what I hear the prophet telling the people.  There will be a time when anger, hatred, and strife will not be the all-consuming way of the world.  And that time is coming, but is not here yet.  For those of us who connect to God through Jesus Christ, the prophet would seem to be talking about the arrival of the Christ child.  Of course, Isaiah knew nothing of Christ, but knew quite a bit about the divisions that had occured within the House of Jacob, aka Israel, with the splitting of the northern and southern kingdoms.  Isaiah also had no knowledge of John the Baptizer, the wild-eyed character wandering in the wilderness and screaming at people to "Repent!" or, as I prefer to think of that term, "turn yourself around."  But what the prophet was seeing is that amidst the brokenness and despair of a people divided and conquered and dispersed, there would be a new shoot that would spring up, and new life would begin.  

In a similar vein, John the Baptizer, in his wandering in from the wilderness wearing camel's hair clothing and eating locusts and honey, tells everyone to prepare the way because there is someone coming who will be even crazier than him.  OK, he doesn't say "crazier than him," but our story of Christianity is a little bit nuts when you consider that God is going to be arriving in the midst of us as a human baby.  And then the baby is going to grow up into a man who, after his own time in the wilderness, is popping up in towns and villages with bands of followers and not following proper eating etiquette or showing good manners.  Instead, this Jesus Christ is more interested in getting everyone to stop looking so hard at the black-and-white letter of "the law" and begin practicing the intent behind that "law."  It's as if he's saying, "You can't see the forest for the trees!" so let's start doing some pruning.

John promises that the one who is coming will bring a baptism of fire.  In our current season, I see that as the flame of one candle becomes two on our Advent wreath.  As my light grows brighter, what things are getting burned up that are no longer necessary for me?  What can I give up as I turn myself around?  And am I ready to usher in a time when lambs and wolves can lie down with one another basking in one Love?

If by Advent it's meant that there will be new beginnings, my preparation needs to be to remain open to what are the new possibilities for life. 

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