Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advent Three: Rehearsing the Joy

During the Sundays of Advent, most folks, including long-time church goers, usually expect to hear the Nativity story as told by Matthew or Luke as well as the host of Christmas carols.  What a surprise (or disappointment) it must be to have the lectionary's contrary roadtrip through the less hyped parts of the Advent season, calling on the prophet Isaiah, readings from even John, whose Gospel lacks an overt narrative approach to Jesus' birth (even if folks will be enthralled by the Prologue of John's lofty language).

John the Baptist appears frequently during Advent gospel selections.  He's a cranky and contrary sort, drawn from later on in the Gospel narrative when Jesus is entering into adulthood.  In Luke's gospel, John is part of the Nativity narrative, the cousin of Jesus by Elizabeth, Mary's sister.  Nonetheless, the older, crankier John is often the sour note to our ears filled with shopping mall muzak arrangements of O Holy Night.

The modern hymn writer Brian Wren offers a good word about John the Baptist through a prayer Wren wrote for Advent.  Wren prays:

“Spirit of God, give us the wisdom of John the Baptizer,
that in knowing who we are not,
we may find out who we are and be glad”

(Advent, Christmas and Epiphany: Liturgies and Prayers for Public Worship, Westminster/John Knox Press, 2008, 62).

A witness does not worry about whether or not he or she will be found credible or popular.  In speaking the truth and knowing that this is who we are called to be, we find our reason for being.  A witness is one who may have to speak a word that is deemed unpopular, yet in so speaking, the witness becomes one who upholds the truth of the message that has them so convinced.  The witness of John the Baptist is difficult to live out, yet he is content to be the person bringing this word.  As John's gospel will remind, The Light shall shine, and John cannot help but testify to its truth.

One year at my previous congregation, the Christian Education Director Alycia and I got out the costumes from the storage closet and sorted out the animal outfits from the Magi’s crowns, Mary’s robes from angel’s wings, we put each costume on the floor to ensure we had found all that was needed.  When we finished our work, I looked around and saw the Nativity story taking shape, though obviously one important element was missing:  the young actors who would don these outfits and make the story come to life. These costumes would make little sense without the children to wear them, stepping into the roles that help tell the story.

In a sense, that’s what Advent and Christmas observances are asking of those who follow Jesus.  You may find yourself over familiar with the story and the rituals and traditions we have around the Nativity of Jesus, yet do not discount the importance of offering prayers or singing the Advent hymns or Christmas carols.  Take time to read the stories of Nativity (Matthew, Luke and even John!).  We are in rehearsal right now to take on the role of witness, spending our lives telling others about this Light that the world desperately needs (and sometimes does not recognize or accept).

All of this is a refresher course for those who would dare follow Jesus and take up the part of witness, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

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