28 Nov 2010
“O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isa. 2:5)
In the name …
John had received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. It had all become pretty embarrassing as John had a house full of guests over for Thanksgiving dinner. After dinner, after everything had been cleaned up, and everyone had left, John let the parrot have it. John was fed-up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even more rude. John, in desperation grabbed the bird and put him in the refrigerator. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for well over a minute. Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, John hesitatingly opened the door to the refrigerator. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John's outstretched arm and said, "I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I'm sincerely remorseful and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior." John was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird spoke-up and very softly asked while pointing to the turkey leftovers in the refrigerator, "May I ask what that other bird in there did?"
Along with today being the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, it is also the first day of the Advent Season. This is our time of preparation as we await the coming of Christ. And one of the lessons that Advent teaches most clearly is to be cautious when we try to imagine what God plans for us and for tomorrow. Advent is the rude awakening that we may not be as perceptive as we sometimes think we are. Advent is a clear and dramatic warning against being close-minded when it comes to the faith because Advent ends with a surprise that no one saw coming except for God. Advent is the startling message that really no one was prepared for the coming of Christ at Christmas because no one was looking for a poor child who was cast out into an animal’s manger. They were looking for a ruler who would draw the whole world in to his kingdom. That’s the message we read today from the prophet Isaiah.
Never mind angels talking to a few shepherds about a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. People were waiting for the Christ to come and impose His will upon all the nations. The promise of peace, of swords turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, was not because we changed with our embrace of a child’s innocence, but because the Lord’s Messiah demanded it. Maybe not as shocking as the parrot’s encounter with the turkey leftovers in the refrigerator, but the Advent message is a startling reminder to people of faith nonetheless, because Christmas was so far off the mark from what was expected. This makes Advent into the wonderful message that God can still surprise, that if not today then maybe tomorrow there can be a new awakening of faith, that something seemingly old and tired may spring to life, that challenge is a word that has more to do with religion than the word expected. Advent is the powerful message of a living, breathing, growing, changing faith.
I don’t know if anyone chose to listen to the Beck Lectures that I sent out with the electronic newsletter last weekend, but Professor Harvey Cox told an inspiring story about when he went down south in the 1960’s to march for civil rights. He mentioned being arrested with a slew of other protestors, and in the jail the whites and the blacks were segregated. Professor Cox then told the story that the jailed black men sang hymns throughout the night. The next day the jailer told the whites in their cell that the blacks had asked for a Bible. And Harvey Cox repeated with a wry smile the sheriff’s words. “That can’t hurt,” he said. From his perspective, he couldn’t have been more wrong. It was the Bible that was inspiring and strengthening the African-Americans so that they could continue to fight for their civil rights. It was ministers holding the Bible that inspired the southern African-Americans to change their world. The sheriff thought of the Bible as a nice, polite book, a traditional book. The ones in that jail cell saw in the Bible, stories of Exodus and freedom, of peaceful revolution and perseverance. They saw the Bible as their story and as their liberation.
That’s an Advent message of the unexpected intervention of God in our world. The sheriff hadn’t a clue about how God would work that day through His holy Word, but God came down and changed a nation. Again, maybe not as startling as when the parrot looked at the turkey leftovers, but impressive nonetheless. So the message for us as we gather together on the first day of this new Advent Season is to try and prepare ourselves for Christmas by making ourselves more open to the challenge that is our faith, to see not only what we expect, but what God reveals. “O house of Jacob,” said the prophet Isaiah, “Come. Let us walk in the light of the Lord!” In other words, we’re not following where we shine our little flashlights into the darkness. We’re supposed to walk in the light provided by the Lord. In a recent experiment, people were blindfolded, placed in a large field, and asked to walk in a straight line. Everyone tested walked straight for a few paces, but invariably, each of them ended up walking in circles. For that to not happen in our faith-lives, to prevent us from walking in circles, and to start walking towards God’s goal, we need to take off the blindfold of our expectations, and walk in the light of the Lord, to walk where He leads, to rediscover the living, growing and challenging faith that Advent surprises us with each year as we prepare for the Christmas that no one except God ever saw coming. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo