December 3, 2011

Advent Calls Us To A New Beginning

Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year. This is a new cycle of teaching. In Year A we studied Matthew's Gospel. In Year B we will study the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Mark was written just before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. It is a bare bones historical account written in a breathless tone. The first sentence - "In the beginning" tell us this is a new creation story modeled on Genesis. God is going to do a new thing. This new thing begins with the ministry of John the Baptist calling people to repentance. This repentance and symbolic water baptism is in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. John promises that the Messiah will come in spiritual power and baptize people with the Holy Spirit. This is the beginning of a new relationship between God and humanity.

1. The Baptist calls us to prepare through repentance
God is holy. God can not be in relationship with people who are unholy. Un-holiness is a sign of rebellion against God. People rebel against God when they 'do their own thing'. This is a loyalty issue. If we are trying to live our lives as good people and stay within the rules God has laid down, there are still two possibilities. On one hand we may be really trying to living a holy life out of love for God. On the other hand we may be trying to do our own thing but without breaking any of the rules God has laid down. There is a very subtle difference. One way is the path to holiness. The other is the path to rebellion as we find more and more creative ways to get around particular rules that we do not like. We are all tempted into some form of manipulation, deception and bending of God’s rules. These actions demonstrate our failures to love God, ourselves and our neighbour. We all us end up in some form of rebellion against God that needs to be repented. The good news of the Gospel is that if we are willing to recognize and repent our failures to love; God will forgive us. Advent is a short form of Lent. It is an opportunity to examine our lives and identify and confess the specific ways in which we have separated ourselves from God and each other in our hearts. Unfortunately we can not just skip repentance and pray for blanket forgiveness. This is not how it works in the spiritual world. We can not avoid the very hard work of facing the pain of our specific failures to love. The good news is that it does prepare us spiritually so that we can be ready for God to come and live in our hearts at Christmas.

2. The Baptist promises believers a second baptism of the Holy Spirit
This is a dramatic new beginning for humanity. It is a promise that God is going to do a new thing. Before John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit appeared on the face of Moses and in the divine voice heard by the Prophets in the Old Testament. Very few people had a direct personal experience of the divine. Most people depended on their religious leaders to record and pass on what God had said. The problem with this was that human leaders are easily deceived by the false voice of the Deceiver, Satan. Human leaders are corrupted by the temptations of power. In the time of John the Baptist, like our own, many religious leaders had been spiritually corrupted. God was not speaking to them. Instead God was speaking to the prophet John who had separated himself from the official religious leaders and purified himself by repentance, fasting and prayer. John had discovered that to hear the voice of God you had to get right out of the city of Jerusalem and get away from the spiritual pollution there. John, like Jesus, began his ministry by cleansing himself of materialism and spiritual pollution. He modeled in his lifestyle the path to holiness and relationship with God. That path lay through repentance and spiritual cleansing. The good news was that those who followed this path would be incredibly blessed. They would receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit would come and live in their hearts. This Holy Spirit would guide them in continuing their spiritual journey. This Spirit would comfort them in times of trouble and heal them in times of sickness. This Spirit would teach them to protect themselves against the deceptions of demons and spiritual oppression. John the Baptist gives us all hope that God is about to do a new thing in His relationship with humanity.

3. Peter challenges us to "…be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him." (2 Peter 3.14)
This is a warning about the End Time. People in the first Century were expecting Jesus to come back in their lifetime. In our own lifetime there has been a resurgence of people who believe we are already in these End Times (some predict May 2012). There was and may be urgency in going through this process of preparation through self-examination and repentance. We all tend to resist this. Some people are deceived and think they have nothing to repent. Others are lazy and unwilling to go through a serious self examination. A few assume they are so guilty they just give up or try praying ineffective 'blanket' prayers for forgiveness. I personally have experience with all of these approaches. They are dead ends in the worst possible meaning of the words. In his letter, Peter is challenging believers to get serious. If we are going to be ready for the coming of Jesus into our hearts at Christmas we need to make a serious decision now, to take a hard look at our lives. I have found it is best to ask not whether or not we have sinned; but to ask the Holy Spirit to show us in what specific ways we have failed to love ourselves, our neighbour and God? What specific things have we done or said that have been destructive. What specific things have we failed to do or say that may have been failures to love or even destructive.

Advent means coming. What is coming is an opportunity. We can each make a new spiritual beginning. The Readings challenge us to seize the moment and use the time to prepare well.

No comments:

Post a Comment