Saturday, December 10, 2011

The In Betweeners

The In Betweeners… that’s us!
Advent is a great time for considering what it means to be waiting for Christ.

BCers:  Isaiah
Isaiah 40:1-11
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. 

1) This is the beginning of the 2nd part of Isaiah, where Israel is in exile. How is this comforting to them?

2) Are we in need of comfort now? In what way are people still in exile? How might this comfort them today?

John the Baptizer: Read Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
"See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
`Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'"
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." 

3) Crazy corner preachers are so rarely successful. But John was. Why do you think?

The following is probably too long a quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber's sermon on this. Please go read the whole thing.
“Repentance – which in Greek means something closer to “thinking differently afterwards” than it means change your cheating ways. Of course repentance CAN look like a prostitute becoming a librarian but repentance can also look like a whore saying ok I’m a sex worker and I have no idea how to get out but I can come here and receive bread and wine and maybe if only for a moment I can hold onto the love of God without being deemed worthy of it by anyone but God. Repentance is a con artist being a real person for the first time ever without knowing who that person is anymore but knowing he sees it in the eyes of those serving him communion naming him a Child of God. Repentance is realizing there is more life to be had in being proved wrong than in continuing to think you’re right. Repentance is the adult child of an fundamentalist saying I give up on waiting for my mom to love me for who I am so I’m gonna rely on God to help me love her for who she is because I know she’s not going to be around forever. Repentance is unexpected beauty after a failed suicide attempt. Repentance is a couple weeks ago when the clerk at the Adult bookstore on Colfax teared up and said “your church brought me thanksgiving lunch?” Repentance is what happened to me when at the age of 28 my first community college teacher told me I was smart and despite all my past experience of myself I believed her. See, repentance is what happens to us when the Good News, the truth of who we are and who God is, enters our lives and scatters the darkness of competing ideas.”

4) Nadia Bolz-Weber (The Sarcastic Lutheran) had that amazing take on repentance. What do you think? Can that fit with your image of repentance? What area of your life needs repentance?

Fellow In Betweener: Peter
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

5) How would you sum up Peter’s take on waiting? Is it still relevant for us today or was it more for those expecting Jesus any day?

6) What does “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” mean?

The End of Waiting: Read Mark 13:24-37
 Jesus said to his disciples, "In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see `the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake-- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake." 

7) For the Jews in exile, awaiting the messiah was clearly positive. It would mean the fulfillment of astounding promises. Is that what Jesus’ return is for us, or is it something different?

8) Keep awake. Be wise. Trim our wicks… how do we do that? How is living with a resurrected Savior than different from living with a resurrected Savior who’s coming back.

Bonus poetry: a friend was marveling over the wonder of the incarnation, and I stumbled on this bit of poetry that captured some of the wonder for me:
We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle. 
(short excerpt from For the Time Being – WH Auden. Link to a longer excerpt)

9) How can we prepare for Christmas like it is good news, surprising and noteworthy, instead of a story that we’ve heard a large number of times?

Double bonus: Auden's For the Time Being is a 50 page poem,  subtitled "a Christmas Oratorio."  The chorus is also amazing...
He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.
Recalls Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, doesn't it?

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