Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Different Hope

Advent is all about waiting -- but it’s how we wait that matters.  For us, we wait in HOPE.  

Only problem is, hope is a slippery word.  What do we hope for and what does it look like?  Do we hope that things will go exactly as WE plan?  Or do we hope that God’s will will be done?  Do we hope that OUR vision of how things should be takes place or do we open ourselves to God’s infinite mystery?

Yesterday, we all heard the news that the diocese of San Joaquin, California voted to leave the Episcopal Church and join forces with the Church in the Southern Cone.  Now, I’ve been hoping -- like Paul in today’s epistle to the Romans, that we might “live in harmony with one another.”

Doesn’t seem like that will happen.  Some places have chosen disharmony and discord.  Perhaps we are better off if they go.  At least once the ties are cut, we can finally leave their divisiveness behind us and focus once again on Christ’s call to us.

It’s hard to say -- and maybe that’s the point.  We sit here waiting for Christ, waiting in hope, and we’re not sure what it is we’re waiting for.

That’s so classic to our faith.  Look at poor Isaiah.  He has this beautiful passage about the lion and the lamb lying down together -- and apparently the lamb has not fainted in fear -- yet all that lovely image is based on utter destruction before.

Notice that little part about a shoot rising out of the stump of Jesse?  Just before this, Isaiah talks about the tree of Jesse -- Israel -- being utterly destroyed for its wickedness.  Then he assumes God will raise a new, more faithful, more just people out of the burnt out stump of Jesse.  He imagines and hopes for an ideal world.

A world where all the wicked get killed, and finally all the poor will get their due.  

Not so different from John the Baptist, really.  He preaches to the crowds about “the wrath to come” and about the chaff which the coming Christ will burn with unquenchable fire.  

Isaiah and John both understand God’s concern for the poor and desire for us to act justly.  They both understand that ancestry -- being children of Abraham or belonging to Jesse -- give us NO privilege in God’s eyes.  It is our own hearts that God looks into.

Yet, for both Isaiah and John, what they hope for, what they envision for the future is never realized.  It turns out, it’s not even what God has in mind.  Holy men, they were, yet they missed the mark.

Because when Jesus comes, he is a sort of Messiah that John cannot even recognize.  He is so confused by Jesus -- after Jesus has been preaching for a while -- that John sends some of his own disciples to Jesus and says, “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for, or should we wait for another?”

While John and Isaiah are looking for destruction of the unjust, Jesus turns out to be the type who goes to dinner with them.  Yes, he sends out warnings to the rich that they are to repent, but he is not the warrior that any of the prophets (including John) expects.  He does not come riding in on his white horse and set everything straight.

He comes in a modest birth and travels mostly on foot, barely covering the distance of Dutchess County.  He heals people and forgives them.  He dies on a cross.

This is not what they hoped for. 

But God hopes for something different.

Reconciliation, love, forgiveness.  

I confess, when I heard the news that San Joaquin had left, part of me said, “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”  But part of me grieved. And I asked myself, “What exactly should we be hoping for in a situation like this?”

But John and Paul and Isaiah show us that trying to figure out exactly what to hope for is pretty difficult.  We get it wrong as much as anything.

Better, perhaps, that we should remember that prayer Jesus offered once when he was hoping for a different outcome than he got.  “Not my will but yours.”

So, let’s wait in hope for Christ, not knowing what will come but know that the one we wait for will act in loving grace.  Amen.