The Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 30:15, 19-22 (Populos Sion)
Matthew 3:1-12 (The ministry of John the Baptist)
A song, for openers:
Scavengers and sycophants and flatterers and fools
Pharisees and parasites and hypocrites and ghouls
Calculating swindlers, prevaricating frauds
Perpetrating evil as they roam the earth in hordes
Feeding on their fellow men, reaping rich rewards
Contaminating everything they see
Corrupting honest me like me
Humbug! Poppycock! Balderdash! Bah!
I hate people! I hate people!
People are despicable creatures
Loathsome inexplicable creatures
Good-for-nothing kickable creatures
I hate people! I abhor them!
When I see the indolent classes
Sitting on their indolent asses
Gulping ale from indolent glasses
I hate people! I detest them! I deplore them!
Fools who have no money spend it
Get in debt then try to end it
Beg me on their knees befriend them
Knowing I have cash to lend them
Soft-hearted me! Hard-working me!
Clean-living, thrifty and kind as can be!
Situations like this are of interest to me
I hate people! I loathe people!
I despise and abominate people!
Life is full of cretinous wretches
Earning what their sweatiness fetches
Empty minds whose pettiness stretches
Further than I can see
Little wonder I hate people
And I don't care if they hate me!
If you recognize this lament as something Ebenezer Scrooge might have proclaimed, you're right - it's a lyric written by Leslie Bricusse which appeared in the 1969 film and musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
Now just how does this tie in with today's passage from Isaiah, and the overall theme? Plenty.
In last week's post, inspired in part by my dear, loving wife, she referred to today as "people make me sick" Sunday. The holiday shopping season, now beginning its seventh week, and its second in high gear, is enough to make you wonder about our inner nature. For example, somewhere in these United States a Wal-Mart store advertised ham for sale, touting it as being "Great for Hanukkah." (I kid you not, the photo's cropped up on some of my friends' Facebook pages.) And even though Black Friday and Cyber Monday are behind us, there are still nineteen shopping days left with deals to be found and crowds with which to be dealt.
The Church really means for us to use this time to center our focus on the significance behind all the frenetic planning, but we are easily distracted. We need little help from the influence of retail outlets and their advertising; we're very easily distracted in the first place. I know this; boy how I do know this! Isaiah well understood this point as well, as he receives his words from God to the people of Zion (who live in Jerusalem):
For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies. But this you did not wish. "No," you said, "Upon horses we will flee." --Very well, flee! "Upon swift steeds we will ride." --Not so swift as your pursuers.
Yet the LORD is waiting to show you favor, and he rises to pity you; For the LORD is a God of justice: blessed are all who wait for him!
O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem, no more will you weep; He will be gracious to you when you cry out, as soon as he hears he will answer you. The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, while from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: "This is the way; walk in it," when you would turn to the right or to the left. And you shall consider unclean your silver-plated idols and your gold-covered images; You shall throw them away like filthy rags to which you say, "Begone!" (Isaiah 30:15-16, 18-22)
I'm not suggesting we do away with our holiday preparations. After all, the shopkeepers invest (or is it gamble?) heavily on decking their halls, as it were. But the focus is meant to be on the end, the goal; not the mechanics of the race to get there.
John the Baptist had his hands full where that was concerned.
John was the first prophet in roughly 400 years (although the Maccabean period roughly halfway through that drought would indicate that some were indeed listening to God in that time). John was nothing if not austere; living off the land of the desert, dressing in woven camel's hair, and surviving on a diet of locusts and wild honey. Not surprisingly, his zeal (of all the prophets of the Bible, John showed no sign of reluctance to bear the message) sustained him where his diet might not - I am quite certain John didn't have a weight problem.
This also meant John did not suffer fools gladly. Perhaps his message had an even greater sense of urgency. He was not afraid to tell it like it was. And this was much more the message than the present "Keep Christ in CHRISTmas" movement:
"Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (Matthew 3:8-9).
Many have fallen into the trap of believing that, as Christians, that the Christmas event is an exclusive property. It is not, was never meant to be so, and will never be so. Perhaps that's why so many traditions have blended together over the course of human history. This time is not meant exclusively for one group or another, but for the good of all. Lest our preparations lead us into the trap that shopping is but one more task to be endured, we have missed the point. We have missed out on what the Season of Advent and the Season of Light is about; to be light and peace, comfort and joy.
Today I offered this prayer:
God our Father, in your infinite love deliver us from the distractions that plague us, and grant us the peace and security which you alone can give. Protect us from all needless worry and anxiety, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming in glory of Emmanuel, your presence among us; for even now you are indeed among us, waiting for us even as we await your coming. Remain with us always...Amen.