“What Old Eyes See” Luke 2:22-40

“For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples…..”    Those are pretty heady words for just having a first look at a baby, aren’t they?

I’m not sure how much I’ve really thought about this Gospel lesson.   Simeon and Anna are just the “churchy folks” I’ve known from every congregation.  They are the stalwarts, the elderly man, the old widow, the people whom you can’t imagine not being around the church.  I have grown accustom to just expecting old Simeon and Anna to show up and make their pronouncement.  They are the fixtures in the Temple scene

They were Willie and Mabel from Emmanuel Beatrice,

They were Hy-D and Mary from First Lutheran Avoca,

They were Roy and Lucille from St. John’s in Richland Center.

They were Dean and Phyllis… maybe in our context.   You know them if you have been in a church for any length of time.  They are the “old eyes,” and old eyes tend to see things what younger ones will miss.

Simeon is waiting to see the Consolation of Israel.

Anna is the the elderly widow who spends day and night in the temple because there really isn’t any other place in society for her and here she carves out a place of meaning.

What do old eyes see that younger ones cannot?

For one thing, “old eyes” tend to see context better.   They understand the community, its rhythms, connections, and the “who belongs to whom” weavings.

Maybe it is because they have lived through much, and seen things come and go.

Maybe it is because they have resigned themselves to the pace of change.   It never happens fast enough for some things, or slow enough for others.   Never fast enough in times of pain and hardship, never slow enough in times of joy.   Time moves at its own pace and with “old eyes” you begin to sense that you are more often swept along than swimming against it much.   They know and see how things are connected.

Old eyes also tend to take things in stride because they have seen so much.  They have adjusted to the observation of Ecclesiastes that there really is “nothing new under the sun.”   Old themes come back again under new guiles.  The names change, but the issues repeat themselves.

If Anna is in her 80’s and beyond she has seen two King Herods come to power, and neither one better than the other.

She has watched the back-story politics of the Temple from her vantage point of being there day in and day out, and noted that while High Priests seem to come and go. Nothing ever much changes in the day to day operations, or in the trajectories of the Temple, the people, or the nation.

They still live under Roman occupation.

They still live burdened with occupation taxes.

They still wait for Messiah, and the promise of the Consolation of Israel.

This is their context, the world in which they live and the world as they have known it.

I do not know if Simeon and Anna spoke with each other before this day, and even here they are not so much in dialog as each in turn giving their blessing, observation, and prophecy.

Old eyes seem keenly aware when something is afoot, when a change is looming, and somehow both see in Jesus something they have not seen before.

We are not told what it is exactly that they see in Jesus.

We are told how they see it.

It is a work of the Holy Spirit.

It would appear that long days and night spent in worship and in prayer are not fruitless efforts.  They give old eyes a different kind of vision.

Anna’s life of prayer and fasting has given her insight.

Simeon’s devotion and righteousness has given him the gift of recognition.  His life choices have tuned his senses to wait and to watch.  He is the keeper of this mysterious promise made by an even more mysterious Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen God’s salvation.    This has kept his eyes ever watchful, and when the mother, father and infant enter there is some trigger that goes off.  This is the one!

How does he know?   We’re not privy to that, but we can assume that it does have something to do with his choices, his devotion, his way of living.  Something has prepared his old eyes to see what we cannot, at least not yet.

And maybe that is another gift of old eyes that I think might be starting to develop myself.   It comes with the birth of a grandson, and it is less a new insight as the kindling of an old one.  Taking my grandson in my arms triggered the memory of holding my own son, my own daughter, and wondering out loud what it was that they were destined to be, and what this world would hold for them.

When I hearken back to those memories and feel them stir in me again, I’m not so sure that Simeon is being all that profound in his words.  As you look at them again, they very well could be spoken to any child.

All children are destined to see the fall and rising of many… wherever they are born.  Some will have more opportunities, run in more intense circles of power and influence, or “greatness” in the eyes of the world, but the rhythm of life will mean that as a matter of course they will see mentors and friends, rise and fall.   In fact, who did Jesus see rise and fall exactly?  It was mostly rough folks, the outcasts, those in the hill country of Judea and by the shores of Galilee.

The “rise and fall” of many did not happen until long after his time on earth.  He was part of it as his influence stretched forward in time and lives, but we really hope that is the case for all children, that they will make a lasting change, that this world will be a better, different place because of them.

All children are born into a world that will oppose them to some degree.  Jesus’ opposition was found in all the places you might expect it.  He found opposition in the established leaders who did not like his “new” ideas.

He stirred up opposition whenever he challenged the “status quo.”

He attracted the eyes of the state when his teaching and gathering of crowds made him a perceived threat to established power.

There is nothing in that much different from anyone who dares to take a stand and question “why?”   We all hope that our children will take a stand for something, make a difference  in this world.

All children tend to expose the inner thoughts of people.  They will, at very least, expose the inner thoughts of their own parents as the parents cry out in exasperation!   But they will also expose the inner thoughts of siblings, future boyfriends and girlfriends, spouses and eventually their own children.   We are born to raise eyebrows and cause ponderings and often to stir up things in the lives of others.

Oh, and the “a sword will pierce your own soul also?”   Every parent knows that as well.  They learn the disappointment, the heartbreak, the hunger to have your child do well and the utter devastation when things do not go as planned, or as predicted or as hoped for.

When you think about it, Simeon’s words would translate to almost any child, so maybe the point of his blessing is less that it is uniquely given to Jesus and has more to do with his “old eyes.”

For, there is one more thing that old eyes begin to understand that younger eyes do not always understand.

There is a time to entrust things to a new generation and let go in order that the new may emerge.

It is not insignificant that we are told up front that death is looming and the promise given is only that you will see the consolation of Israel… not participate in it.

This too, is something that old eyes have to learn, for sometimes we are so tightly bound by our own expectations.    We cling so tightly to how we think things ought to be, how we think they out to play out, that we miss the Lord’s Reign in our midst.

We are too busy working on our own vision of the Kingdom, as we think it should unfold, to see what God might already be up to.

So here is the last truth of “old eyes.”   They know they have to shut and trust God to see things through.

The old eyes pass away.

Willie and Mabel are gone

Hy-D and Mary are no more.

Roy and Lucille have passed from life into the promise of the resurrection, as have Dean and Phyllis, but God is not done with the places they hung out at.

God is not done with God’s people.

Things that none of these people with their “old eyes” could imagine have taken place, and will continue to, and that’s really what Old Eyes yearn to see.

They yearn to see not the world as it still is, or as it was, but the world as it opens up for those upon whom God has placed his Spirit.

The “old eyes” once looked upon us and gave blessing and entrusted the mission and ministry to us.

We will one day be the “old eyes” who will entrust the ministry and the mission and the message to the next generation.

What they do with this may not look at all like what we did with it, and may not take the shape that we would have hoped for, expected, or imagined.

But “old eyes” have a dream, and they trust in a God who is at work in this world, even if they cannot see the end of it or be a part of it.

This is the truth of the matter, what Simeon’s old eyes, what Anna’s old eyes see is the future.  Not one that they will be a part of, but one that is still in God’s keeping and one that will see the Kingdom one step closer.  That’s the promise of Christmas One, and a good promise to remember in a coming New Year

Christmas Eve 2014 Luke 2:1-12

We just can’t quite seem to make up our minds about Christmas. It’s somewhat confusing if you think about it.

We wind up for it for months.  At the end of October the tinsel and garland begins to appear, displays go up in the retail world and the buzz begins in economic circles.  What are the projections?  What will the holiday spending trends tell us about the days to come, for the New Year, for the economy? How is the “consumer confidence” this year?

We begin to have anticipation for Christmas, can’t wait to pull out the music, taste the holiday treats, shop for, find and wrap the gifts.

All of this furtive activity would seem to tell us that we view Christmas as a destination, an event, a moment to plan for, to execute satisfactorily, and then move on from — usually as quickly as possible.

In fact, I even heard a reputable news anchor wonder out loud on the air, “just when do the 12 days of Christmas begin?  Is it on the 12th of December before Christmas eve, or do they begin on the 13th to lead up to Christmas Day?

She had apparently had no contact with the Christian tradition of the twelve days of Christmas being the time between the birth of Jesus on December 25th and the arrival of the Wise Men on January 6th, the day of the Epiphany.

It’s not really her fault for being out of touch with that, for even churches tend to jumble the whole scene together in Christmas pageants and crèche scenes on their lawns.

Christmas is a destination.

Christmas is an event.

Christmas is a place that you get to, a day you celebrate, a completion of a sequence of preparations.  You go through Advent, you get to Christmas, and then you stare moon-eyed into the candle’s flicker in church to consider the birth of the Christ Child, and the scene in the manger, and the “Gloria in Excelsis” moment of Shepherds and Angels.

We “get to” Christmas, or “get it over with” sometimes depending upon our level of our exhaustion, fatigue of preparation, or our disposition toward our in-laws and extended family.  It makes an end of things.  Whew!  Glad that’s over, another Christmas survived!

But is Christmas really a destination?

We wonder about that because the other strain of the narrative of what happens does not hold that Christmas is a destination or an end point so much as Christmas is somehow a beginning.

We get this narrative from the other things that fill our senses this time of year, the endless string of television Christmas Specials and stories of transformation.

Whether it is “Rudolph with his nose so bright” or Ebenezer Scrooge or any one of the endless “_______ saves Christmas” story lines out there, there is this red thread of meaning that permeates all those stories that Christmas is somehow also about beginnings.

It is not so much a destination as it is a moment of transformation, when the one who was exiled finds their way back home.

Or, the one who was alienated finds their true sense of purpose,

Or the cold, lost soul is warmed and finally redeemed.

Or the misunderstood are accepted. The misfit toys find children to love them and to whom they can provide delight, or the Who’s down in Whoville sing despite the Grinch’s tricks and the Grinch himself is transformed because of their song, which had only sounded to him previously as “annoying.”  The thing he hated most.

Over and over in these Christmas stories the message sent is that Christmas is not some destination, but rather a new beginning.

The heart grows three sizes that day.

If any man kept Christmas well from that day on, it was Ebenezer Scrooge, who triples Cratchet’s wages and got doctors for Tiny Tim that the crutch in the corner by the fireplace might disappear.

Christmas isn’t something you get to, or that get through, or that get over, it marks a transformation in people’s lives.  They are never the same after this.

So, which is it?   Is Christmas something that marks the end of things, a destination we reach, or does it transform the future?

How about both?

Lutherans are really good with paradox after all.  We like to hold things in tension and there is something about Christmas that does seem to suspend the world and hold together the tensions of our life.

We do look at this as a destination.   We come back to this place, this story; time and again.  We have expectations that some things here will not change.   The journey of our year is not complete until we have returned to hear again the timeless story of a babe born in Bethlehem.  We mark our year’s journey and our journey through the years by coming back to this place and back to this story.

There is the familiar here along with the changing.

Oh, faces come and go, they age, the people here become grey or stooped and yet remain somehow the same.

Loved ones pass away, but are remembered and brought to mind.  The stories of their lives merge with our own as time is transcended, and the Christmas of long past becomes one with the Christmas of this moment.

Christmas is a destination.  It is a touchstone for our lives, a place and an event.

We long to be assured that in this fast paced, ever changing world some things at least hold their course, provide us a guiding star, and perhaps even dare to assure us of a love that will not give up on us or let us go.

There it is, in the manger, once again, the gift of the Christ child, born to set us free, to give us hope.  Love come down on Christmas.  This does not change.

God comes to be as one of us.

God comes in a way that can be picked up and held and cooed over and somehow as we find our way here, to this scene, to this moment, to this destination we find ourselves grounded in a way that gives us hope for the future.

We dare to look out from this place and say to ourselves, “If God thought this world was worth loving this much, maybe I should, we all should, as well.”

It is in that moment, that Christmas ceases to be a destination and instead becomes a springboard, a launching point.

“What will my life be from this moment on?”   We ponder that at Christmas.   It is the great moment when we sense that the world could change, our world could change, we could change for the better.

It is in the moment of being told that this is “Good news of great joy for all people” that we begin to feel the pull of transformation.

With the shepherds and the Kings, with Old Simeon and Anna, with all those who were longing for the consolation of Israel and the redemption of all people we begin to look forward.

We look out from this stable, out over the Galilean countryside and all that will take place there as this child grows in grace and truth and begins to tell us of his Father.

We look out from this stable asking what kind of saving of his people this Jesus really does?  It’s not as simple as we, as they thought it would be.  It’s not measured in comfortable lives and cares and troubles being taken away.

It is measured in healing for some, irritation for others, and a stubborn insistence that the Reign of God has come near.

You feel what you feel because God has come so close in this.

We look out from the stable daring maybe even to look as far and Golgotha and beyond, pondering what a crucified messiah might be?  The rough wood of the manger and the rough wood of the cross merge curiously into one as we watch the shoot of Jesse’s stump grow, and bloom, and be cut down too soon.

We stand in wonder and amazement at the news of Resurrection and in all our skepticism about that still feel the pull to cling to it, and to claim it for our own.

The past, present and future all seem to collapse into a moment when we sense the possibility of change within ourselves because of Jesus, even if we can’t quite name what that change may yet be, or why.

Is Christmas something that marks the end of things, or does it transform the future?

Yes!  Yes, we say.   It does both.  That is its mystery and its promise.

So, welcome this night, to Christmas and to the tension that it holds.

You have made it here to this destination, and this event will once again call you forward and away from it.

You are not the same as when you came in tonight, but how much you will have changed will be measured in what happens in your heart after hearing this story once again.

It is confusing, I know but we are in good company.

We ponder the events and the news with Mary, and with Joseph.

We wonder with Peter, James and John and with all those disciples who followed and who dared to live into the story, and who died still not sure, but holding on in faith.

We wonder with all those who through ages have been touched by this story just what it means, and why it still compels us to do what it is that we will do in the days and weeks and years to come simply because we have heard it, and it will not let us go.

We will struggle with all these witnesses to the manger and to the Cross, trying to figure out just how far this love will make us all go, and what it will make us do, with no assurances at all that it makes any difference in the world!

Except, except God’s own assurance found within this event, that this world was worth God coming to claim for God’s own.

You were worth the hassle of God coming as a baby, if for no other reason that God could through this event, this story, begin to change you, and claim you as God’s own.

What is Christmas, a destination or a beginning?

You tell me what it is for you after hearing it again tonight.

“Hail, Favored One” II Sam. 7:1-11 Luke 1:26-38

Every once in a while when we’re on vacation or simply driving through the country we’ll play the “so where do you want to live?” game.   We’ve lived in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Upstate New York, and now Missouri.   We’ve traveled the southwest, Colorado, Michigan and the Dakota’s.   Someday in the next decade or so we’ll retire, and we’ll need to put down our next to our last roots, and so you start to think about what you’ll look for in those terms.

But you don’t have to be older to play the “where do you want to live” game.    College graduates do it, those with transportable occupations do it, and sometimes company placement does it for you.

Where would you like to live?

What place feeds your soul?

What scenery draws you back time and again?

Where you choose to reside reveals something about you.   It defines what is important to you, what you want out of life, and what you hope to accomplish, and the older I get the less interested I am about the grandness of the landscape or the amenities of the city, I find that I start to look more at the people you find in that place.    “Could I spend the rest of my life around these folks?”

In the fourth Sunday of Advent the lessons are about where God chooses to reside.  They tell us something about God, and what is important to God.

In the 2nd Samuel passage we see King David fretting over God having to spend his nights out in a tent while David sleeps in his cozy palace.  David has in mind to build a sanctuary where they can bring in the Ark of the Covenant, a fine house of Cedar for God in which to dwell.

But through the prophet Nathan God sends the message that he isn’t much interested in living in a house of Cedar.   The tent is fine.  Why?   Because it remains a symbol of a God who is on the move and who lives among his people!

This is the God who brought your ancestors out of bondage in Egypt.

This is the God who traveled with them, slept with them in tents like theirs when they wandered in the desert.

This is the God who marched forth to do battle against Israel’s enemies during the conquest of the land.

It is as if God seemed to say “I’m a God on the move.  If I establish anything it’s not a place to live, it’s a people.   If I need a house, I’ll build it out of relationships, not out of cedar.”

And so, in II Samuel, God turns the story around and establishes a house in David, a promise that from his ancestors the leadership in Israel will forever hail.  The tent is fine – I don’t need a house of cedar.

In Luke’s Gospel that theme of the portability of God is picked up again.   Where did God choose to reside?  He was not born in a palace warm to a mighty king, but to a young woman on the move.

Mary is an unknown, an unseen bearer of the Son of God.   Her only criteria for the task is to have been chosen by God, and to have willingly accepted the task, despite the personal embarrassment and the real danger such a pregnancy could cause in her life.  And once she accepts this task, she is on the move.   She goes to visit Elizabeth.   She has to make the trip to Bethlehem for the birth, then back to Nazareth, then a flight to Egypt, and back again.   A restless God, is forcing her to cover territory, and in the process to fulfill scripture.

In Jesus, we continue to see that restlessness of God.  The Son of Man has no place to lay his head, he will be out amongst his people.

We are sometimes mistaken about what makes the Christmas story so unusual.   We think it is about this miraculous birth to Mary.  But as it turns out, miraculous birth stories were not all that uncommon in the ancient world.   Caesar Augustus was said to have had a miraculous birth story written about him.   Every great leader seemed to have some claim to the divine meddling in making him who he was.

What was uncommon in the story was not the miraculous birth, but God’s choice of Mary and a stable — no house, no room to call his own.   This is a God whose only connection to us would be through a linage, relationship, and then not even through one with a title or privileged position.

This girl is fine.  God doesn’t need someone rich and famous to change the world.  It’s not where I come, God seems to say in this, but that I come that is most important.

In the fourth Sunday of Advent, we are reminded of where God has chosen to reside.  If the incarnation (that is, God coming in Jesus to become flesh and blood) means anything, it means that God still prefers willing hearts over fancy structures.  It’s not where I come, but that I come that is most important, God seems to say to David, and to Mary, and now to us.

Our God is a God who is on the move, a God who travels with us, who comes to meet us and who goes on before us, pulling us along.

In II Samuel, the tent was the symbol of God moving with his people, living as one of them.

In the birth as a baby to Mary, God does the ultimate living as one of us.

In the life of Jesus we see a God who is once again on the move, reaching out, taking a message to people where they are.

This is the God we have.

This is the God to which we should look forward.  Not a God of a place, but of a people.

We always have to work hard at remembering that, as we sit in our warm, snug building.  This was built not to give God a place to live, but rather as a place to gather the people whom God has sent us out to find.

If the Mary story shows us anything, it is that God will pop in when least expected or anticipated.   God often comes as a rude interruption to our carefully laid plans for the day.   Most of the time ministry, like life, is what happens as you are busy trying to do the other things that you thought were important.   When Jesus tells us to watch, to be alert, he’s talking about this very thing.   Kingdom work often comes unanticipated, when you weren’t looking for it.   When does Christ enter the story of your life, of a friend’s life, of a neighbor’s life?    It’s not usually something you find penciled into your schedule.

The moment comes when all the things are right.

The moment comes when the heart is open, when the event makes you wonder, when the crushing blow of bad news brings you to your knees – that is the time that God comes near, or God’s messenger, urging you not to be afraid.   God is with you.

You don’t put that kind of thing on your calendar.

You stumble into it as you find the co-worker sobbing, or as your conversation with the friend on the golf course takes the unexpected turn, or in the check-out line as the opportunity to live and speak a word of encouragement and of your own faith is suddenly opened up.

Keep alert, watch, for you know not at what hour your Lord will come.   God pops in to meet you in the face of a neighbor.

God pops into the lives of others through your face.

Advent is about waiting and watching, preparing and making ready to receive Christ when he comes as promised.    So often we think that when Christ comes it will be some spectacular event.   But if history tells us anything, it is that where God chooses to reside is not in the flashy, but in the ordinary.

Give me a tent.

Give me the willing heart of a young girl.

Give me a stable.

Give me a simple conversation by a well, or by the Galilean seashore.

Give me these things, God says, and I will change the world.

We serve God best by being alert to the moment, being ready to speak when that door opens.

We bring in God’s Kingdom when we remain ready to share our faith and to speak that word of encouragement when the moment presents itself, and then later wonder what kind of a moment that was?

We become an agent of the restless God when we extend an invitation.   The moment when God meets us in the face of a neighbor, asking for our compassion, or extending it to us.

Where do you want to live?   In the end it’s not about place, it’s about people.   It is about being present with them.   God chooses to be where God chooses to be, and God chooses to be alive and well in the lives of the people of this world.  And, God chooses to be most particularly present in their lives, through you.   Hail, O Favored one – and that is you, for   God is with you, and will use you to reach this world one other person at a time.

“What ‘Good News’ Looks Like.” Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of Mark’s Gospel begs the question, “Just what does Good News look like?”

Think about it for a second and let that sink in, for supposedly “good news” is often a rather subjective thing depending upon one’s perspective!

Your child comes home with his new wife and they make the announcement.  “Good news!  We’re going to have a baby!”

Well, that is good news.  You want to be excited about the prospects for your children, about the new and life, and about the joy of a baby.  You are grateful that this new phase in life is upon you, no doubt!

But such “good news” also has its shadow side.  Now there will be another mouth to feed for a struggling young couple.  Now the relationship tuned for two will have to be re-negotiated for three.  You worry and fret about your children as they begin to have children, and that’s not even touching on how the “good news” will affect you.   Are you really that anxious to become a grandparent?  It means you are definitely getting older and entering a new phase in life yourself.  What does “good news” look like?   Is it all positive, or is there a mixture of things that begin to play out?   Gratitude and wariness have an interplay in life, you don’t often have one without the other.

Think back over your own life.  When did you receive “good news” that did not feel particularly “good?”

Maybe it was the news that you would be getting a promotion, or a new job, but would have to uproot and move your family across country.  Was that Good news?   You are grateful for the promotion, but also wary about what it means for others close to you.

Maybe it was the news about a diagnosis.  “You have such and so, but good news, it’s very treatable, you just have to undergo this surgery, use this regiment of treatment, and change your diet in this way.

Good news that it’s treatable?   Really?   You find yourself grateful that something can be done, but wary as well.  What if it doesn’t work?   I’d really rather not have this at all, thank you, even if it is very treatable!

You can probably come up with more and better examples than I can, but you catch the meaning.  Just what does “good news” look like?   Is it not a mixture of gratitude and challenge when it comes to you?

It is no different in Mark’s Gospel.   What does “Good News” look like?  It looks like the Kingdom coming near, and the whole countryside coming to the river to confess their sins, which is not exactly a party!  There is gratitude that the long awaited day is coming near, but so much hard work of self-examination in the face of it!

It looks like a prophet of old arising, as it was foretold in Isaiah.  Is this Good news?   Well yes, when the prophets were around God did seem immanently close and real.  We are grateful to feel the presence of God again.

But, Prophets also usually had a nasty habit of telling the truth, and often brought harsh and unpopular words to speak to a complacent Israel.  The act of proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sin will mean that you will have to fess up to your own sin in order to turn away from it.  That’s mighty unpopular work!  That is challenging work!

What does “Good News” look like?  It looks like having to be honest with yourself, your situation, the predicaments in which you live, and the things that you may be doing to perpetuate them.

On the one hand you are grateful for the opportunity to do that, to finally “get real” about things.

On the other, oy!  What a pain to have to do!

Repentance will require turning around from what you are currently doing, and you don’t really know what to turn around and away from if you haven’t looked closely at what you have been doing.

The more you look at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, the more you begin to ask yourself, “is this really good news?” because if it is, if Jesus entering the scene and John preparing the way means ushering in a time of repentance, that could get pretty uncomfortable.

So I wonder if in the second week of Advent as we hear John’s announcement in our world, just what the “good news” looks like?

Does it look like Ferguson, or on Staten Island?   Is the “good news” breaking in upon us a call to repent there?

What makes neighbors rise up, demonstrate and torch and loot their own neighborhood?

What is the source of anger and outrage that bubbles up?  The experience of what it is to be black in America, which is something that I can never fully appreciate or understand.  We can’t begin to tap the anger and the frustration or see how it could drive you.

Is it “good news” that in the events of Ferguson and Staten Island we may find ways to have unfinished conversations about race in America?

Is that the “good news,” that in Jesus we will finally help us find ways to listen to the cries in the wilderness from all sides of that complex issue instead of dismissing, justifying, or perpetuating the status quo?

On the one hand I’m grateful to have the opportunity to learn, to understand, to repent and to participate in healing old wounds.

On the other, oy!  What a painful thing for all of us, and what a terrible cost to get us thinking about it.

What is the “good news” in the outbreak of Islamic militant activity?  Is it a call to come to terms with the legacy of centuries of colonialism?

Is it us turning over our sense of privilege and taking whatever the west needs without regard to the indigenous cultures?

Is the good news in this found in the fact that we finally take serious how the persistent drumbeat of our pervasive culture blares out?

We cannot begin to understand the anger, outrage and frustration of having one’s whole culture compromised or swallowed up, and what that might drive one to do to try to push it back against it.

On the one hand, I’m grateful for being given the eyes to see things differently.

On the other, my own anger and discomfort is no picnic, and what a terrible cost to have to pay to begin to see the world through other’s eyes.

Is there a need for repentance in our day?   Yes I dare say so!.  There is a need for repentance on the part of all involved. We all need a little repentance of our insistence on seeing the world only through our own lenses.  We all could use a little repentance of forming judgments and making statements without first listening deeply and often painfully to our neighbors.

I am struck by how Luke has Jesus pose a question to the crowds following him about John’s work in preparing the way.  “What did you go out to the desert to see?”  Jesus asks, “A reed shaken by the wind?  If not, what did you go out to see?….. A prophet?  Yes I tell you and more than a prophet!”  It is Jesus acknowledgement that what John does in calling people to repentance is not easy, but it is necessary, and something for which to be grateful because this is how the way is prepared for the Kingdom, and for the change of the heart.

This is what “good news” looks like.  It looks like a combination of gratitude and challenge that opens us up for a change of heart.

This “Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” is rather a matter of perspective.  What feels like good news for some, is the cause of re-examining all of life and what motivates for others.

It is darned uncomfortable work when God comes near like this, but we are grateful for it.

It is work worth doing, for somehow in the midst of the repentance, and the listening, and the experiencing; a path begins to be cleared for our God to come to us and find us and lead us in new and unexpected ways.   Which is ultimately really good news, because quite frankly we are often at a loss as to how to find out own way in the things that plague and perplex us in this world.

So in the days of Advent we watch, and we wait, and we listen, and we pray.  We are challenged and given glimpses of what the world should be like, and grieved that it is not yet.   And, we do all of this with a mixture of gratefulness at the opportunity to be able to do it, and discomfort at having to do it.  What does good news look like?   It looks like this.

I want to leave you with the story told by Father Connery in this week’s section in “The Heart That Gives.”  He ends his discussion of being grateful by telling the story of the traveler who comes upon the barn in which the devil has stored up all the seeds he intends to sow in the human heart.  They are all there, Hatred, Fear, Doubt, Greed, Envy, Despair, Unforgiveness, Pride, and so on.

The Devil gladly told the traveler how easy it was to sow these seeds and how quickly they took root and took over.

“Are there any hearts in which these seeds will not sprout?”  The traveler asks.

“These seeds will not sprout in the heart of a thankful and joyful person.” The melancholy devil admitted.

It is Advent, and the call for repentance is made so that these seeds of the devil will have no opportunity to take root in our hearts.

Be grateful for the opportunity to repent and to be challenged.   Be ready for the discomfort of doing it, that you may at length find the joy of God’s Kingdom as well as it breaks in upon this world.

Be ready for the discomfort of doing it, that you may at length find the joy of God’s Kingdom as well as it breaks in upon this world.