12/2/12, Tell Me About God...

Jer. 33”14-16, I Thess. 3:12-4-2, Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

I love the story that Marcus Borg tells about a 3-year old girl who was so excited about the little brother that her parents had brought home from the hospital. The first night, the little girl asked to be alone with her new brother in his room with the door shut.  They had installed a baby monitor in the nursery, so mom and dad thought it was safe to grant this request. Via the intercom, they heard their daughter’s footsteps moving across the baby’s room.  They imagined her standing over the baby’s crib and then they heard her whisper to her three-day-old brother, “Tell me about God – I’ve almost forgotten.” 

For many of us, this past year has been a year of deeply exploring the tenets of Christian belief that we’ve accumulated over our lifetimes.  We have taken seriously Apostle Paul’s description of what it means to grow into a mature spirituality.  He said, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (I Cor. 13:11)  It has been exciting for us to be able to ask our questions, find new answers, discard what no longer has relevance for a 21st century Christian faith.  It is freeing to become an adult person of faith even as it imposes new responsibilities on us.  This is what it means to grow into spiritual maturity.

And yet… the journey back to God includes a paradoxical acceptance of our need to become as children!  We have noted in our gospel teachings from Mark that Jesus said, “Unless you become as a child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  What are we to do with this scriptural paradox?  Shall we grow up or shall we retain what Borg calls “pre-critical naivete?”

Yesterday I had an encounter with this question as I joined other volunteers providing a community breakfast for cold and hungry McMinnville folks.  Sequestered away in my corner chopping onions and peppers and potatoes, the Christmas music of some visiting Linfield students reached my ears.  “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful… Joyful and triumphant… Oh Come, Ye, Oh Come Ye… to Bethlehem.”  Not only did this music reach my ears, it reached my heart.  Before long, tears were running down my face and it wasn’t from the onions!  Although years of study have brought me to the realization that the story of Christ’s coming as a baby into the stable of Bethlehem on a starry night, attended by angels and shepherds and wisemen is probably not literal fact, there is still a child like connection with the beauty of God’s presence in that story that resonates in me.  It’s something that I recognize as truth even though I can’t accept it as fact.  It’s a call for the faithful to be always coming… always coming home.

Today’s gospel reading is a description of what people might imagine “this world is coming to.” As we consider the disasters of war and ecological imbalance that are present realities, our hearts also wonder if there is any redemption to be had.  So people pin their hopes on the second coming of a Savior.  Whether this will ever literally happen, who can know?  But what we can live with today are several instructive phrases:  “Be on guard, be on your watch, be alert.”   Yes, Christ is coming… Christ is ALWAYS coming!  God is present in every moment, if we but have the wonder-filled, anticipatory eyes and imaginative hearts of children to see.  Be on guard, be on your watch, be alert! Where is Christ present in this present moment?  What image of Christ do I miss when I am not alert?

“Tell me about God – I’ve almost forgotten.”  The season of Advent is a special way of reminding us that Jesus came into the world just as all humans have come into a world of darkness and struggle and seeking for light.   That little girl remembered what we sometimes forget. We come from God and we return to God.  The journey in between transforms us from that beautiful innocence of childhood faith through the shaping of “socialization” and intellectual development and often harsh life experiences to adult faith.  It is always a maturing journey in God and with God.  And yet… it seems that the imaginative stories and the heart-touching music and the wonderfilled experiences of childhood are meant to stay with us and continually inform us about the mystery that is FAITH. 

That’s the invitation that the Spirit offers to us in this season of Advent.  It is to let go for a little while our adult need to explain and to be responsible for our faith journey and just let ourselves be led along the path of wonder.  Like children, we can do this by imaginatively engaging with the stories of Christmas, by sitting in the dark and welcoming the light of candles, by letting the music move us to tears and to singing with others and even to dance.

This first week of Advent, the Church tradition invites us to reflect on the gift of HOPE.  Contemporary author Anne Lamott says that “Hope begins in the dark.  It is the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.” 

My prayer for you as we enter this season of waiting echoes Paul’s words in our second reading:

May Christ increase to overflowing your love for one another and for all people, even as (my) love does for you.  May Christ strengthen your hearts, making them blameless and holy before God at the coming of our Savoir with all the holy ones.  Now, my sisters and brothers, (I)urge you and appeal to you… to make more and more progress in the kind of life you are meant to live- the life that God wants… and as you are already living it.” I Thessalonians 3:12-4:1.

By Sandi DeMaster