Sunday, December 12, 2010

Third Sunday in Advent: What God Allows is also what God Experiences

The Advent Season is a time of preparing ourselves not only for the celebration of Christmas but, above all, for the re-birth of Christ in our lives and world. Today's Gospel story concerning John the Baptist's pointed question to Jesus (Matthew 11:2-11), "are you the one to come or should we look for someone else?" gives us the opportunity to reflect on one very important and fundamental aspect of what it means to be prepared for the Lord's coming: namely, what we presume about God's presence and power.

At the time that John puts this question to Jesus, he has been imprisoned by King Herod. The question that John poses to Jesus (through John's disiciples), is likely a very loaded one. In other words, it is fair to presume that since John is languishing in prison, he is asking not only, "who are you?" but, "what are you going to do about my imprisonment?" If Jesus is indeed God's chosen one, the Messiah, when is he going to set about righting wrongs? Isn't this what the Messiah is supposed to do, after all? However, we can presume another layer of probing to John's question that is even more basic, fundamental, and profound. It is a question that has been asked by every generation of humanity from the beginning until now: how can an "all good", "all powerful" God allow evil? At the root of John's question is this very guttural, heart-wrenching, and agonizing human query into how things at times can go so horrifically wrong with the world and with life when it is supposed to be girded by goodness. Are we hopelessly deluded in believing in an "all-Good-God" or, is there something we are missing in our presuppositions about who God is, and, more importantly, "how" God is in relation to us and to our world?

If we stop for a moment and really think about the near irresolvable question, "how can an 'all good', 'all powerful' God allow evil?" it is important to acknowledge that this question likely assumes that God is somehow distant, removed, and detached from the events that unfold in our life and our world. Certainly, an "all good" and "all powerful" God cannot be intimately present to events like World War II, Auschwitz, or the genocidal campaign that continues to unfold in Darfur! When we are beset by trying, difficult, tragic, or even horrific life events, we rightfully feel very much like John languishing in captivity, asking, "if you love me, why have you abandoned, forsaken, or forgotten me?" But, perhaps our presumptions about God's presence and power are in need of a little rewiring, just as it seems John the Baptist had some "rewiring" of his own to do. Perhaps God's goodness and power are such that God can be "all-vulnerable" and take into his experience even darkness, difficulty, distress, and despair as the only real way to transform our lives and world. Maybe what God "allows" is also what God is willing to also experience in, through, and with us.

When we sing the great Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" we may want to be careful what we pray for! We believe that God indeed came as Emmanuel, which translates, "God with Us" in the person of Jesus. But Jesus came in a very particular way: he was born in a lowly stable, he spent his time in the backwater, forsaken and broken places of Galilee, he walked the difficult road to Jerusalem, he was ostracized and cursed by being hung from a tree, and, only after embracing the very worst that reality had to offer did he than transform it through Resurrection. Should we expect the Lord's coming now to be any different? Will God not continue to be "re-born" in all the shabby places of our lives and world? Will God, in Christ and now the Holy Spirit, not continue spending the majority of his time in the lowly, broken places of our lives and world? Will God not continue to be accursed in the lowly, afflicted, and poor and than transform their lives and lot through the power of Jesus' Resurrection beginning here and definitively in the life to come? The Lord will indeed come again, and does come to us, again, and again, and again, but are we "wired" to experience this "all vulnerable God?" Perhaps our presumptions regarding God's presence and power are in need of a bit of "rewiring" if we are to be prepared this Advent Season to experience him in the places and the persons we may very well least expect. Pat, TOR