But who shall abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he... will refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Malachi 3
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. - Baruch 5
Dear friends -
When a beloved friend comes to visit, I don't want broken stuff lying all around the place.
I've been having a conversation with a friend about "brokenness", a word that, loaded and infected as it is, lies at the heart of our worship practice. We use the word during our Prayer of Confession, often in place of the word "sin", which is even more loaded and infected.
The season of Advent continues to irritate us, to the extent that, in church life, it bumps into the giddiness of the run-up to Christmas. The Bible passages of this season of preparing, waiting, and self-examination challenge us to ease back on the "Yippee, Christmas is coming!" theme. Instead, the prophets ask us to spend some thoughtful time asking ourselves if we are really ready for the arrival of a child who will invite us to re-imagine our broken way of seeing the world.
This week, I read a review of a book titled, "Culture and the Death of God" by Terry Eagleton. The author describes himself as a non-believer, but he sets forth, with great respect, to shed light on some basic ideas about religion. Here is his take on (talk about infected, loaded words) "original sin". He describes it by saying that people have “a capacity for redemption which can never be suppressed, but only if they repent – which is to say, only if they [we] take soberly realistic account of the tenacity of human egoism, the persistence of violence and self-delusion, the arrogance of power, the compulsive recurrence of conflict, the fragility of virtue, and the eternal dissatisfaction of desire.”
These words pretty well summarize the brokenness of the world, both beyond and deep within our own hearts.
Malachi, one of the minor prophets of the Hebrew Bible who, incidentally, gets the last word in the Old Testament, puts forth the challenge of Advent in remarkably few words. "Who shall abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?" He's talking about the Messiah, whom Christians take to be Jesus, the Christ Child. And he says, in essence, "Is there anyone who is really ready for this guy?"
Does the world in which we live look like "the beauty of the glory from God", as Baruch describes this new Creation that is to come? Is the bloody aftermath in San Bernardino an expression of God's beauty and glory? Of course not. But maybe the question for us, as Advent-preparers, is, "How might we reflect the beauty of the glory from God in our response to this tragedy, or any of other countless tragedies unfolding in this uneasy season when glory and ugliness, hope and hopelessness, peace and violence wrestle for a place in our hearts?"
Brokenness lies all around us. Yes, even in our own hearts. Our broken hearts. Finally, what's the difference between saying, "We are broken" and saying , "Our hearts are broken"?
The prophets are begging us to have a close look at this brokenness. We might call it sin, and then flee from what sounds like an accusation - an assault on our sense of our own basic goodness. We do this kind of fleeing all the time. "I'm a good person! I'm not responsible for all this brokenness! Stop hounding me about my sins /my brokenness all the time! Christmas is coming; I'm not broken. I'm a good person!"
But a beloved guest is coming. More than a guest, actually; he plans to stay. All of my denials of brokenness and sinwill not withstand his loving, tender, challenging eye. The busted stuff is right there on the floor.
Time to take off the garment of sorrow and affliction. A beloved guest is coming, and he can stay as long as he wants. Look at his eyes; he's hungry for my table.
We begin sweeping up the broken stuff at 10 AM. And we'll serve a meal, a Communion at which he will, mysteriously, already be present. Oh, such a beloved guest is coming; he even helps clean up the place.