The liturgical New Year beginning the first Sunday of Advent rather than on January 1st reminds us that we, as a community of believers, are Countercultural.
The season before Christmas presents intense expectations pre-programmed by the consumer culture.
In a season of distraction, Advent offers the opportunity to develop the art of attentiveness, mindfulness and care. We wrap Christmas gifts to remind ourselves that God is full of surprises. Advent anticipation readies us to welcome God's intervention in our lives, which is seldom planned and often amazing.
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The axe is buried in the root of the tree. So proclaims the Baptizer as he recognizes God's impatience with the religious leaders whose fruit is not proven by works.
In the orchard there rests another stump; one that Isaiah had marked with prophecy. What Isaiah had foretold, the Baptizer now sees about to bloom. A shoot had sprung from the "stump of Jesse", and its budding signals a new spring! Isaiah poetically characterizes this future blossoming as a season of peace and justice.
Boughs cut from evergreen trees are fashioned into wreaths that hold candles of hope. Isaiah proclaims that on this day the root of Jesse will signal forth peace and justice to those ends of the earth where struggle men and women of integrity.
Isaiah, a voice in the desert, cries out: Make a straight highway in the wasteland a highway, fill in every valley, make low the mountain and hill, flatten out the rugged land and place a valley in the rough country. From the desert, John the Baptizer repeats Isaiah's words with even more urgency, inviting people to spiritual renewal through baptism in the Jordan river..
There are rough spots in all of our lives -- and in the life of the church -- that need to be
smoothed out through restorative action. Advent challenges us to make those rough places smooth, to prepare a path of peace and justice so that the awaited one may enter our lives, our homes, our churches, our communities, our world.
Advent helps us recognize the importance of process. The human person and human history are always in process. Who we are now is a stage in the process of what we will be in the future.The community of the Christ’s Revolutionary Kingdom actively enters into it the historical process of salvation that is happening in the here and now, without the certain knowledge of the outcome.
During Advent we celebrate the patroness of the Americas: Our Lady of Guadalupe. The image of La Guadalupana is that of a simple indigenous woman pregnant with the Christ. She is wearing the black belt that the Central American Indians traditionally wear as a sign of their pregnancy.
As we consider her role as patroness of the Americas, we reflect on the Countries of the American continents, so ready to give birth to the Son of God.
Ours are lands of embarrassing riches and profound poverty. We are heavy with the birth of justice.
Ours are lands of democratic freedom and intolerable oppression. We are heavy with the birth of liberation.
The Christ's Galilean ministry begins with the announcement: “Fulfillment time is here. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the good news.”Lent prepares us for Easter through a 40-day period of renewal.
40 seems to be the prescribed Biblical number for a process of transformation and liberation, often associated with wilderness. The Great Flood of Noah lasted 40 days and 40 nights. Moses climbed to the high wilderness of Mt. Sinai, where he was alone with God for 40 days and 40 nights. 40 days after his Resurrection from the dead, Christ ascended into heaven.
Intense need for something to eat and drink in their 40 year trek through the desert led the Hebrews to doubt that the God who liberated them from slavery was still in their midst.
Jesus in his traveling became thirsty. And he approached a Samaritan woman who was drawing water from a well. By asking her for a drink, he broke with several social conventions. In the exchange that ensued between the Christ and the Samaritan woman, the Christ not only broke barriers of social convention but also overcame her own defenses. Water neither had to flow from rock nor be drawn from the well. The Christ proclaimed himself to be the Living Water.
In the beatitudes, the Christ recognizes those who thirst for justice. We thirst
-- for a world where poverty, homelessness, repression, economic domination, discrimination of all sorts – can be washed away in a flood of righteousness. The New Moses strikes the rock of oppression and violence. Pools of Living Water stand at our feet.
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The Christ was not tied to the status quo, things that didn’t work before, or powerlessness in the face of intransigent systems.
The self-righteous legalists were poised with sharp-edged stones, ready to plummet a woman caught in adultery (a consequence reserved for females only, whose selfhood at the time of the Christ was rated below that of males.) The Teacher intercepted the stoning, and the men walked away, one by one. No one was left to condemn.
Then the two, Jesus and the woman whose beauty he recognized in spite of her transgression, were left alone. The woman caught in adultery must not have known what to expect -- censure? harsh judgment? alternate dire consequences?
Guilt and shame can dominate the Self. Guilt cries out for reconciliation. Shame awaits blessing.
Jesus broke through the woman's shame and her guilt with a word of compassion, and compassion would prove to be many times more liberating than whatever she had anticipated from this Rabbi!
Our theology of the Victim Christ was elaborated by Paul in his epistles. In Hebrews 5: 8-9, Paul writes that although the Christ was son, what he suffered taught him obedience, and now perfected, he brought salvation to those who obey him. Likewise, in Philippians 2:5-11, Paul writes that Christ did not grasp at equality with God, but he emptied himself like a servant and, born human, he humbled himself to obediently accept death on a cross.
In the garden before his death, the Christ was overcome with dread. He wished to avoid the horrors of his upcoming experience, but finally accepts God's will. At the end, he cries out, "My God, why have you abandoned me."
After the Christ's death, the cross did not remain empty. It continued as the Rome's preferred method of execution for thousands (including Christians), a public spectacle to deter criminals and those who defied the Empire.
The struggle for justice witnesses the blood of countless victims. Whereas the count of victims is more dramatic in some parts of the world, there is no part of the world that is spared. Beyond the struggle for justice, there are victims of terrorism, victims of war, victims of human trafficking, victims of crime in the street. Poverty not only creates living victims, but desperate movements, in reaction to oppressive situations and with no viable alternative, crawl out of ghettoes, barrios, squatter areas, townships, refugee camps, and other areas of residential marginalization.
Hanging on the cross of oppression are victims of poverty, war, genocide, unjust civil practices ... the sad list goes on. And Pope Francis would add to that list the oppressed and ravaged natural world. Ignacio Ellacuría, a Jesuit priest, scholar, and educator in El Salvador and friend of Oscar Romero, saw as the mission of the church to "take the victims down from the cross". He and three other Jesuit priests, practicing a preferential option for the poor, as well as Oscar Romero himself, were brutally murdered by the Salvadoran military.
The people of the lie offer what Paul refers to in Corinthians (1 Cor 5:6-8) as "the old yeast" the yeast of malice and wickedness, spent and stale. Hard of heart, consumed with distraction, lost in pursuit of power, pleasure, or possession, they can cajole, attempt to convince, raise their voices in a wordless din; but they have nothing they can tell us.
The people of the Revolutionary Kingdom of God proclaim that Jesus the Christ has risen! The Christ's victory over sin and death is way through oppression to freedom; truth in a world of deception, illusion and calculated falsehood; life without end or limit. Paul continues that we should celebrate not with the old yeast but with the fresh, unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Easter is feast for those who struggle, bestowing courage, dignity, confidence and hope.
Today the people of the Revolutionary Kingdom of God have something to proclaim: in the streets, in the workplace, in the countryside, in the fields, in the hospital wards, in the back alleys. Today is the Breakthrough of peace, the Triumph of justice, the Validation of life!
Today we have something to proclaim. “We are Easter People and 'Alleluia' is our song!"
Jesus the Christ describes himself as a good shepherd who knows his sheep and his sheep know him. God’s sons and daughters, we are known by God!
We all have a hunger to know and be known. A simple revolutionary act is to know the other's name. Great oppression is enabled when we overlook the individuality of our brother or sister and fit him or her categorically into a group that can be ignored, dismissed, disdained, objectified, hated and prejudged. Abuse happens much more easily when we can depersonalize the victim. Genocide is made palpable by denigrating the humanity of a whole class of people.
As a revolutionary community, we are a place where we all have a name. And, as a community of service, we seek to know, as intimately as we can, those we serve. Once we give a name, we then can begin to replace ignorance with compassion and oppression with justice.
Christ the King
The Church chooses to make this, not December 31st, the last Sunday of the liturgical Year. Not unlike a poker player sitting quietly at the end of the table with a Royal Flush, the Church reserves this day to "tip its hand" and end the year in the triumph of Christ the King!
The world imagines a king in royal garments, living in a fine palace, with jewels on his fingers and a crown of gold on his head, holding the power of dominion over others. Apprehended as a criminal and sitting before Pilate, Jesus was hardly a “kingly” figure. Nor was there much luxury to be found in the “wooden tower” of the cross.
We have a King who reigns from the throne of a sickbed, a hospice, a hovel built on the side of a dumps where he earns his living, a cardboard box beneath an overpass that warms and shelters him at night, the back units of a mental institution or the strapped bed of the profoundly developmentally delayed. Our allegiance is to serve him there.
The God-Self is revealed in the healing Christ.
In Mark 1:40 - 45, the Christ chooses compassion over custom, righteousness over traditional morality, and dissidence over social boundaries.
The leper was legally, ritually and dogmatically excluded from the community. The diseased and shunned untouchable beseeched the Christ: "If you will, you can make me clean." Every sacred and social tradition forbade contact with a leper. And Jesus reached out his hand and touched him: "I will, be clean." The embrace of the Christ extended to the most extreme of the socially marginalized!
Love Your Enemy
To love the enemy is to refocus power so that their hold on society or on our lives is transformed. To love the oppressor is first of all an act of self-liberation. Secondly, it opens the possibility of liberating the oppressor from the ignorance and evil that maintains them in their positions of dominance.
Luke 14: 1, 7-14
In most of the world economics and politics conspire to create a social system where an "entitled" minority is buoyed up by the disenfranchisement, marginalization, and poverty of the majority. The Christ adds an"action step"to the formula of preparing a banquet: "When you give a fancy dinner, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; you will be blessed in their inability to offer you any money.” In sharing the table with the poor and disenfranchised, not only is there is a perceived loss of identity, which is associated with possession, control, status and privilege, but also a departure from the biases of class and the prevalent patron-client social system of Jesus time .
God is the both the Source of the evolutionary process and the End towards which evolution is ordered. God is both Alpha and Omega. At the same time, God participates in the process, joining with us as we make decisions and take steps into the future
Teleology comes from the Greek word, Teleos, meaning end or purpose. Teleology presumes that history is oriented to outcome, although not all existence will attain the actualization that is present in its potential. What oftentimes calls forth being to its full purpose is alignment between Teleos and Opportunity (sometimes referred to as "Serendipity"). Teilhard de Chardin, applying teleology to history and theology, sees creation straining toward the ultimate goal of evolution, which is God, the Omega.
Individual effort may seem purposeless in the wide sweep of evolution. Yet every little contribution has its significance. In the words of Chardin, God accompanies us "at the tip of my pen, my spade, my brush, my needle—of my heart and of my thought" as we strive towards the completion of desire.
Reading: Acts 1: 1-11
The Christ kept the apostles in suspense about what was to happen to them after he left, telling them to wait in Jerusalem for God's promise. The apostles' heads and hearts must have been filled with revolutionary ideas. Was this the time they had hoped for, ever since they began following him, when the kingdom of Israel finally was to be restored? Their dreams were met with a rebuke. God's dreams were far different.
We fall easily into our own or others' ambitious agendas. We have ideas of power and social change that we're ready to implement on a moment's notice. Unless we have learned to stand in wonder, as did the apostles when Jesus was lifted up on a cloud, our agendas do no match God's dream. Unless we stretch the boundaries of our imagination, we will be witnessing only our own pet projects.
“It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)
We live in an age of broken promises. From politicians to hawkers of products, from big corporations to our national mythmakers and soothsayers, disillusionment runs rampant. Where is the American dream when our young cannot afford homes, where is the land of opportunity for our immigrant community consigned to make our beds and pick our crops, where are the open spaces, fresh air, protection of our fragile environment and the improvement of the quality of life the land developers told us about? How can we pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps when the wealth of the world is jealously guarded by the 1% that controls the economy?
On Pentecost, we celebrate promise and fulfillment. Before Christ ascended, he gathered his followers and stretched the limits of their credulity with a wild promise: “I will not leave you orphans … The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”