Party at Sunrise

sunrise
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sbh/5335360630/">Stephen Heron</a>

Isaiah 9:2-7

People who were groping in the dark
Have been enlightened.
Dawn has broken
For those who were living in the night.

You have made the nation great,
You have heightened the nation’s joy,
They rejoice in your presence,
Like the revelry when the harvest is in,
Like when people are looting with gusto what’s left behind .

For the weight of their burdens
And the chains that bound them
And the night-sticks of their oppressors
Have been broken as on V-J Day.
All the boots of the marching soldiers
And all the bloody battle fatigues
Shall be burned as bonfire kindling.

For a child has been born
A son given
Who will be the one in command.
We’ll call him:
An amazing adviser, a powerful God,
Forever our founder, a peaceful ruler.
His empire will extend throughout the world
And finally bring a lasting peace.
He will restore David’s dynasty and empire,
And will administer it fairly and for the good,
So that it will never fall again.

The passion of God will make it happen.

Picture, if you will, the scenes you’ve seen of looters running from smashed storefronts, their faces lit with glee.

Picture the faces of inmates as they emerge from their cells in the midst of a mass jailbreak.

Picture the faces of victorious college students after a football game tossing the dorm furniture onto a huge bonfire.

Picture the faces of soldiers returning home to embrace their children.

Picture the Bacchus revelry of mardi gras or carnaval.

Picture the celebrations in the streets of Egypt and Libya earlier this year when people were celebrating their liberation from years under oppressive dictators.

Picture a party in celebration of the birth of a child.

Put it all together into a wild and jubilant celebration that in it’s wildness is just a little scary, the way in the recesses of your mind you begin to think, “Can this much celebration really be good? Or safe?”

That’s what Isaiah is saying it will be like when God makes it happen.

What happen?

Redemption. Resurrection. Freedom. Peace.

Of course all of these things will be the end of the world as we know it. And of course, none of these things is safe.

Go ahead, Isaiah says. Bring it.

Are You the Revolutionary?

His name is Punhal
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dfid/5330374561/">UK Dept. for International Development</a>

John 1:6-8, 19-28

God sent a man named John to be a witness
Vouching for the light
So by his testimony everyone could recognize it.
He wasn’t the light.
His job was to point to the light.

When Homeland Security sent interrogators from Washington to ask him, “Who are you?” this is what he said. He owned up to it. He didn’t shirk it off, but he stated plainly: “I’m not the Revolutionary you’re looking for.”

They asked him, “What then? Are you codename Elijah?”

He said, “I’m not.”

“Are you codename Truth-teller?”

“No,” he said.

So they asked him, “Who are you then? We need answers for those who sent us. What do you have to say for yourself?”

He said, “I’m the voice Isaiah was talking about, shouting in the desert, ‘Make a straight highway for God.'”

Some of the interrogators had been sent from the Legal Department. So they asked him, “Why are you bathing people, since you’re not the Revolutionary, nor Elijah, nor the Truth-teller?”

John said, “I just get people wet. There is someone among you – you don’t know who – who will come after me, and compared to him I’m unworthy even to untie his shoes.”

This all happened in Hickville, on the other side of the continental divide, where John was bathing people.

The first part, within the 4th gospel’s prologue-in-verse, is akin to the choir in a Greek tragedy letting the audience know what nobody within the dramatic circle “gets.”

The second part begins the gospel’s story, the theme of which is: the people who claim to be in charge of things just don’t get it, and the people you’d least expect to be important are.

In this scene, the paranoid protectors of the establishment send their lackeys out to a place that is of no geopolitical significance to shake down people with no geopolitical interest other than to be left alone. Bethany was a leper town nobody went to unless they were sick or dying or otherwise unclean. It’s the home of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9). It’s the place from which Lazarus’s family sent word that he was about to die (John 11:1-44).

But John was cleaning those unclean dying people up. Offering them a bath. A little sanitation. A chance to have someone care and listen to them before they shuffled off their mortal coils. And that anyone would offer help and meaning and human dignity to those who had been declared untouchable by the establishment was a threat. Who would do such a thing? What if he started a revolution?

As it turns out, it didn’t have to be the Revolutionary, or a larger-than-life hero returned from the dead. It was just John. It was just this guy who cared about sick people and rejects. Like the guy whose briefcase gets switched at the airport and suddenly finds himself mixed up in a world of international espionage. Could be anybody.

It could be anybody who sees and tends to the need of others where the rest of the world turns a blind eye. It could be you. In the 4th gospel’s world those who see and care are those who are really in charge, and they are the ones who see God.

But, because the 4th gospel is a drama about how the people who claim to be in charge aren’t and those who are of no geopolitical consequence really are, this turns out to be the incident that touches off the very Revolution they live in fear of. A Revolution the early Christians who told this story called Resurrection.

Here’s the Plan

Plans
Image credit: <a href="http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1012">Felixco, Inc.</a> via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mark 10:32-34

As they went along the road on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus began to get ahead of those who followed, who were incredulous and afraid. So Jesus took the twelve aside again and told them what to expect.

“Here’s the plan,” he said. “We’re going to Jerusalem, and the chosen one will be handed over to the thought police and the bureaucrats, and they’ll sentence him to death. They’ll hand him over to the heathen who will belittle him, spit on him, beat him and kill him. Then, three days after that, he’ll be back.”

The plan is to make such a spectacular display of the inhumanity and abuses of those in power that a movement of dissent to sweeps them from power. The plan is to inspire the sleeping masses to exercise their humanity and build a new peaceable kingdom.

Jesus knows that it’s a gambit. A pawn is intentionally sacrificed to achieve a strategic advantage and victory later on. Only Jesus isn’t asking someone else to be the pawn. He’s taking that on himself.

It’s a plan that gets implemented over and over again every time Jesus comes back to make a display inhumanity and abuse of power. It was the game plan Gandhi used to bring the British empire down. It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s plan for the civil rights movement in the United States. It was the game plan of Nelson Mandela in the South African movement to end apartheid. The chosen one is sacrificed. The empire falls.

Then whenever a new empire arises, at the right time (three days is a Biblical term for “the right time”) Jesus, the chosen one, returns to do it again.

And again. And again.

That’s the plan.

You Can Do Anything (When Nothing Is Beneath You)

Hands togetherPhilippians 2:1-13

(See also, Daily Reading comments on Philippians 2:1-4 and Philippians 2:13-15.)

So then, if Jesus encourages you, if love comforts you, if you would share a greater purpose, if you yearn for community, then I’d rejoice to see you work through your differences, love one another, stick together, and find points of agreement. Don’t do things just to promote yourself; try to give someone else a lift. And, among you, it’s not “every man for himself,” rather seek the common good.

Be like Jesus:

Being as God, for him, wasn’t the point.
Instead he gave himself away,
Becoming a nobody, becoming human.

And being fully human, nothing was beneath him –
Not even, to achieve God’s aim, crucifixion.

So God esteemed him,
And put his name first on the list.
This is why we bow to him,
Whether we’re in heaven, on earth, or in the pits.
This is why we call him our Leader.

So then, as you have always done as I have asked, not only when I was with you, but also since I’ve been gone, I’m asking you now to do the work. Your salvation is in our own hands; and God’s desire for good finds expression in your longings and in your work.

It’s widely agreed that the central poem here is probably a hymn sung in the first generation church. In the original, I’m sure it was beautiful and mystical. But the message in the music is that to be divine, that to really and fully live, one must become fully human. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what Paul says those who follow him must do.

It makes perfect sense. We’re human; humanity is all we’ve got. So long as we try to be something else, that something else isn’t real but a fantasy, a projection, an empty wish.

I’m convinced that if church (or any other institution) could be more about getting in touch with our humanity rather than trying to buy an entrance into heaven, it would be more successful. Not to mention more faithful.

The power of being fully human is highly underestimated by many people. But as the hymn suggests, once you are fully human, that’s when you can do anything to achieve a greater, even divine, goal. The first generation church realized that this was what the life and death of Jesus demonstrated. And it was so powerful they called its discovery, “Resurrection.”