This is the first week after Epiphany, and yesterday we celebrated the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. During this event, God proclaims that Jesus is His Son. Hence, this is a special day for us and we celebrate by repeating our vows or the vows that were said for us as an infant and by being sprinkled with water off of a rosemary branch. This is one of two central sacraments celebrated by the church. It is the initiation of each of us into the church, the body of Christ. There was a huge battle in the early church over the mark of membership into the church. Many felt that membership was marked by circumcision, which was a Jewish thing and signified that you were a member of the Jewish people who followed the law of Moses. That was fine for those Jewish males who joined the Way, but it did not work for women or Gentiles (anyone not a Jew). So Paul, with the backing of the church in Jerusalem, tossed out any physical mark of membership, making baptism the central requirement.
The third Sunday of Advent is marked by Matthew’s account of John’s imprisonment. One of the very important questions that John continues to have is whether his selection of Jesus as the chosen one was accurate. A not uncommon question for all of us at the end of our lives: Did I live my life well? Have I done any good? Have I made a difference for anyone? These are questions about our legacy. John’s question is about the legacy of Israel. Will the Kingdom come? Is there leadership that will make that happen? Jesus sent back a response that the sick were being made well, the deaf heard, the lame walked, the blind were able to see, lepers were cleansed, the dead raised, and the poor clothed and fed. These are all things that turned the world of John and Jesus upside down, as well as our own. They are marks of the Kingdom which Jesus brings about and that we are called to continue to bring about. It is the Kingdom that John has anticipated. It is a revolution for a revolution truly turns the world upside down. This is to say that what is usually called a revolution is NOT a revolution for it does NOT turn the world upside down. What Jesus was about was turning all of the categories of suffering upside down. John could rest easy in his prison cell.
This is the second Sunday of Advent and Matthew’s voice is no less ominous than the first (see 24:36-44 and 3:1-12). He is calling for the Pharisees and the Sadducees to repent for the Kingdom of God is near. It is the voice of John the Baptist that issues the call. He calls them a ‘brood of vipers’, a phrase that I associate with Matthew. Matthew writes his gospel to the Jewish community, but he recognizes that Jesus has many enemies in the community, including Sadducees and Pharisees who continually try to trick Jesus into breaking the law. We know this because he uses stories like Noah’s flood and the tracing Jesus’ ancestry to David so that he has a legitimate claim to the Kingdom. Jesus is the messiah that all Jews had anticipated. This is the message of John the Baptist who promises that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit, not with water.
This is the first Sunday of Advent 2019 and a change to Year A in the Lectionary. It is a new year on the Christian calendar. Do not expect it to be about Christmas yet. That is a Hallmark thing. Advent is a season of waiting. Waiting for God’s Kingdom and Matthew makes it sound like an ominous event. One will be taken and the other swept away when the Son of Man comes to the Kingdom. Matthew likens this event to Noah’s flood, a new creation. So don’t be caught sleeping. Be watchful! Be alert! This is no stocking filled, pretty paper event. God’s Kingdom is serious business. It will come about because we will share with others our belief in Jesus as the Son of God. A serious sharing that is quiet, not preachy; and love-filled, not syrupy. It is compassionate, firm and resilient. It does not look romantic. We are preparing for the tough work of sharing the word about the coming of God’s Kingdom.
Well, it is time to say “aloha” to Luke for three years. I choose “aloha” for it is a greeting of good-bye and hello. It acknowledges a change in relationship only and not a permanent one. I like Luke because he seems to give me down to earth guidance about loving my neighbor in graphic ways that I need to be aware of if I am to make a judgment about the treatment of immigrants, of allies, of partners, of myself. I learn about the kingdom of God for now as well as the future and am able to share in the visualization of the NOW if not for the future. Luke is concerned with the poor, the disenfranchised, the excluded, the exile, the Gentile, and while there are no easy answers to these questions, there are directions that will ease the pathos of the sufferer and direct us toward inclusion of the other. These are some of the important things that I will miss in our liturgical life together. What will you miss? Luke is Saint Peter’s gospel – our tutoring mission, our food pantry, our turkey gift at Thanksgiving, our clothing drive, our medical mission to Guatemala. While we do other things and not all of us do these things, all of us support these things and they define. We are concerned that people are fed and well and clothed. We are concerned that people are included. That is why I am sorry to see Luke go even for now.