FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Prayer of the Day: Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection alert us to the threatening dangers of our sins, and redeem us for your life of justice, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Jeremiah 33:15.
We are hopelessly messianic. Though the Psalmist warns us “put not your trust in princes,” we tend to do just that. We can’t seem to rid ourselves of the notion that our most vexing problems could be solved by getting the right person in power implementing the right policies. For that reason, we fall prey to populist demagogues who manage to put a face (often the wrong one) on our deepest fears, who offer simplistic solutions to complex problems and who make wild promises they cannot possibly keep. Though they are not necessarily intelligent, they nevertheless possess a shrewd, rat-like understanding of what it takes to rise to the top. Instinctively, they know that attractive lies become truth to a gullible public through constant repetition and that “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” The Boxer, Simon & Garfunkel (1970). Sadly, the words of that song have proven themselves in every generation, including our own. We have followed all too readily these self proclaimed messiahs to our ruin and the ruin of millions ground up under the wheels of their egotistical fantasies. We seem incapable of resisting their siren calls.
This being the case, we might be tempted to look with a jaundiced eye upon Jeremiah’s promise of a “righteous branch” from the house of David. After all, we learned from the Hebrew Scriptures that many such Davidic branches (David himself, for that matter) left much to be desired in the way of righteousness. Last week Jesus warned his disciples to beware of persons proclaiming themselves to be the messiah. So how can we remain alert for signs of the coming of the Son of man? How can we know what we are looking for and when we have found it? Our gospel lesson for this Sunday gives us a clue. Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” Luke 21:32. “All things” must include “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Luke 21:27. The New Testament witness is that God’s messiah has come and that his glory has been manifested through his obedient life, faithful death and glorious resurrection.
Given the grim realities of our violent planet, it is hard to continue believing that the gentle reign of God in Jesus Christ is to become reality for the whole creation. It is difficult to discern any signs of that reality in the monotonous drone of what we mistakenly call “news.” It is not easy to imagine God’s will done on earth as in heaven under God’s righteous branch. Yet imagination is precisely what is most needed. The whole point of the prophets’ poetry, Jesus’ parables and the imagery employed by John of Patmos in the Book of Revelation is to jolt us out of our one dimensional way of thinking and tickle our imaginations. The Bible was written to break our fixation on what is and force us to catch a glimpse of what might be. Advent is the season of imagination, creativity and newness. In this dark age of fear, that sees no salvation beyond more guns, higher walls and stronger armies, Jesus’ disciples have the joyful task of offering a world full of broken promises, failed politics and worn out ideologies the precious gift of a holy imagination.
Here is a poem by Tracy K. Smith about the reawakening of imagination and its power to restore creation.
An Old Story
We were made to understand it would be
Terrible. Every small want, every niggling urge,
Every hate swollen to a kind of epic wind.
Livid, the land, and ravaged, like a rageful
Dream. The worst of us having taken over
And broken the rest utterly down.
A long age
Passed. When at last we knew how little
Would survive us—how little we had mended
Or built that was not now lost—something
Large and old awoke. And then our singing
Brought on a different manner of weather.
Then animals long believed gone crept down
From trees. We took new stock of one another.
We wept to be reminded of such color.
Source: Wade in the Water, (c. 2018 by Tracy K. Smith, pub. by Graywolf Press). Tracy K. Smith (b.1972) is an American poet and educator. She was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, but was raised in Fairfield, California. Her mother was a teacher and her father an engineer who worked on the Hubble telescope. Smith became interested in writing and poetry in elementary school where she was exposed to Emily Dickinson whose poetry had a profound influence throughout her formative years. She is currently serving as the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States, an office she assumed in 2017. She has since been nominated for a second term. She has published three collections of poetry and won the Pulitzer Prize for her 2011 volume Life on Mars. You can read more about Tracy K. Smith and sample more of her poetry on the Poetry Foundation website.