09 December 2017

Sunday #2: Preparing the Way of the Lord, A bit of Advent Reading and Writing

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths: All flesh shall see the salvation of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
We all choose what is important for celebrating Advent well,--- what is necessary to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight his paths, to ready ourselves to see (i.e., to receive, understand, and to be transformed and transfigured by) the salvation of our God in Christ. This year I am going back to focus once again on the Lord's Prayer as one key to this preparation. I am spending my mornings doing lectio, study, and writing on this prayer. It has always been an incredible source of life, insight, and strength for me; two of my favorite authors, Tom Wright and Gerhard Ebeling write especially about the prayer in terms of Advent and waiting on the Lord.
One of Ebeling's most striking observations in his work, On Prayer, The Lord's Prayer in Today's World is an insight that transformed my own theology and understanding of prayer when I first read the book as an undergraduate @ 1973. Ebeling was writing about the petition, "Hallowed be Thy name," and said: [[. . .we ought not to tone down its amazing, and indeed offensive, aspect or reduce it to a mere act of reverent adoration before the glory of God. For this is the most necessary petition. In other words it is concerned with the greatest need, God's need. . . .we must pray to God on behalf of God: that he would take up his own cause, that he would assert himself as God, that he would come, that he would appear, that he would reveal himself, that he would arise as God, that he would in very truth become God. This is the deepest source of prayer: God himself compels us to this intercession for God, to this passionate longing, that God will become God.]] In this passage I think Ebeling captures two senses of the meaning of waiting on God: 1) looking forward to God's coming and to the fulfillment of God's purposes with anticipation, and 2) serving God and allowing our lives to be defined by this service.
I am reading two other books for Advent. The first is a new book by John Haught, The New Cosmic Story, Inside Our Awakening Universe. As we hear in some of the readings of Advent, we look forward to a new Heaven and a new Earth, not merely to going to an otherworldly Heaven. Theologically this means that we must look at ourselves, our religion, and our world very differently than we have in the past. It is the Christ event, the exhaustive Incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth, that is the key to understanding what this means, namely, that we human beings are embodied Spirit and that our ultimate hope is that the entire cosmos will be fulfilled in Christ. Human beings are not meant or made to be disembodied Spirit. Our souls yearn to be embodied and our ultimate form of existence will be embodied. As Ratzinger once explained in his book, Eschatology, as our souls are the form of our bodies, so do they "build a body about (around) themselves," and, after death, yearn for what our creeds affirm as the resurrection of the body. Meanwhile, science has "given us" a universe which is unfinished; our faith tells us that in Christ human beings play a part in helping creation be brought to fulfillment as a "new creation", "a new heaven and earth" --- just as we have a part in God becoming God!
The second book is Pagola's,  Jesus, A Historical Approximation. I first read this five or six years ago and return to it from time to time, rereading a section or two, and sometimes more. It is a beautiful book in every sense; it introduces us to the historical Jesus and his world without being either heavily academic or skeptical. It reads like the book of someone in love with Jesus even as it is informed by contemporary scholarship; certainly it can help with the preparation of one's mind and heart for the coming of Jesus. Especially, as I pray and work with Jesus' prayer, it is a book that can remind me of who Jesus was/is and how he related to his Abba --- it is a work that helps me see what the fulfillment of embodied Spirit (or embodied Word) is and does --- and thus, by participation in Christ, to the incarnation I am called to realize during Advent and beyond.
Meanwhile, Advent and Christmas are seasons when I sometimes do more outside the hermitage --- specifically, every couple of years or so I go to the movies two or even three times if there are good things showing or to a concert or ballet. (Sometimes I will go alone, but more often it is something I do with friends as a holiday celebration.) A week ago Friday my delegate and I met for about an hour and a half, had a light lunch, and then we went and saw the movie Wonder. We stopped for hamburgers (well, fillet o' fish) on the way home --- all (except for meeting together) things we do very rarely; it was an excellent day! I will try to write more about the movie separately, I think, but let me say here it was wonderful: inspiring, moving, and incredibly appropriate for the beginning of Advent (the scandal of the Incarnation and Isaiah's, "A little child shall lead them," comes to mind here!). My delegate's characterization was exactly right, I thought; she commented that what she most appreciated, "was everyone had their journey to make because of the presence and impact of this unique child!!!" And so, this wonderful story helped set the tone and prepare our hearts to meet Christ anew as we entered the season of Advent.