December 13, 2020 | Message from Dr. Blake
Are you the one to come?
For many, we are in the season of Advent, a time of anticipating, anticipating someone greater than we are to come, anticipating a time more noble than the present.
That something to come is the birth of the child, Jesus. According to the Biblical account, not everyone was joyfully anticipating his birth. Herod the Great, King of Judea, ordered the execution of all male children two years old or under in the vicinity of Bethlehem (currently occupied), the little town in which Jesus was to be born. This reign of terror is called the Massacre of the Innocents. It is difficult to believe that such a heinous crime could be undertaken just because Herod, paranoid due to his exploitation, feared that this child would grow into adulthood and challenge his throne.
It is even more difficult and disheartening to believe that over 2,000 years later according to UNICEF, 2018, approximately 3.1 million children die from undernutrition each year. Hunger and undernutrition contribute to more than half of global child deaths, as undernutrition can make children more vulnerable to illness and exacerbate disease. The hunger results from destructive policies against the poor.
Herod was unsuccessful in murdering Jesus because the father, Joseph, was warned in a dream and fled with the family to Egypt. So, the narrative goes.
Jesus did grow up and did in fact challenge the throne of the King, not in the way Herod had thought. Rather, it was that he “loosed something to change the shaken world.” He incarnated the role of teacher as Loren Eiseley describes it: The uses of a great professor are only partly to give us knowledge: his real purpose is to take his students beyond knowledge into the transcendental domain of the unknown, the future and the dream – to expand the limits of the human consciousness. In doing this he is creating the future in the minds of men.
News of the ministry of Jesus came to John (the one who baptized) while John was in prison. He sent his disciples to ask of Jesus: Are you the Coming One? The response of Jesus is instructive. He did not say “yes” or “no.” He responded: “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised.”
Jesus put the emphasis where it needed to be – on the work being done, the ministry being carried forth, the kin-dom being unfolded. He was fulfilling the agenda set forth by the prophet Isaiah for the one prophesied to come.
61:1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 61:2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 61:3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. 61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
Are you the Coming One?
Our opening hymn this morning was O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. O come, o come, God be with us. God, Emmanuel dwell with us.
O come, O come, Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel
This is a call to release the nation from its imprisonment, the various forms of imprisonment. And, for the nation to be freed from captivity, the people of the nation had to be liberated. Dr. Howard Thurman says of Jesus in his book Jesus And the Disinherited: Wherever his spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for he announced the good news that fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over them.”
I believe that each year as we sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and describe Jesus as the Prince of Peace, that the government shall be upon his shoulders, we are encouraged. There is a concern, however, that we relieve ourselves of our responsibility to be the Coming One, to embody peace, to make the government a government of, by, and for the people. We must not leave these responsibilities to Jesus. He has been called Lamb of God, not the scapegoat of humans. He did what he came to do. Now, we must do what we are alive to do.
In Clarence Jordan’s The Substance of Faith, the following words called to me: You can’t have great ideas in the abstract. They have to take flesh. Jesus had to have back of him a body of people who would share his ideals, share his convictions. . .. The Christian movement resorted more to fact than to argument. Those people were the direct evidence of “the kingdom.”
There is a song we often sing at this time of the year:
What a brilliant teacher Jesus is. In his sermon or lesson on the Mount which Jordan calls Stairway to Spiritual Life, Jesus asserts: You are the light of the world. A town on the top of a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp to put it under a bowl; they put it on a stand and it shines for all in the house. So your light is to shine before men, that they may see the good you do and glorify your Father in heaven.
This is not an idea that he shared only with his disciples, those that had taken the brave step of following him. No, he said that to the multitudes. Clearly, there was an abundance of strangers, people Jesus had never seen or had seen him. Nevertheless, he said that they were the light of the world.
Dare we think less of ourselves than what Jesus thought of strangers?
In the Jewish tradition, we are commemorating the Festival of Hanukkah, the Festival of Light.
Here is a meditation written many years ago and yet quite relevant for us today.
THE ETERNAL LIGHT
A candle is a small thing.
But one candle can light another.
And as it gives its flame to the other,
See how its own light . . . increases!
YOU ARE SUCH A LIGHT . . .
THROUGHOUT HISTORY children of darkness have tried to smother this passage of light from man to man. Throughout history dictators, large and small, have tried to darken, diminish and separate men by force.
But always in the end they fail. For always somewhere in the world the light remains; ready to burn its brightest where it is dark; . . .
And every free people has remained free by resisting those who would extinguish in men the light of freedom, of love, of truth. ...
Remembering this, we must recognize something much more than our indispensability to others. We must also remember their indispensability to us.
— Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Yes, Advent is a time of expectation. It is also a time when we affirm that: the people who were dwelling in the darkness have now seen a great light, those who were living in a land of shadows, upon them light has shone.
For unto us a child is born. Indeed, each day and night a child is born, just as each of us was born a child. And, Creation never fails to say: Wonderful, Mighty Listener, Embodiment of Peace, Responsible for the Government.
Dr. Thurman writes: All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. The birth of the child—life’s most dramatic answer to death—this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge.
The great poet, June Jordan, reminds us: We are the ones we have been waiting for.