Reflection: December 3 – ADVENT 1

Published on Dec 4th, 2017 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         While on retreat at the Ashram last weekend, I reflected on the end of the Church year and the beginning of the new year—happy New Year, by the way! I was thinking that often we believe that we are living in the worst of possible moments in terms of world events—that’s probably a truism across history. And so, it’s helpful to step back regularly, to pause and think about what we know, what we don’t know and not make assumptions about our place in history. Certainly, these are challenging times for us, for many species and for our planet in general…

BUT…

         But would it surprise you to know that the situation faced by Paul and the fledgeling Church of the Roman Empire in the 50’s of this Common Era—places like Corinth, Rome, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Colossae, Jerusalem, and other places—faced terrible situations. In Corinth, for example, Paul writes about the various challenges that the church faced: people were following different leaders and creating conflict; there were some sexual improprieties in the church community; church members were suing each in open court; there was elitism in the church community; there were different judgements about the gifts of the Spirit; there was division. That was just the church.

In the Roman Empire, a revolution was brewing in Palestine; Emperor Claudius was poisoned by Agrippina and Nero—ever heard of him—took over the Empire. There were other political intrigues in the capital of Rome, assassinations. Wars were occurring in different parts of the Empire; poverty and classism were rampant in the Roman Empire and anything that challenged the might of Rome was violently put down.

         And what does Paul do? He writes an affirming, positive and deeply hopeful letter about being the community of the faithful—1 Corinthians is actually thought to be a collection of several letter fragments. This is the letter that gives us: “love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” This is the letter in which Paul affirms the people of the Corinthian Church as being the saints of God; in verse 2 that we didn’t read this morning, we hear, “You have been holyized in the Anointed One, Jesus, called to be holy of God.” The literal meaning of the word is holyized, meaning, “to be made holy”, but I like holyized! The Greek, in this case, is hagios, which means holy. We get the word hagiography from this Greek root—hagiography refers to the study of saints. It’s an old Greek word that relates to awe, sacred, deep sanctity. Paul calls the Corinthian people in this difficult and challenging time saints, deeply holy people.

         To be holy is to be set aside for significant, divine work. Paul tells the Corinthian people that they have been called out of the world into community—divine work—and into love. Paul reminds them that God’s grace pervades their community and their lives, and that faith isn’t a noun; it is a verb to be lived. Grace is also one of those technical words that is connected to the same word that means both joy and gift. Grace—a free gift of love from God—is received and lived with joy.

         Claiming our holiness—our saintliness—living our faith, and responding with grace are how we are called to live today, too. While I was meditating at the Ashram, I reflected on the community there and read some passages by David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk; I’ve shown David’s video about “A Good Day.” He has a website devoted to living a life of gratitude; it is gratefulness.org and is full of humble wisdom and gentle compassion. The Ashram community—any monastic community, really—is fully engaged in the world, contrary to many assumptions. And reading David’s words about living as a contemplative in the world undergirded how we might approach the world and this new Advent season differently.

         David’s teaching is that we all have spiritual resources; we, too, are saints of God, blessed with grace to live with faith in the world, and called to live with gratitude. In other words, it’s all about hope. Gratitude and hope are deeply connected. I know that when I lose hope, my feelings of gratitude fall away. Or vice versa; when we don’t feel thankful for the gift of life, we lose hope. David, in the little book I read, helps us all to realize that we have had spiritual experiences that open us to grace-filled, hope-filled and thank-ful living, which is what we need in our world at every age.

         Yes, there are things to feel angry about and work we need to do. But, Paul wants to root us in holiness, grace and faith in order to carry this workout. And wasn’t this what Jesus embodied? This deep holiness, this assurance of grace and faith as a verb?

And so, on this Advent 1 Sunday, as we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child, we are reminded that Jesus has equipped us, too, to live fully in the world: to live with grace, to live with gratitude and to live with intention to further the KinDom that Jesus started. The signs of cynicism may be all around us, but it is our small acts of faith, love and grace, when combined, that create a huge wave of hope.

For me this Advent, I’m going to ride this wave of hope on my surfboard of holiness and faith—even though I’ve never, ever surfed! I’m going to delight in this wave of hope. I’m going to proclaim it. And I’m going to share it. Care to join me? Let’s ride this wave together. Amen.

 

 

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