Wrestling With Who We Are To Be

Posted: April 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

Advent 2A, 2016

Matthew 3:1-12

Wrestling With Who We Are To Be

Here we are at the second week in the advent season and like last week the lectionary readings add complexity. Once again we are confronted with the possibility of recent tradition being wrong about the interpretation. Traditionally Christians have understood today’s stories from Isaiah and Matthew, as prophecies of Jesus. But… is this really the case?

Like last week we heard that Process theologian John Cobb, says: ‘Not really’. Then he goes on to suggest starting with Isaiah: “Jesus did not fulfil the prophecies of Isaiah in the way Isaiah expected….  for Isaiah the main point was about kingly succession… Whatever Jesus’ ancestry was, he was not what Isaiah expected.  He did not engage in royal judgement, administering justice to the poor.  Neither did he kill the wicked”  The question we are left with here is; Does this mean Christians have been wrong in seeing the Isaiah passage as an anticipation of Jesus?

Well! John Cobb continues: and he says; “In part, of course, they have erred.  But it is not wrong to view Jesus as a partial fulfilment of the hopes that Isaiah expressed” (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2007). So the best, or maybe the more honest things we can do or say, is: that we can affirm we can see in Jesus some of what Isaiah hoped for, and we can assert that Jesus was also different from what Isaiah considered ideal.

So here we are now…. into the Second Sunday in Advent, 2016 an we find Matthew, jumping 30 years or so in time in a matter of only a couple of short story chapters, introduces John the Baptizer, the so-called final prophet of Jesus’ coming, and places him centre stage for a moment.

In John the Baptizer then, we ask what have we got? Briefly and yet huge in meaning we see that in John’s preaching the nearness of the kingdom or realm or empire of God was a judgement that was designed to inspire fear in the disobedient – the insider. A top down change management plan inspiring change by making folk afraid, whereas what seems at one moment to be a subtle shift and yet takes the motivation for change in a totally new direction. We see in Jesus’ preaching the nearness of the kingdom or realm or empire of God was actually an invitation designed to inspire hope in the ‘common ones’ – the outsider. A different method and a different audience.

Here we have in a nutshell two different visions by which to reimagine a nation. Make a better nation by means of separating the wheat from the chaff, by empowering the economically elite or by empowering the poor. The challenge here is not to get caught in the partisan, and to see that ideologies and extreme positions can be taken over by the idea that when people are afraid good change happens. A judgement to inspire fear or an invitation to inspire hope is the choice.

And let’s be honest about this. Both visions have been used in the past (and still are used today), by Christians. The claim I am making here is that only one vision is a Jesus inspired vision, and it is the one which does not bombard people with issues of personal morality and sanctions called ‘sin’. I might even go as far as to say that I think personal morality is more culturally driven than individual choice but as a Jesus follower I would claim that only a vision based of change by invitation to be hope-filled has the capacity to re-imagine new possibilities for the world.

Like last week a couple of stories…… The first one highlights the complexity surrounding the options we have been talking about, fear verses hope as the means of change.

Some years back now Ukraine was in the middle of an election. And what was important about this election was that trouble was out on the streets. The result of the election was being disputed. The regular evening TV news was on air, coming from the government controlled TV station. A presenter was reading the script. Another was ‘signing’ so the deaf could also ‘hear’ the news.

But the news was what those in power wanted to say, rather than it being an account of what was actually happening. No mention of the protests or challenges to the validity of the voting system, was being mentioned.

In a moment of madness, some say, the signer stopped translating the set script. And instead, started to give her account of all the other events that were also happening.

She said she knew she would be sacked because of her actions, but felt she could no longer put up with the government’s lies and propaganda.

Immediately following the broadcast all the members of the news room came to her, not only to support her actions, but also to join the struggle against the government and it’s lies.

So began a new and different story. Fear was overcome by hope.

Now why tell this story?  What makes this an advent story? Well, for me and for others it is an advent story because it tells of how some sought to re-imagine new possibilities for their country. It is an advent story also because it began when the deaf – the outsiders when they were given the opportunity and the respect to ‘overhear’ what was going on!

Now back to the second story. Matthew is inviting his small Jewish community to ‘overhear’ some things, through the ‘signage’ called John the Baptizer. Developing alongside of and often in conflict with developing Jewish communities, it can’t have been easy for this small community. All groups were trying to form or reshape their own identities and allegiances among the people. And remembering that Matthew is a storyteller, he lets the community ‘overhear’ John talking, hoping they might see and hear themselves in these conversations.

In the hearing, they (and we) might sense something new and different is afoot. As one of Shirley Murray’s Christmas hymns suggests: “Now the star of Christmas shines into our day, 
points a new direction: change is on the way -
there’s another landscape
to be travelled through, there’s a new-born spirit broadening our view” (SEMurray/hos)

We still have a problem with the Advent Lectionary, and that problem is not in the stories but rather in their placement in the lectionary. They are placed there with purpose and their purpose is to present a mythical ‘Christ of faith’ back into the text, to justify a theological interpretation rather than to allow them to speak for themselves. This is often called the “Easter barrier” which has overpowered the ‘historical Jesus’.

And leave us with a mere shell called the God/man Jesus.


Like the challenge of Jesus verses John, the task is to see beyond the elevated, separated and mystified Jesus and find the demoted Jesus because then we will have a fully-fleshed demoted Jesus who is “available as the real founder of the Christian movement… A Jesus who is no longer its mythical icon, embedded in the untouchable place of the descending/ascending, dying/rising lord of the pagan mystery cults, but rather one of substance with us all”  (Funk 1996:306).

So this Advent two Sunday is an invitation to go beyond the Lectionary parameters and consider a couple of things…

First is a challenge to hear differently the kingdom, realm or empire that Jesus would see changed. From one driven by fear to one driven by hope. Keri Wehlander in her reflection called ‘Circles of Grace” invites us to see the invitation to choose hope over fear as a choice to see the little things of life as the most earthshattering changes we can participate in. Fear is a tapping into the power of violence whereas hope is the tapping into the power of the simple, everyday potential and the fragile in order that the change be sustainable and Jesus like.

Holy One: We live at mystery’s edge, Watching for a startling luminescence Or a word to guide us. In fragile occurrences You present yourself And we must pause to meet you.

Daily, there are glimmers, Reflections of a seamless mercy Revealed in common intricacies.

These circles of grace Spill out around us And announce that we are a part of you.

So! The first call this Advent Sunday is to consider the need for a fresh awareness of our creative capacity because inside each one of us is a marvelous creature with unlimited potential for good. Think perhaps of yourself as the avatar I spoke of a couple of weeks ago. The Christ-like earthling co-creating the world. In the words of our motto, Honour the Mind.

The second call is to consider the option of becoming a person infected or inspired by hope because it is the Creativity God who acts in and through us. And in that becoming we are one with the God in other people, who in their receiving our actions participate with us. In the words of our motto, Live the Questions.

And finally the call is to consider the invitation to re-tune our senses to a watchful present-ness of God in the ordinary, in the every-day, in the outsider, in the new. In the words of our motto, Explore the adventure of Humanity. Amen.

Notes: Funk, R. W. 1996.  Honest to Jesus. Jesus for a New Millennium. New York. HaprerCollins. Hope is Our Song. New hymns and songs from Aotearoa New Zealand. 2009. Palmerston North. New Zealand Hymnbook Trust.

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