Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Message is Joy (Reflections on the Second Sunday in Advent)

This is the irrational season
where love blooms bright and wild
had Mary been filled with reason, 
there'd have been no room for the Child. - Madaleine L'Engle

Advent is the excavation of our hearts. We begin to clean, dust off the cobwebs of the year, the words we collected, the stories we've been harboring, the sorrows and wild joys. In Advent we are making ourselves ready for the coming of Emmanuel. God with us. This Advent season, I want to offer a few reflections every week, to excavate my own heart and to prepare for Him with you. 

Second Sunday of Advent

Merciful God, who sent thy messengers the prophets to 
preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: 
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, 
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our 
Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Cassandra was a beautiful woman in Troy. She caught the eye of Apollo, the Greek god of music and light, and her beauty was so much that he granted her the gift of prophecy. Surely, he thought to himself, she will love me back. But when Cassandra spurned his advances, Apollo cursed her, so that no one who heard her prophecies would believe her, although the prophecies would always come true. The people would hear beautiful Cassandra but would never believe her words. They would not change because of her. They would not trust her.

You could very well ask why in the world I am writing about Cassandra and Apollo in a reflection on the second Sunday of Advent. Sometime I treat God's revelation as a prophecy from Cassandra. I tell myself it's not true, that I am in control, that I don't need to change or alter or repent. I tell myself that, well, Jesus is coming, but what does that really mean, anyway. It's not like his coming will change anything. I stand in that crowd of people in Troy and scoff at beautiful Cassandra; I stand among the Israelites and listen to Isaiah:

"Comfort, comfort my people, 
   says your God. 
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 
   and proclaim to her 
that her hard service has been completed, 
   that her sin has been paid for, 
that she has received from the LORD’s hand 
   double for all her sins. A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
   the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert
   a highway for our God." (Isaiah 40.1-3)

... and I think, well, what difference does it make? 

But oh, Hilary! I want to whisper to myself as I read the collect this Sunday. It changes everything. The messengers do not bring devastating news of destruction. The prophets preach that we are about to receive Joy.

If you are at all like me, the prophets are a bit frightening. They speak with bright hope. They speak with such certainty, with such promise. I am scared of that. In my timid, doubting way, I fear just how much they are preparing me for - they are preparing the way for our salvation. They are preparing the way for the Joy of Jesus Christ.

The message is Joy. And in my small wondering heart, so full of doubts about myself and love and if-I-will-ever-measure-up-and-if-I-can-even-be-what-I-hope-to-be-and-if-He's-listening... the message changes everything. 

I urge you, dear friends, in this season of Advent, to hear the prophets preaching joy and to fill your heart with it. Drink in their words, even the hard words of how we must change and what we must confess. Go back to the well of their promises. Go back to the bright living hope that burns inside them.  And do not fear: for the message of Joy changes everything for good.

Prepare me the way, O Lord, and let my heart radiate the message of Joy.


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