Advent 2B; Mark 1; 12/10/17
Kathy and I are in a new era of our lives. We’ve been going through our belongings and furniture that suited us before but no longer fit in the lives that we are living here. We’ve been culling out old things that have meant much to us that we’ve been comfortable with but that are no longer truly useful in our lives here. We sometimes find mementos long forgotten which bring back many memories. It’s difficult to part with some things to which we have become attached but now that they are no longer useful, they get in the way. We’ve been adjusting to living from 5 acres, 3600 sq. ft. and 3 bedrooms to .28 acres, 1900 sq. ft with two bedrooms. It takes time to figure out what is helpful vs. what needs to be discarded; and in some cases what needs to be added. Sometimes I get tired of it all, and just stick it all in one room, like the garage and shut the door and try to put it out of my mind. I wonder if you might be like me, with anything in your lives that you like to put out of your mind and shut the door? But the mess is still there and needs to be cleaned up if we want to make full use of the house.
I believe this is also true in our spiritual lives. If we venture into the many rooms within the human heart we often find things long forgotten and undiscovered, long waiting to be addressed. This is why Advent is such a gift. I get to walk into the garage and the second bedroom and sit with the mess until I get some internal bearings and direction about what to keep, what to get rid of and where to put it. Same thing with the spiritual life. Sitting still for long enough to be able to ascertain the internal compass God gives us to sort through what to keep and what to discard—so that we know what direction to live. Advent is like removing the barriers that hinder us from passing by the Bethlehem road to the manger, so we can again, spend another year of our lives figuring out where Jesus wants to take us this year. Advent energy is about being aware—awakened is the term Jesus used, instead of busy. Our culture chooses busy and we are often swept up into it. We usually don’t put our decorations up until later in Advent because we need the empty space, not filled up with lights and glitter, so we can hear the voice in the wilderness within us crying out for God instead of a commercial substitute.
We know where we’ve been in the past but we really don’t know where Jesus will lead us this year. I hear many people say “same old, same old,” when they are asked how or where their lives are going. I often wonder if they really mean it. The Jesus of the Gospels never really stayed in one place long enough to say “same old, same old.” Yet he did stay in the One Place that really matters along the way: the place called the presence of God. So if life seems, “Same old, same old,” to us, perhaps we’re not taking enough time to listen.
There are many beliefs, attitudes and practices that no longer are helpful and block our path to God. Metaphorically, cleaning out the spiritual closets barriers to spiritual practice, mental attitudes, belief, behavioral habits and activity that impede our freedom to walk lightly on our path of being connected to God is the major message of Advent. John the Baptist believed this in his message of clearing a path.
Back then, roads were only cleared of refuse and repaired when a king or prince would make an official visit which could be many years apart. Local officials took great care that the refuse and rubble would be removed to prevent any delay in the royal visitor’s visit realizing that their rise and fall depended on the attention they would give to the clear path that they would provide. Clearing a path meant that people would prepare their lives by releasing those things that were not genuine piety, integrity and justice.
The difference between then and now, is that at this point in history, we’re not waiting for God to show up. God is already here. So this clearing of path is more now a lifestyle than a periodic event. We use Advent and Lent as times for pulling back from activity to an internal activity of assessing our spiritual lives, but in all truth, this is an ongoing process. The wisdom revealed in Proverbs, without a vision, the people perish held up to the present condition of our society reveals much about how John the Baptist’s message has been forgotten. Yet there is no need for despair, as despair is void of spiritual presence. The authentic spiritual life is one of attraction, wherein the love of God pours through with a Holy Libation that draws those who are aware of their thirst to the God who quenches all emptiness and thirst.
St. Benedict who was touched by this wisdom spoke in his Rule: Every day we begin again. “Beginning” from The Aramaic word, resha, refers to a new era that God brought through Jesus’ ministry and gospel. New era—brought a new way of being released from sins. The old era involved sublimating an animal to be sacrificed on a person’s behalf for no fault of its own. People in a sense blamed the goat. Now the era involves returning to God directly while sparing the animal and its natural outcome of living in prayer, humility, integrity and treating others justly in the presence of the Spirit. God will bring us through the wilderness to the Christ Child who will gradually lead us if we follow into paradise. Amen.