A Life Exposed

Genesis 22: 1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Romans 8: 31-34; Mark 9: 2-10

The story of Abraham and Isaac that we hear from Genesis today is considered as one of the more bizarre stories we encounter in Scripture.  I mean, who in their right might would kill a child?  Who?  Especially this child and in this story.  We know that this child is all that Abraham and Sarah ever wanted.  They waited until their twilight years before Isaac arrives and now Abraham stands over him, not simply to sacrifice, but as the reading tells us, to slaughter him.  That’s what we hear.  It’s what we see today.  You know that almost half the people killed in Syria this week were children.  Children being slaughtered senselessly and yet here we are.

The story, though, is told in relation to the one that ends up being sacrificed.  It’s the ram that takes the place of Isaac in the story.  As much as Isaac stands as the vulnerable one, the ram comes with great symbolism in Scripture.  The ram represents power and strength.  It’s typically the leaders of the lambs because of it’s horns.  It has a natural sense of power and strength built into its structure.  However, as we hear in the reading today, the very gift of the ram, its horns, becomes its downfall.  All its power and strength gets it stuck in the thicket and so its power leads to its demise.  So what is it that Abraham is sacrificing.  The whole story not only tells us something about him but it also tells us something about the God that he believed in in his life.  Not only who would kill a child but what kind of God would want someone to kill a child.  Yet, there he was and there we are even to this very day.  Even in those early moments God is trying to reveal something more about God and what it is that Abraham needs to sacrifice.

This child and the ram have a message for Abraham as to what that is.  Here he is, about to hand the baton to Isaac, the inheritance, the legacy, the kingdom that has been promised, and yet is about to kill.  Maybe in those moments Abraham had doubts about the whole thing or maybe the eventual sacrifice opens the eyes, that it’s not the vulnerable one that is to be slaughtered but that sense of power and strength that the ram symbolizes.  More often than not, the vulnerable become the easy target, especially if they’re revealing something about ourselves that we’re uncomfortable with in life.  When we begin to feel as if our own power, or perceived power for that matter, are slipping from our fingers, we react against that vulnerability.  Yet, the child has something to expose us to.  That goes for your kids as well.  None of them turn out as you might have wanted but all along they expose us to ourselves.  Yeah, kids are kids, but they view the world in a very different way than ourselves.  They have yet to become jaded or beat down by the world and especially in those moments of great suffering, as was for Isaac, in their cry they expose us to what is most important.  Is it that power and strength that does more harm than good or that place of vulnerability, that child within, that continues to cry out to be loved and nurtured, exposing us to our own shortcomings and our buy-in to the illusion of power.

The same could be said of the disciples in today’s Gospel from Mark.  First thing they want to do after having this vision is set up shop.  They think this is what it’s all about and there’s no need to go any further.  They’re still clamoring for that same power and control.  Heck, as much as they say they won’t tell anyone it’s only a few verses later where they’re fighting with each other about who’s most important and who’s in charge, who it is that carries that horns of that ram.  For them, as it is for us, that sense of power, control, and perceived strength will always be our downfall.  The same will be true for the disciples.  It will not be until they find themselves in the most vulnerable of places, at the foot of the cross, before they begin to put the pieces together and see what this life is all about.  Until then, they’ll fight for power and be blinded by it’s gaze.  They can’t even seem to help themselves.

The Son has a great deal to teach and reveals not only the true to them but exposes them to their own shadow.  The Son, as Isaac does, points out what is often our real intention and our own selfishness.  All of this is why we so often encounter Jesus among the children, the poor, women, the sick and destitute.  They see the world so often from the bottom up because that’s how they lived their lives.  They were told they were worthless and often excluded from society.  Jesus raises them up and in doing so reveals the insecurity of the leaders of that day and the leaders of our own day and their own motivation for power.   The Son and the children have something to teach us and our exposing our own bankrupt culture, crying out for something more.  The question is, are we going to listen?

This season of Lent provides us the space to be challenged in such ways and what it is that we’re sacrificing in our own lives.  Are we sacrificing what is most important and dear to us all for the sake of power and position, agendas in our own lives.  We know the cost and is the cost worth the most vulnerable, the generation that we’re called to pass the baton to.  In faith, we know we will be alright but as I said, when it feels like that power is slipping away and we become exposed for who we really are, what’s left.  Abraham tells us, as does Paul, what’s left is all that matters, the most precious of all, the vulnerable and sacred lives that have been given to us.  We are at a critical point to ask such questions in our lives and world in the way we are to proceed.  Do we continue to seek the illusion of the horns, which will eventually bring us down anyway, or to listen to the powerless son in Isaac and the powerless Son in Christ, pointing us to something more, to that place of vulnerability where a life of faith, surrender, and trust can overflow.


Thrust Into Faith

Genesis 9: 8-15; IPeter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15

It would be hard for any of us to imagine what the families of the 17 killed in Parkland, FL are going through, or for that matter, any that have been killed in such horrific ways.  How on earth do you return to some semblance of normalcy and begin to pull your life back together again when faced with such trauma?  It would seem impossible because everything you know as normal is no more.  Everything that you knew of life is now clouded by events that took just seconds and minutes to unfold and you can never go back.  Time seems to be clocked now through that experience and all you can really do is push forward.  Push forward.  There’s not much else one can do and hopefully over time begin to rebuild a new sense of normal and a life that now stands in the shadows of such events.

I would think, though, that that’s what Noah experiences himself.  He has now witnessed the destruction of the earth and most of humanity, wiped off the face of the earth.  The natural inclination would be to hunker down inside the ark and stay where he was, wallowing in his own sense of grief and loss and never learning to trust again.  It could have been that in that moment, life comes to a standstill and Noah gives into fear and the sense of loss, ravaged by the hostile flood waters that have consumed the earth.  But Noah wrestles with it and looks for something beyond the destruction and the trauma faced by humanity.  He simply looks for some kind of sign that all will be well and that this God who has pledged commitment and love upon humanity and the earth will once again see them through the hostile waters into a new sense of life.  That doesn’t mean that they forget what has happened.  It’s nearly impossible to forget.  However, to make peace with the events and somehow reconcile with a humanity that has gone astray in order to push forward.  That sign for Noah comes in the form of a rainbow.  How many have lost people and simply wanted a sign reminding us that things are ok?  Noah saw that rainbow and was reminded of the everlasting covenant that God has made not just with Israel but will all humanity.  It seems, even for Noah, that the only way through the hostile waters or the arid desert as Jesus faces is to go through it, often clinging to what was but over time learning to let go, surrender, trust, and deepen the faith in that covenant that God remains.

Like Jesus, the hostile waters or the arid desert are often not of our choosing.  We often don’t get to decide what life throws at us or what the world throws at us.  None of the people or Parkland chose to enter into it.  Mark’s Gospel tells us today that Jesus is literally thrust into the desert.  Mindful that just prior to this is his baptism and his identity is revealed.  From that moment forward it will be challenged.  As Mark tells us, he will have to confront the wild beasts that thrive in the midst of the desert.  However, it’s not just the wild beasts out there that we learn to confront in our lives.  More often than not it’s the wild beasts that live within us that have a way of taking hold of our hearts and lives.  The worst part is, it’s the wild beasts that we tend to believe.  It’s the wild beasts of negativity and the voices that drag us down even deeper into despair that become so believable or are just easier to give into over time.  Yet, like Noah, there is only one way through and that’s pushing through the experience and allowing it to transform us.  It is so often the very place where we learn to trust and find faith in God because in the end, that’s all we really have anyway!  It’s literally all we have, faith and trust. 

There had to come a time when Noah stepped off that ark in order to begin life anew.  He had to pass through the hostile waters, unbeknownst to himself, just as we pass through the waters of baptism.  It’s where we learn to trust and put our faith in this God who has promised life from the very beginning of time and until we pass over from this life.  Our second reading from Peter today tells us of that pledge that God has made, not as a removal of dirt from our body but rather an interior change of heart and to begin our life anew.  Despite the hostilities of the world and our ongoing obsession with violence, witnessing such tragedies as we have this week and the persistent tragedy we see in this city, God still promises life.  Like Noah, it takes a first step off the ark into the ruins in order begin the process of rebuilding life but now through the lens of faith.

As we begin this season of Lent, we begin with that very promise and pledge from God about the eternal life that is given to each of us at this very moment.  We mustn’t find ourselves locked up inside the ark, trying to keep ourselves safe and secure through our illusions.  We mustn’t try to dance around the desert to avoid the aridness and the insecurity that we face in meeting the wild beasts.  More often than not and ready or not, the hostile waters and the arid desert will be thrust upon us and then the choice is ours as to how we proceed.  This season reminds us of the promise of passing through and pushing through the darkest moments of our lives, when we find ourselves unsure and questioning, that somehow life is assured and God will continue to literally pull us through in order to experience that fullness of life.  None of us can go back to what was before these moments.  All any of us can do, and the grace we pray for this Lent, is to trust and find faith in the promise once given and yet unfolding in a God who remains faithful to humanity and all living things.

A Matter of the Heart

Joel 2: 12-18; 2Cor 5: 20–6:2; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18

Happy Valentine’s Day!  I think it’s somewhat appropriate that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day would fall on the same day since they both deal with the same thing, matters of the heart, matters of love.  The Olympics are also in full-swing.  I don’t know if you saw Shaun White perform last night but he ended up winning the gold.  The guy is really a master at his sport in using that snowboard.  After his score was posted he simply fell to the ground and crying.  Even he couldn’t believe what had happened.  In listening to him afterwards they were comparing his time at the last Olympics and he had commented that he had all the skills, the maneuvers, everything, during the last Olympics but he said what was different this time compared to then was that his heart was in it this time.  It’s a matter of the heart and the wellness of that heart.

Most have been in that position and what it’s like when your heart is not into something.  Whether you’re an athlete, a musician, an actor, teacher, or even this priest, if your heart is not in it things just don’t click.  Michael Phelps made that comment before his final Olympics.  It was said of the Eagles in this Super Bowl.  It’s been said of people all the time.  It’s a matter of the heart.  It’s a matter of getting in touch with that heart in order to life our lives more fully.  We know what it’s like when everything clicks and our heart is into something.  It makes us feel alive.

It is the message that Jesus leaves with his disciples today on a portion of the tail end of the Beatitudes.  He tries to redirect the disciples to a different model from that of the Pharisees who were more about having the right words, the right acts, the right maneuvers, like Shaun White had mentioned, but there was no openness to a change of heart.  For that matter there’s no talk of a heart at all.  The way of the Pharisees thought the way to God was to make things look good to others, to grab the attention of others through their shallow acts of prayer and fasting, as if the more gloomy they look and somehow in some fabricated way living in pain that they will capture the attention of God as well. 

Quite honestly, any one of us can go and do that.  Any one of us can go through the motions through life, and many do, but they never get in touch with that deeper part of themselves and live from the heart.  The first reading challenges us today as we begin this season to come with our whole heart before the Lord.  We’re not always good with doing that.  Our lives become so preoccupied with getting the motions right and doing the right thing, the busyness of our lives, tasks, school work, sports, internet, that we never seem to have the time to simply slow ourselves down and get in touch with the very source of life within us, the place that nourishes, the place that allows us to live up to our fullest potential in life.  Like Shaun White, our desire is to have all our cylinders running and we begin to embody that very love that we celebrate this day, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day.

As we enter this season of Lent, together, because it is a journey we make as community, we come seeking that mindfulness of just how much and how easily we can become disconnected from our own hearts.  Somehow like the Pharisees we begin to tell ourselves that as long as I go through the motions, say the right words, and at times, even do the right thing perfectly, if our hearts aren’t there and we’re not open to a changed heart through the experience we just won’t experience the fullness of life that God desires of us and seeks us out for in order to experience all things clicking in our own lives.  It’s not only how our hearts are changed it in turn is how we change the world.  It is a day of the heart and of love.  It is a day that reminds us of a God that seeks out those hearts of ours in order to bring them back to life and to give us that life.  It is a God who is stirred to concern for his people, each of us individually and as community to become the best version of ourselves.  Return to me with your whole heart, Joel tells us in the first reading.  First and foremost, we return to that source of life within us, our very hearts that are so easily neglected in our lives, coming second to so many other things.  Yet, when our hearts aren’t in what we do we know what that is like.  When our hearts aren’t in our relationship with loved ones, but most especially with God, it’s not much different.  We pray for that grace, now, to return to the source of our lives, our hearts, so often in need of healing, attention, silence, space, and care of a God who loves and seeks us out in order to bring us to the fullness of life and to a place where everything clicks for us.  Maybe it doesn’t bring us the gold medal but it allows us to share in that experience of the fullness of life that this God promises each of us this day.





Leviticus 13: 1-2; 44-46; ICor 10: 31–11: 1; Mark 1: 40-45

I was listening to a podcast this week with Brené Brown.  If you don’t know her, she in some ways rose to fame with a TED Talk she had done a few years ago on vulnerability and has since written many books.  The episode I was listening to, she happened to be speaking about “belonging”.  Belonging, according to her, demands us to be who we are, our most authentic selves even if the group expects something else from us.  She would say that the deepest pain that we can experience is a loneliness that comes with not feeling like we belong, even within our own family and community.  The paradox, as she puts it, is that feeling of loneliness actually is fed when we try to live up to the expectations of the community rather than being our authentic selves, sacrificing our truest selves for the sake of a false sense of belonging.

This sense of belonging and not belonging strikes a cord many times in Scripture, especially in the healing stories of the lepers that we hear today.  Their separation, even more so, has nothing to do with their own choosing.  The community, the law, the authorities, and certainly the fears force the leper to be separated and not belonging to the community.  They are inflicted with the rejection of the community simply because their disability is seen with the naked eye.  It’s all based on this sense of being unclean and somehow they are going to pollute the community.  Yet, here comes Jesus.  His approach seems rather radical for the community and the leaders because he sees the leper for who he really is.  He’s going to step out of the comfort of the illusion of being clean to encounter the human person in their suffering and pain and their sense of separation that feeds into that lived reality.

We’ll hear many stories like it throughout the gospel and probably scratch our heads and why this is so much of a problem for the community and leaders of the time.  What happens when the leper returns to the community?  The leper simply shows back up like nothing ever happened and reintegrates into the community.  Or so we would think.  And we think that the leper even cares about such things anymore.  The healing that takes place with the leper has implications on the community and their way of thinking and their judgment of this fellow human being.  The judgment of the community upon the leper now becomes challenged and is also revealed in the healing of this guy.  Their own shortcoming and what they have deemed important is revealed along with the healing.  They will be left with a choice as the story goes on to whether believe in Jesus or continue to surrender themselves to the law, the prescriptions, the expectations, and most especially their fear and judgment.  That’s the rub that these healings invoke within the community.  We can be grateful for the healing, but we all know that the pain runs deeper and can the person stand as they really are, owning that sense of belonging now in the face of this newfound uncertainty.

As the story unfolds and we move into the Lenten Season, we’ll see that the community will move to this false sense of belonging, giving into the fear of the political and religious figures, around the common enemy in Jesus.  There will be an unwillingness to encounter these characters in the healing stories in their own humanity because meeting people in their own suffering reveals our own sense of worth, and lack there of at times.  It reveals our own insecurities on life.  It reveals our own fears and judgments that we have towards others who may be different, even when it’s not their own choice.  It reveals, at the heart of it, just how difficult it is for us to change in the face of it and to see what’s most important for and in our lives.  Their sense of belonging, the lepers and all the rest we encounter and who have been pushed to the margins for one reason or another, has nothing to do with us.  Brown will go onto say that it’s a matter of the heart.  It’s a matter of accepting ourselves as we are, belonging to ourselves, and ultimately belonging to the Christ.

Paul tells us in today’s second reading about imitating Christ as he has and that imitation comes in the form of going out and meeting the other as they are, as a human person.  Most of what divides us is of our own making and choosing.  The implications of our own sin not only impacts us but the life of the community.  We imitate the Christ when we show compassion, when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, when we meet suffering head on in our lives and in the other.  Paul understood that when he seeks the benefit of the many and not his own.  He understood his own insecurities and judgments but wasn’t going to allow his own thinking to prevent him from imitating Christ in that way.  If anything, Paul teaches us that our own sense of belonging comes first with an acceptance of our belonging in and with Christ.

The greatest paradox, more than anything, is these healings not only reveal the far reach that God has in trying to heal one who has been separated, rejected, unloved in going “outside the camp” as we hear in Leviticus.  When we recognize that our own sense of belonging has bearing on it, the demand of the Gospel is to do the same.  It’s much easier to give into the expectations of the community and the fear associated with not fitting in, being rejected, but the fullness of life and the restoration of that life can only come when we belong in and with Christ.  The implications of our own choices should weigh on our hearts.  As a community, a country, a world, we need to see the other as we are, as human persons, who are often hurting and suffering in less obvious ways that the leper and in need of that human contact that binds us as one.  When we feel we can’t, more often than not it’s our own fears, the expectations we’ve created, the laws and prescripts that have been decided on by the group, that prevents us from taking that step as Jesus does today out into the world so that what we do here really matters.  When we find our sense of belonging in Christ, we recognize that there is only one choice in who belongs and who doesn’t and it isn’t even ours to make.  When we see each other as human persons rather than our judgment then we all belong.


Anxious Hearts

Deut 18: 15-20; I Cor 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28

This is now the second or third week that Paul has addressed the community of Corinth on anxiety.  Of course, it’s something that remains prevalent in our own culture.  I’m sure there are many here that take medication for it to be able to cope.  Not that doesn’t help many, but it never allows us to get to the heart of the fear and anxiety that Paul speaks of because really the heart of anxiety is fear.  In our day, though, it’s only been magnified by the use of internet and social media and most definitely the 24/7 news cycle that just seems to bombard us at every waking moment about negativity and fear that only feeds into our own “unclean spirits” as Jesus speaks of rather than trusting the true voice of authority in Christ.

It must have been an issue that the community was aware of that they were willing to write it as a question for Paul in their correspondence.  Now it’s easy to get hung up on how Paul tackles this issues with married men, women, virgins, and the works, but we’d miss the point and once again avoid the deeper lying issue in the community and our own lives.  Getting hung up on the relational way or commitment way Paul handles it only become divisive and leads to greater anxiety.  First and foremost is this need to please.  He speaks of husbands trying to please their wives and wives trying to please their husbands and single people trying to please the Lord, but for Paul, it has nothing to with that.  It’s not about pleasing anyone else, our spouse, our boss, and institution or anything.  First and foremost, as he concludes today, it’s about conforming to Christ.  It’s learning to trust that deeper voice that leads to a greater sense of love and peace.  The challenge is, is that it tends to be the quieter of the voices, a hush from the Lord that tends to be overtaken by the noise around us, just as it was for the community of Corinth.

The irony is, they know the voice of the Christ but the more they are bombarded by the noise, fear, anger, and such, the more they begin to believe that’s the voice of authority only feeding in more to the unclean spirits within us.  We all have them and they love to be fed by anything that is going to feed them the lie that we’re something less than we are.  That’s not the prophetic voice that we hear of in today’s readings.  As a matter of fact, Paul will go onto say that that’s nothing but clashing cymbals and such, simply noise that comes from no greater depth.  I could only imagine what Paul would think today in the face of so much negative chatter, noise capturing our attentions, pulling us away from our truest selves, our deepest selves, the voice of authority in Christ that remains and yet often suffocated by the outside world.  It’s what this community of Corinth faced in trying to conform to the culture rather than to the Christ.

Even in today’s first reading, though, we hear of Moses speak of the prophetic voice that is to be raised up, which is more often than not how it happens, it has to rise up from deep within us.  It’s a lot of work, which makes medication and coping the easier answer.  For the community that Moses speaks to today it’s more about trusting fortunetellers and soothsayers that precedes this reading we hear.  They’re looking for guidance and direction from beyond themselves, and like Corinth, often succumb to the fear of believing.  The path to the prophetic voice takes a great deal of patience, and Moses will go onto say, a learning of how to discern these voices that work in our lives and recognize the voices that lead us to further fear and anxiety and learn to turn them off.  They are loud and unruly, often appealing to the worst of our instincts to react to everything that comes our way.  The prophetic voice requires that will rise up as Moses speaks requires silence and the space in order for that voice to grow.

We are only a week out from the disciples being called in Mark’s gospel and today they’re already thrown into the muck of it all.  As much as Mark’s focus is getting them to Jerusalem and the reality of the cross, Jerusalem has a way of finding them on the way.  Here they are, first stop, and it’s the Sabbath and they’re in the synagogue and Jesus is going to dispel the unclean spirits.  This whole process of following for these would-be disciples is about learning to trust the voice of the Christ in the midst of Jerusalem after Jerusalem.  Just like the people of Corinth they’ll slip into that fear and anxiety.  They’ll have to face the controversy of the religious and political authorities that feed on that fear and will try to appeal to their worst instincts, trying to pull them away from the Christ out of fearing rejection.  That need to please will leave them with, as Paul tells us, a divided heart which only leads to greater anxiety.  If it’s the prophetic voice, that voice of authority, it will continue to rise up until it is acknowledged and followed.  It’s what will see them through some of the most difficult times of their lives when Jerusalem is faced head on by the disciples and each of us.

We aren’t much different than these communities.  We’ve allowed the clashing cymbals to be the so-called prophetic voices in our lives, rooted in fear and insecurity.  We want things instantly and love to react to it all, especially the unclean spirits of our day and the amount of negativity that bombards us day in and day out that over time drowns out the voice of truth, love, peace.  It doesn’t mean that it’s easy or we’re naïve about the realities of the world, but the voice of authority, the voice of the Christ, the eternal, leads us to the deeper place, beyond the differences and divisiveness of our day.  Paul knows by experience, as does Moses.  It’s the journey we must be willing to take, to learn to discern the unclean spirits of our own lives that we’ve taken for granted and learned to trust.  They tend to have all the answers and try to convince us that we’re right and often unworthy.  The voice of God, though, is always breaking through, rising up, trying to remind us who we really are.  It’s that voice, and only that voice, that will take away our fear and anxiety and lead us to the fuller life we desire, a life of peace and a deeper awareness of God’s love.


Intimately Beyond

Isaiah 60: 1-6; Matthew 2: 1-12

We come to the final Sunday of the Christmas season and it gets bookended with Matthew’s version of the birth of Christ with the visit of the Magi and the star guiding their way.  Of course, even here we lump them all together to create our very own Charlie Brown Christmas but certainly not the intention of either Matthew or Luke, each having their own reasons as to why the story is told.  I’ve said before that Matthew is very much about change and an interior change that is necessary to be a follower and so there’s very little need to historical evidence of these events but very much when it comes to our spiritual life.

It is the rising of the stars appearance that sets these Magi on this journey to Bethlehem.  Many over the years have tried to give historical evidence even of the star, whether it’s a comet or something, but again, not Matthew’s point.  If we want evidence, facts, or certainty we’ve come to the wrong place.  It was common belief that everyone was given a star by these astrologers upon their birth into this world.  Yet something had to be different about this one that would set the astrologers on such an arduous journey themselves.  It’s rising must have set off an unrest within them that would send them seeking and now stand as the archetypal images of seeking of the more.  Not the more the world tries to offer but the seeking of the Christ that forces us to our knees in homage.  So they set out in search of the rising star.  A star that stands as a guiding principle, a seat of wisdom, of sorts that lies deep within them and yet still unknown.

There is another word we use often in our language that has star at its root.  The word we use is disaster, dis-star, meaning separated from one’s internal guide.  We even speak of our lives or such as a disaster when we feel out of sorts or feeling lost and confused.  Which leads us to the first stop of the Magi, Jerusalem, where they encounter disaster first hand in Herod.  Herod considers himself the center of the world and yet is filled with fear and paranoia when he hears of this rising star coming to the world stage.  Not only Herod, but all of Jerusalem with him, Matthew tells us.  Now certainly they knew what Herod was capable of and would see first hand his destruction and just how much of a disaster he was.  This rising star, not only a threat to Herod’s perceived power but very much to the status quo.  Even though this peace was rooted in fear it’s what they knew and what they could cling to.  They were certain of at least that.

The Magi quickly learn that Jerusalem in not the place of the Christ.  It’s going to be an opportunity for these journeymen to let go of their own perceived idea of the power they sought was not going to come from worldly position.  The most obvious place was the palace in Jerusalem and yet all they find there in the midst of wealth and status was fear, jealousy, secrets, and a guy who was most consumed by himself and the power he acquired through position than in seeking.  Herod himself stands as an archetype of the non-seeker, believing that authority comes from him and external authority.  He thinks it’s enough to send the Magi further to do the work for him.  Yet, as a writer who calls for interior change, Matthew understands that the work is done by ourselves.  We must make the journey ourselves while passing through the doors of death in Jerusalem, just as Jesus does as well.  Matthew mirrors Jesus’ own journey by passing through Jerusalem in order to experience the fullness of life that is promised. 

This all leads to the second journey, the journey into Bethlehem.  Notice that it appears in the writing of the gospel that the star seems to dissipate over Jerusalem and reappears as they begin the second journey.  Now having been stripped of their own expectations, the Magi open themselves and create the space within themselves to encounter the divine.  When they find their true home, not in some palace, but in the poverty of Bethlehem, everything begins to make sense.  They recognize that what they have sought they had all along and simply cast a shadow upon Herod and the status quo.  It was simply revealed to them who Herod really was and the emptiness of his supposed power, holding people hostage in fear and settling for the status quo. 

Mary and Joseph, in Matthew’s gospel are not exempt from making a similar journey.  They too will follow and be led by the rising star into Egypt.  They, and all of Israel, are invited to face their own history.  Egypt stood for everything Herod was, despite being a religious leader.  Egypt was the place of slavery, war, and fear for Israel.  Matthew calls them collectively to take this journey that the Magi do to shed light and to cast a shadow on where it is that they need to change and where they still cling to fear.  Like the infant passing through, the Magi passing through Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph passing through Egypt, and ultimately Jesus passing through Jerusalem, there’s no way around.  The journey to a fuller and free life is through our own Jerusalem.

The journey Matthew calls us to and the encounter with the Christ is a difficult one and arduous at best.  It’s long and it takes us to places we’d often rather not go.  No one wants to admit that we at times clamor for power, fear and are anxious, content with the status quo, want proof and certainty, and yet, everything about this feast and season tells us just the opposite of who we have been created to be.  Like Herod, no one else can do it for us.  Heck, we’re even content with living a disastrous life and settling for it in our Church, city, nation, and world.  It’s what we know and can be sure of, but lacks meaning and purpose and certainly shows how separated we’ve become from our own center.  Our faith and what we celebrate in this season points to freedom and liberation, more often than not, from ourselves.  Letting go of our own expectations, being led to the belly of the beast, and yet pushed even further to encounter what is real.  And in a moment, in a simple encounter, everything makes sense.  The Magi could not go home by the same route just as we cannot when we have this encounter with the Christ.  In that encounter the Magi see, for the first time, the real presence, and finally understand that the Christ has been with them all along this journey, when the divine of within encounters the divine beyond.

As we enter into the fullness of this season and begin to tell the story of how this gift is manifested, we pray for the grace to make the journey.  No one can do it for you and no one can tell you how to get there.  Everyone knows their Jerusalem and their Egypt that they need to encounter.  Slowly, the eternal Christ within begins to reveal what is real and the deeper truth of our own lives.  It takes courage and great grace.  But like the Magi, in our own unsettledness, we’re pushed forward and through so that we to can live the fullness of life.  Matthew desired something more from and for his community after witnessing the horrors of the world.  Our desire is the same.  The Magi point the way into our own Bethlehem, into the vulnerability of a heart that throbs and overflows with union.  When we allow ourselves the opportunity to make the journey we become transformed, liberated from a past that holds us back and clouds our vision in order to be led to a deeper understanding of this mystery that lead us to simply do as the Magi, to fall on our knees in homage recognizing that it was never about us but the Christ that calls us forth to new life.


A Liberated Critic

Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; 2Peter 3: 8-14; Mark 1: 1-8

The Advent Season raises up this rather peculiar character this week and next, John the Baptist.  He really is one of the more complex characters we encounter.  There is this rather hipster vibe that he portrays by what he wears and eats and just wandering out in the wild, the desert.  Yet, at the same time, he comes off as this rather fire and brimstone kind of guy, together just making him complex and very much a paradox to himself.  He is one of the great prophets, along with Isaiah, whom we hear from this season, pointing us, often, right into the desert.

The one thing about the Baptist, though, is that there is a sense of freedom and liberation about him.  In these very brief encounters, despite his strong words, it comes from a place within.  He even mentions today that one mightier than I is to come and he shows that in his words and actions.  He remains grounded as a prophet in the eternal Christ, giving him the freedom and integrity to be who he is, despite the hesitation of the leaders towards him at that time.  In John’s Gospel he’ll go onto say that I must decrease and he must increase, in reference to the Christ. 

We all have that prophetic voice within but all too often it becomes separated from the Christ leading more to a rather self-critical voice instead.  We all know what that’s like and have seen it in ourselves and others when it’s more about criticizing but not coming from a deeper place.  It is part of Israel’s storied history as it is ours.  If they are consistent with anything it’s separating themselves from the Eternal and they end up becoming their own worst enemy.  Here they are, again, moving out of Exile, a second exodus for Israel, and they quickly begin to return to their old ways.  They resort to their own critical voice and despite being led from exile remain far from free nor liberated from what it had done to them.  They become the source of discrimination, war, and oppression, clinging to an institutionalized god who no longer serves.  As a matter of fact, when we cling to the critical thoughts that aren’t grounded in the Christ, they begin to strangle the divine and squelch the voice of the Spirit working within.  Israel remains symbolic of our own story as individuals and nation.

Then there is the Baptist.  As I said, a rather peculiar fellow that we encounter and yet often feared by the religious and political leaders because of this liberating element to him.  More often than not they don’t like what he has to say.  They become his greatest critics, and as we know, eventually leads to his beheading.  Even that becomes symbolic of cutting off that place where so many of the self-critical thoughts come from.  That wasn’t the case with the Baptist though.  It’s what they never understood about him.  His prophetic voice wasn’t coming simply from some heady place.  It was coming from deep within his very foundation.  What appeared to them as fearful thoughts was actually the eternal working through the Baptist from deep within his heart and soul.  That’s the freedom and liberation that this complex character exemplified.  For John, this message of repentance, of totally turning around and looking at life differently, being grounded in the eternal is what it’s all about.  John never forgot his own place and it wasn’t the Christ.  One mightier than I is to come.  I must decrease and he must increase.  It’s the mantra of the season.

And so we have these two great prophets pointing the way to freedom and a deeper way of life, an about-face to be liberated for the eternal.  The avenue to that freedom, though, is through the desert.  Isaiah tells us “In the desert prepare the way”.  Other than when he’s jailed all we know of the Baptist is through this desert experience.  Many throughout our history have physically gone to the desert to experience the wildness of their own hearts and souls, to see what they were already feeling within.  Maybe that’s why so many are drawn to the Baptist at that time.  It becomes symbolic of the soul’s journey for so many in Scripture, the vast, wide, emptiness that we often fear becomes the place of transformation, freedom, awareness of our own critical voice and liberation from within.  Our lives and the about face is from being led from the external world to the interior world which holds the eternal.  This is what makes Isaiah and the Baptist who they are.  It’s what separates them, so often, from activists even of our own day.  It comes from the depths of their souls and they know it as truth, as the eternal.

Peter reminds us in the second reading today, thankfully, that God remains patient with us through this process of transformation.  The more the eternal is freed up from the strangle of the critical and we become aware that the critical is not God, the more we begin to experience not the institutionalized god we have come to know but rather the God of mystery and freedom, and true freedom at that.  Like Israel we can say we’re free all we want but if we’re still holding on from within we haven’t experienced the divine in that way.  Peter reminds us that what is not of God will all be dissolved anyway so why not open ourselves up to mystery and to the unknown God.  Be eager for peace.

As we continue this Advent journey and encounter these redeemed prophetic voices of Isaiah and the Baptist, we pray for the awareness in our own lives of that critical voice that is still in need of being liberated.  God desires so much more for each of us and yet we tend to settle for much less.  When we move from being led by that critical voice to being led by and with love, our lives are changed forever.  We, like the Baptist, are complex creatures often in need of love and redemption more than anything.  This season we’re invited into the desert of our own souls, with a very patient God, where a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day, to experience our lives and how we see ourselves and the world in a very different way.  No longer grounded in criticism, control, and fear, the institutionalized gods we create in our lives, but rather the God of love, freedom, and liberation, pointed to us by the Baptist himself.