As the tempo of terror rises, as the menace comes closer, we look for answers. What next? What should we do now? This Third Sunday of Advent, in anticipation of Christ’s coming, it’s John’s turn to give us answers… not to counter immediate tactical threats… but how to live in times of terror and beyond.
John is echoing the prophesies of Isaiah, calling on the people to Prepare ye the way of the Lord. His listeners are moved. They are inspired. But they are also confused. How exactly are they expected to prepare the way of the Lord? What should they do to make straight his path? They need specific guidance to make the rhetoric real. This is a problem familiar to Christians in all times. How do we translate scriptural teachings into meaningful, real-world behavior? Their reaction to John’s call is also familiar: What next? What should we do now?
John’s answers are straight to the point and precisely fit the lives of each of his listeners. To the soldier, he says: Don’t abuse your power. To the tax collector, he says: No cheating. To everyone he says: Share what you have with those who have not. These are the basics, the character-building blocking and tackling of a moral life. This is not yet the messianic message of love. As John is quick to add, he is not the Messiah. The Christ is coming. John’s job is to announce that coming and to tell us to prepare for it. This Advent, it is a job he is still working at under particularly trying circumstances.
We take inspiration from John’s eloquent and always applicable call to repent and prepare. To translate scripture into 21st Century action, John is telling us: Don’t be swept up in the traumatic events of the day. Live an examined life; get a grip on your purpose; compare it to your practice; correct your ways; comply with those of the Lord. You can spell it all out in just two sentences. It’s as simple and as complicated as: Give each day to God. He will give you back eternity.
David prayed: Keep me from paying attention to that which is worthless. What a perfect petition to guard us from the chaos that surrounds this Christmas. What to make of an evil that invades a Christmas luncheon and slaughters social workers bonding with their colleagues? What to make of Paris, Beirut, Syria, Iraq… and on and on? How easy it is to be to swept up in the chaos… to succumb to the fury of the moment. How human to rail against God for permitting evil to have its day.
For over fifty-years mathematicians and physicists have been developing a perspective to sort out random, inexplicable events… their causes, their results, their interactions. They call it Chaos Theory. Their hypothesis is that chaos exists only from moment to moment. Balance and harmony are the natural order. But they can only be seen from a requisite distance of time and space. As creatures with fallible, finite perspective we look for God’s hand in the immediate, forgetting that his dimension is infinite. And it is seen only through the eyes of faith… the faith that assures us in the midst of chaos that: All things work together for the good for those who love the Lord.
We are reminded to give these perilous, precious Advent days to God. Few of us are so spiritually mature that our daily communion with God flows organically and continuously. We need the discipline to set aside specific early morning time to get in touch with God, before our thoughts start to wander. Daily devotional scripture is always the best way to kick-start our prayer life. Then thank God. Tell him your plans and ask him: What should we do?
Start the morning as close to him as you possibly can. Then consciously stay with him through the day. Ask him for serenity. Ask him understanding. He is always listening. He always answers. And the answer is always the same. Live in his love. Turn to his word:
You… will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the daily pestilence… under his wings will you find refuge… You will not fear the terror of the night or the arrow that flies by day.
The answer to today’s chaos is eternal salvation:
Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who love my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble… and show them my salvation. Amen.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.