Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Happy Way or the Sad Way

The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, the 1st Chapter
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Once upon a time there was a toddler.  It got to be time to get ready for bed so the voice of the parent cried out in the living room, “Honey, it’s bath time.”  But she was busy with her toys.  She was content in her little toddler world and did not want it to change.  So she said, “I NOT HAVE BATH!”  The parent said, “You can have a bath the happy way or the sad way.”  The parent, you see, will make certain the child has a bath.  It's what's best for the child.  The toddler’s only choice is to have it happen the happy way or the sad way?

Once upon a time, it got to be time for the world to work the way God intended the world to work from the beginning of creation… to work in a way where everyone had enough… enough food, enough shelter, enough dignity, enough justice, enough self worth, enough purpose… in other words it was time for the world to provide everyone with the abundant life God created them to have.  So, a voice cried out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  But the people of Isaiah’s day and the people in John the Baptist’s day and the people in our day… Well, we’re busy!  We’ve got packages to buy, careers to build, decorating to do, food to make, kids to raise, wealth to grow, trips to take and people to see.  We don’t want our little world to change as much as valleys filled in and mountains made flat, so we say, “I NOT PREPARE FOR THE WAY OF THE LORD!”  And the voice says in reply, “You can prepare for the way God wants the world to work the happy way or the sad way.”  Because God, you see, will have God’s creation work the way God intends it to work.  Our only choice in the matter is do we want that to happen the happy way or the sad way?  

It is unfortunate but toddlers are slow to learn and fast to test the will of their parent and for that reason, more times than seems sensible, the toddler chooses the sad way.  On those nights the toddler gets a bath, but the sad way means screaming, kicking, running, and flailing.  There are no toys in the tub, no soapy horns made with hair, no bath tub finger paints… no real joy.  There is only water, soap, shampoo, rinsing and drying.  But in the end… the toddler gets a bath.

It is unfortunate but the people of Isaiah’s day and the people in John the Baptist’s day and the people in our day are slow to learn and fast to test the will of God and for that reason, more times than seems sensible, we too choose the sad way.  In those times, God’s Kingdom still comes and God’s will is still done on earth as it is in heaven.  But choosing the sad way means it happens in the midst of inequality and hunger and violence and injustice.  There’s no time or money for the arts, there is kicking and screaming and violence of every sort, no rest for the weary… no real joy.  But make no mistake, no matter how much the people of Isaiah’s day or the people of John the Baptist’s day or the people of our day kick and scream, God will get God’s way with the world. 

But with each new day the happy way is an option again.  When the toddler chooses the happy way they pick up their toys and put them away… not perfectly, but they try.  They begin to get undressed… not perfectly… their big, toddler head gets stuck in their shirt, they forget they still have on one sock and inevitably get into the tub still wearing it.  They get distracted by the dog and run around the house naked and squealing for a bit… but over all, they’re doing their best to head in the direction of their bath.  

Each new day the happy way is always an option for us as well.  We can choose to prepare the way the Lord and stop living our lives focused only on ourselves and caring only for the people who look just like us.  We can begin to clean up our act.  We can look at our lives with a new and serious honesty.  We can see that we have some privilege we’ve never considered before, see the part that we’ve played, both passively and actively, in unjust systems.  We can open our eyes and begin to see our own brokenness and look for ways to address it in a healthy way so we don’t just pass it on to others.  We can begin to see our neighbors, people we’ve all too often looked past or even demonized and begin to see them instead as the beautiful gift to our lives that they are. 

We won’t do it perfectly.  We’ll get our big heads stuck for a bit, not wanting to admit we really didn’t get where we are all on our own.  We’ll get distracted and run around for a while chasing this or that and fail to see we’re still wearing one little sock of prejudice or privilege, even when we think we’ve shed it all.  But over all, we’ll be heading in the right direction… we’ll be preparing the way of the Lord.  

This was the choice laid out to the people of Isaiah’s day and the people of John the Baptist’s day and it’s the choice laid out for you and me again this Advent.  God will have creation be the way God intends it to be.  It's what's best for us and no amount of toddler-type tantrums will stop God’s Kingdom from coming.  So the choice is ours… as God’s beloved toddlers… how will we choose to prepare?  The happy way or the sad way?  I don’t know about you, but I think we should choose the happy way.  The chance to splash in the bath, playing with gifts of the Holy Spirit sounds like a life filled with the sort of joy I’m desperately longing for these dark days.  Amen.  

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