Readings for Second Sunday of Advent December 9, 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Advent 2 December 9, 2007 Textweek

Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7,18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12


Advent Two, the second Sunday of Advent and we continue to wait, waiting for Christmas, waiting for the Child of Bethlehem. During this time of waiting, many, if not most of us, will also by some unseen force, be drawn back into childhood. We were taught and we experience that Christmas is a time for children and there’s just this subtle force at work that connects us to our roots and our memories. We get drawn back into our childhood and if we’re unaware of this subconscious movement, when we get through of Advent and encounter the revelation of Christmas, we shall meet child-meeting-child. Still a delightful encounter but in fact our fullness of self will fail to then encounter the Divine, because the two children will see each other and just enjoy that Christmas time together.

Isaiah speaks of a divine growing: ‘A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord’. The reading, the prophesy of Isaiah, is so easily understood as a pointing toward Jesus, and in doing so, also establishing a lineage for Jesus from the house of David. I think we need to question that traditional simplistic interpretation. For the one Isaiah speaks about is one on whom, it says in verse 2, ‘the spirit of the Lord shall rest’. He’s not pointing to the Lord, he’s pointing to ‘the one whom the spirit of the Lord shall rest’. It suggests therefore that Isaiah is speaking not about Jesus but about one on whom the spirit of Christ rests. This could be you and/ or it could be me.

We can actually come to the same point another way. If Isaiah was speaking about Jesus, if Isaiah is pointing to the coming of the Christ, if that is what Isaiah is speaking about, then when Christ comes he says, ‘The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together. …. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together’, etc, etc. Well, why has that not eventuated? I think it hasn’t eventuated because Isaiah is pointing to more than the Christ. And it raises the question has the early church made a cult out of Jesus and so in many respects, clouded the actual meaning of Christmas? Contemplate the idea that Christmas is not about Jesus, Christmas is not about a baby’s birthday. And my guess is that the moment you hear that and think about it, you know it isn’t - I know it’s not about a baby’s birthday, I know it is not about Jesus. Christmas, the nativity, is a story; it’s a narrative that tells of the Divine entering into humanity, not on the 25th of the twelfth in the year zero zero, but always, always and for ever, the divine entering into humanity.

Isaiah, speaking of the one on whom the spirit of the Lord shall rest says, in verse 3, ‘He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth’. Quantum mechanics already has opened up the sciences to the insight of Isaiah. It’s not the obvious, it’s not what we see and hear around us, rather it is the Word enfleshed, incarnate; it is the Divine within. In Mediaeval times, this was referred to as the soul – that part of us, that part of each and every one of us that knows the poor with righteousness, that knows equality with the meek and it is that part deep within, deep within, that seeks and desires to encounter the Christ child.

I’m reading a delightful book of essays at the moment, on the Hindu scriptures, The Gita, and as I read them I realise the beauty of reading the Bible in someone else’s language. It’s something we’re going to have to do; we’re going to have to do it. It’s a bit like global warming: it is very clear, we are not going to do anything, we’re sitting down fumbling. If you go to Germany they’re doing things, there are real targets set, there is a movement in the culture that’s addressing it. So what should we do, we should look at Germany, we should look at their language and see what they’re doing, we might learn something.

Same with holy scriptures – the Bible is a tricky thing to read, it’s very tricky. We need other texts to shed some light. Shakespeare’s a good starting point – if you want to have read during Advent, read some Shakespeare. But [in] all of the holy sacred scriptures in every tradition we’ve got the opportunity to tell the story that we seek in another language. I just want to read the opening of the part of this essay called, ‘The Divine Worker’, because it reflects exactly what we are seeing reflected in the Bible today.
‘To attain to the divine birth, a divinizing new birth of the soul to a higher consciousness, and to do divine works both as a means towards that before it is attained and as an expression of it after it is attained, is then all the Karmayoga of the Gita’ – this is the gospel of the Gita, to attain to the divine birth. ‘The Gita does not try to define works by any outward signs through which it can be recognisable to an external gaze’. ‘He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear’. ‘The Gita does not try to define works by the criticism of the world; it deliberately renounces even the ordinary ethical distinctions by which people seek to guide themselves in the light of the human reason. The signs by which it distinguishes divine works are all profoundly intimate and subjective. The stamp by which they are known is invisible, spiritual, supra-ethical. They are recognisable only by the light of the soul from which they come. For it says, what is action and what is inaction? To this even the sages are perplexed and deluded, because judging by practical, social, ethical, intellectual standards, they discriminate by accidentals and do not go to the root of the matter.’

Paul studied the scriptures within the confines of his religion. His blindness on the road to Damascus, when he starts making a journey, when he moves, he has blindness. That blindness opens his soul to see that which his eyes could not see. And in his letter to the Romans, he sees the harmony that is occasioned by his encounter of the Divine, the harmony that is occasioned when humanity and divinity meet. He sees no longer Jews and Gentiles, but one, and he utters for all that which is found in himself. In verse 13,
‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.’
Shorter passage [from the Gita], a few pages on:
‘Again the sign of the divine worker is that which is central to the divine consciousness itself, a perfect inner joy and peace, which depends upon nothing in the world for its source or its continuance. It is innate, it is the very stuff of the soul’s consciousness, it is the very nature of divine being.’
Interesting: Paul talking to the Romans, Sri Aurobindo writing on the Gita. They see in the soul the place of joy and peace. When you go home if you empty your letterbox you’ll be told that joy and peace can be found at Target, at Crazy Clark’s, at Myer’s and just about everywhere else around us. Clearly we’re asked to look within.

The Gospel today then gives another narrative of divine and human encounter. John appeared in the wilderness, the place of the soul. This is not the bush that he appeared in, he appeared in the place of the soul, the wilderness, the place where we’re not surrounded by all that distracts us from life. John comes out of his soul and he encounters Christmas. Why did John baptise Jesus and not the other way around? It’s not a theological riddle; it’s actually an icon of Christmas: it is an encounter of giving and receiving. It is an exchange – as we give to the divine so too the divine gives to us. Not consequentially – they’re not dependent one on the other – and not conditionally; it is the very process, the very nature of life. And it’s also the Gospel of Christ.

If we can find the place of John within ourselves, we too have the opportunity to baptise God. Over and over again we hear of God’s gift to us; maybe this Christmas we might ponder our part in the equation. What is our giving to the Divine? It is revealed in the life of Christ. As we ponder it, ponder also what is the place within from which we give to the divine; it’s not the same place that wraps up presents to give to family and friends; it’s another order of place within. Contemplate John as our forerunner, the one who goes before, leading the way. Contemplate John as a prototype, one who shows us the place and the part we play in the journey toward the divine. And then contemplate yourself baptising the Lord, an act of giving, an act of calling forth. What do we give, what can we give, and perhaps more importantly, what will we give?

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris<