Thursday, December 1, 2011

Elemental Change

Scripture for the 1st Sunday in Advent includes Isaiah 64:1-9, I Corinthians 1:3-9, and Mark 13:24-37

Our readings today are rich with images of transformation. Isaiah speaks of the visitation of God as if it were fire kindling dry wood, causing a pot of water to boil. God’s movement among us results in elemental change: chemical reaction ignites, physical states change, the unshakeable status quo is shaken, and no one is beyond being affected by what is beyond human expectation. All people may insist on their own ways, but all people are, says Isaiah, like clay on the wheel of a master potter, being shaped by a hand they do not see.

Mark’s Gospel shows Jesus foretelling fearsome transformation of our universe, everything we take for granted acting in opposition to what we expect: the sun to be darkened, and good night, moon! Stars will fall from their places, and the ordering of heaven will become a great swirling cataclysm, as God claps hands to, what, reverse the Big Bang? Clear the decks? However it’s described, this elemental change gathers from the four winds all of God’s people for the ultimate homecoming. And they must be awake and ready for that moment known only to God, or else they’ll miss it.

Which makes it sound as if there’s something God’s people must do at that moment. What is it?

Must they know a secret handshake? Have enough money? Own enough stuff? Know enough answers? Have accomplished enough… accomplishments? Been sufficiently generous?

No. According to Mark’s little parable, God’s people simply must hear the knock on the door signaling that the master of the house has come home and it’s time to throw open the door and welcome him.

That’s a good lesson for a baptismal Sunday. The elemental change that awaits Kimberly Rose this morning requires a pot of water, and the divine energy that touches it and will touch her is the spark of the Holy Spirit that will animate her transformation from being only a child of Eve and Adam (aka Ali and Mitch) into being more: child of God, member of Christ’s Body, inheritor of the kingdom of God.

And in line with Mark’s little parable, what qualifies Kimberly for this changed status that is so beyond human expectation? Nothing that she has done, and nothing that we will have done except to have heard the desire of God to pour out the abundance of divine love, amazing grace, upon this little girl, and to have co-operated with God to throw open the door of this moment for God to come home in her.

That is not where her transformation ends. It is where her elemental change begins. Yet, by the Church’s theology nothing more can ever qualify her for her place at the heavenly banquet. That place will have been set for all time and beyond. It will be for Kimberly to claim her place in the heart of God, and it will be for us, her family and her church family, to model for her what spiritual alertness is, what keeping awake is for, and what allows a good night’s sleep secure in the keeping of God.

These readings given to us to hear on the first day of a new season, Advent, deal in change and transformation. What do they give us for the journey through Advent?

Isaiah invites us to wait for God, because God works for those who wait for a keener timing than their own. This goes hand in glove with Mark’s parable, doesn’t it? Mark urges us to keep alert, keep awake as we experience two dimensions of time, one the kind a clock can measure—and in that kind of time we do the work and love the people we are given—while the other dimension of time is outside and beyond what a wrist watch can measure. It is from there that God works. To be sensitive to God’s time is the interest of both Isaiah and Mark. Mark announces that heaven and earth will pass away in the ticking-down of days and months and years, but the words of Jesus will not pass away. Though spoken once in ordinary time, they are spoken from the heart of God, from beyond time, and so the words of Jesus cradle us, nurse us, stimulate us to gladly do right and remember God in all our ways (to use Isaiah’s language). Our readings today give us the invitation—or is it the demand?—to read and ponder over and savor the Word of God in Advent. Little guide books are waiting for you today, on the back table, to help you do that.

On a day of baptism, we’re reminded of our crucial and central responsibility, to expose Kimberly to the words of Jesus who is the Word of God. On these few and fast days of Advent, we need reminding of how crucial and central it is to each of us that we expose ourselves to this Word, this same hearing of what Jesus says, so we may gladly do what Jesus does and be sensitive to all who knock on our doors in ordinary time, and be alert to the God who gives birth, aware of the shaping work of the master potter, and become more adept at recognizing the touch on our hearts of the one who owns the house we occupy.