December 9, 2012


John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. – Luke 3: 3

   When we sin, our humanity is definitely diminished. The call to repentance is a call to restore our lost humanity. Jesus’ message, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” is an emphatically historical message. It says that history is moving with a purpose, toward a meeting with the King when the whole of creation will be renewed. Our Lord’s healing acts were performed within the everyday world plagued with disease & evil. Jesus does not offer an alternative to history – He calls us to confront history, to advance history toward its destiny.

   But there are times when we want to escape it all. The everyday world is filled with uncertainty, troublesome change & shattered hopes. Sometimes we try to use religion as an escape, a safe haven from the real world. Some Christians belittle the everyday world, as though it were somehow unreal, as if the only reality that matters is beyond history, securely insulated from time & change. But our Lord insists that we need both worlds.

   In the Old Testament, Yahweh is lord over things as they were, things as they are, & things as they will be. On the other hand, the surrounding religions gave legitimacy to the status quo. The God of the Hebrews is a God of social justice, transforming things as they are into things as they ought to be. Pagan divinities were satisfied with things as they are. There is a certain appeal to this.

   As Yahweh called the Israelites to venture forth into an unknown future, they became more fearful & more eager to embrace the predictability of the pagan gods. They murmured against the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt. Even if that security was an oppressive bondage, at least they knew what to expect from it. So they built themselves a golden calf.

   We too are tempted to build our own golden calf. We tire of the day-to-day struggle of faith, hope & love. But keeping the covenant is the key to understanding what we are about. We are pledged in faith to a covenant which is to be kept in history. It is not enough to hold certain ideas, nor to claim certain kinds of exclusive spiritual experiences. The Christian  keeps faith with what God is doing in history, in our own lives. We live in hope that God will ultimately fulfill his promise of “a new heaven & a new earth.”

   C.S. Lewis observed, “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become ineffective in this world. Aim at heaven & you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth & you will get neither.” An anxious mother was complaining to a friend about her children. “They don’t seem to appreciate all their father & I have given them,” she said. The friend replied, “Maybe you have tried to give them too much to live with & not enough to live for.”

   When John was proclaiming his message of repentance, he was saying it is time for a change. He did not simply announce the coming of Christ – he called for a response. He called for a whole new attitude & approach to life. When he was asked to elaborate, John replied “Let him who has two coats share with him who has none; & he who has food, let him do likewise” (Lk 3: 11).

   We dare not succumb to the temptations to escape. We dare not succumb to the immediate satisfactions of our consumer society’s golden calves. What we need most is to submit to Him who walked step-by-tedious-step to the cross, where He offered Himself totally to His Father. The faithful God who raised Him from the dead is today still keeping the new covenant, even though we falter. Our challenge is not to give up on the God who never gives up on us.

   One friend complained to another, “Why did God chose to make a world such as this? I could make a better world than this myself.” To which the friend replied, “That is the very reason God put you into this world, to make it a better world. Now go ahead & do your part.”  AMEN!