Sunday, December 8, 2019

An Advent Smorgasbord.

Smorgasbord is an interesting word. It is a composite Swedish word referring to food (smorgas = bread and butter, bord = table). It is used to refer to what would be termed in English a buffet or, if a Spanish flavour is preferred, maybe Tapas. Of course, like many words Smorgasbord has taken on an additional meaning. The dictionary now defines it as “a wide range of something —a variety (”. 

So, my musings this morning are a smorgasbord — a variety of thoughts that occurred as I pondered the readings both this week and last week. I’m afraid, due to our Thanksgiving travel in very poor weather conditions I never got pen to paper — or more accurately finger to keyboard—last week. So, this week is a smorgasbord. To use the food analogy I invite readers to come to the table, pick a dish and chew on it this week!

Advent is a time of preparation. Time takes on a new significance as the countdown to the birth of the Christ child begins. Children begin to open their Advent calendars. Indeed, I sent three to my grandchildren in Bangkok so they could mark the time to Christmas. Our Advent wreath was taken from its storage place and furnished with new candles ready to mark the weeks. This new awareness of the passing of time is important. Marking time, treasuring each new day rather than rushing only from event to event is important. Make the journey count.

The Advent candles in the wreath are significant. Three purple ones represent hope, peace and love. The pink candle is for joy, reminding all who adhere to the tradition that there is joy in the middle of this serious time of preparation. In the centre stands the Christ Candle, lit at midnight on Christmas Eve to welcome the Christ Child. 

Last week the candle for hope was lit. Right at the beginning of the season there is hope. Hope, that whatever darkness surrounds one, light is coming. Hope, that is a driving force as one travels through life. Hope, that at the end of the journey there will be the Christ child to welcome. I don’t think it is insignificant that each of the four Sundays of Advent the candle is re-lit, each week hope shines out into the darkness.

This morning the second candle will be lit. Peace will shine alongside hope. Peace a much-needed commodity in these times. I am continually bombarded with media images and words about strife. Reading Facebook or listening to LBC (radio station of choice) I am constantly reminded of unrest in the world. Peace in the world is much needed. Yet, for today, and today only! I am going to say don’t look to the world but look at oneself.  Join me in determining to live at peace with all those who are come into contact with. Peace with fellow humans and peace with all sentient beings. In our household no animals will be harmed and eaten this year as Andy and I celebrate the coming of the Christ Child. The Old Testament reading (Isaiah 11: 1-10) speaks of a peaceable realm where humans and non-humans dwell in perfect harmony. Peace is often a hard to define quality, yet easily recognizable. I know when I am in the presence of a peaceful person — there is something about them that shines out. This advent, as I prepare to welcome the Christ Child, I want to work on being a person of peace. 

Last week the lectionary reading, the first one of Advent, talked about being ready. It is an interesting passage. The text is full of picturesque language about two people working together in various situation with one taken and one left behind (24: 36-44). As I read the story, I was reminded of a teaching I heard by James Dunn on the oral tradition. It made much sense to me and changed some of the way I viewed the scriptures. He talked about how various observed tribes communicated information orally. The core message always remained the same, but the method of communication was story of which the details changed. The details were unimportant, they were merely a conveyor of the truth. The relevant message is the core of truth. As I read this passage, I look for the core of truth, the significant sentence and I think it is “be ready”. People are urged to be ready. I think this is a comment on how lives are lived —don’t get caught up with trivia keep the focus on that which is important.

The message of preparation continues with the text for today (Matthew 3: 1-12). It is the story of John the Baptiser. I want to propose an alternative view of John rather than that of the wild man in the Wilderness. It is not new I have talked about it before.  As would be fitting for a child of a priest John may have been sent to the Essenes at Qumram (in the Wilderness) for training. The Essenes were a religious group which was smaller than the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were an ascetic monastic group who had a monastery at Qumram which was destroyed in 68CE by the Romans. It was on this site in 1947 the Dead Sea Scrolls were found 

Of course, this is just an alternative view. I propose it only for consideration and to hallenge the status quo. Like most of our attempts at interpretation and understanding of the scriptures it would be presumptuous to think this is the “right” or “only” way to understand the story of John the Baptiser. However, I find it helpful to think of John as a holy man emerging from the wilderness with the important task of announcing the arrival of the Christ Child. 

As this is becoming rather long (and possibly rambling!) I will offer only one more item on my smorgasbord. That is a brief consideration of the message of John. Actually, it is simply the message of advent reinforced. This is a time of preparation, a time to get ready. It is a time of self-examination. A time to see if one’s life is bearing “good fruit” (10). I want to remind myself that self-examination is not the same as self-condemnation. This is not a negative practice but one full of hope and peace as the journey through Advent continues towards the next milestone of joy.

May each person’s journey through Advent be significant, full of hope and peace.