This week NPR reported on the closing of the infamous Cabrini-Green - a Chicago Housing Authority project - a crumbling cluster of high-rise housing that became symbolic of the concentration of poverty amidst a bustling and sometimes affluent city. The unexpected twist to many listeners who grew up with stories of the violence and crime in these "projects" was the grief and resistance expressed by long-time residents.
Rat-infested, crime-riddled...This was home. It has been community for those that had no choice but to live there. And now it is being take away.
Imagine a time when you sat in a committee meeting about a project for which you cared deeply and someone, perhaps new to the project, suggested a change. Did anyone at the table resist, saying, "We've never done it that way?" Or, "We tried that once before and it was a complete failure?" Bumps, warts and all, this beloved project needs protected from a future unseen, yes?
During this season of advent, we find ourselves claiming to wait for God to show up...for the incarnation to take place...for the Kingdom to appear...to take shape. But we wonder, are we really ready for and receptive to whatever actually shows up? Can we let go of our vision of the ideal to receive the reality of Emmanuel?
The prophet Isaiah describes an idyllic scene of dry places set to bloom, infirmity overcome, a clear path to follow. Consider the confusing times from which this writing came. Of course this sounded like a wonderful breakthrough. But did the Israelites experience the described reality? Ever? Or did they perhaps encounter it without recognizing it?
The psalm or the alternate reading from Luke (often called as the Magnificat - Mary's song of praise after the visit from Gabriel) are both joyful, willing and reverent responses to God. Let's spend a little time particularly with Mary's response. She's just been asked to conceive God's son out of wedlock in a society where women are stoned for sexual impropriety. Who will believe this? What does she risk by saying yes? Can she possibly envision what will come next, let alone what will come over thousands of years to follow?
James' epistle urges the community to be patient. Ha! Patient because the Lord is coming near. What does that even look like...patience?
Finally, from the gospel of Matthew, John has sent word to inquire whether this Jesus is really "the one." Now we don't know what John was expecting...but he had to ask clarifying questions. Jesus alludes to the visions of the prophet Isaiah...the blind will receive sight, the lame will walk, the deaf will hear. As they depart, Jesus turns to the gathered crowds and asks them to consider what they expected in the arrival and proclamation of John the Baptist. Did they expect the voice crying out to be clothed in soft robes? Did they expect preparation to be a light task? How willing were they to listen to this messenger and respond in faith? Is their faith colored by their preconceived notions?
In advent, we light one candle after another, watching and waiting. We sing O Come O Come Emmanuel. We remember a story of a precious baby born to a scared young woman in a cold stable. God touched the world in an unexpected way. How can we have any expectation of what happens next? Will we resist what shows up?
We've quoted Annie Dillard more than once: "It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews."
Lord, Prepare our hearts so that we are truly able to prepare the way...whatever that way may be.Amen.
© matt & laura norvell 2010 www.settingourstones.org
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