Weekly Liturgy : December 5-11
Third Week of Advent
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with a skin disease are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What, then, did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What, then, did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist, yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and violent people take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John came, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.
Let anyone with ears listen!
You may know this, but it’s fun to reflect on what the Jewish expectation of what the messiah was/is through the eyes of two teenage boys from 1920’s New York—Superman. Those boys drew and wrote what they thought the messiah was like. An otherworldly figure, with supernatural powers, who comes to earth to save all from violence and corruption. The figure is so popular and outstanding that the fictional character those boys imagined became an icon in itself. That’s right, the comic book character
Superman is the creation of messianic imagination and expectation. I bet John the Baptist is asking Jesus of Nazareth on some level here, “will you be the one breaking me out of prison, then?” I can only imagine what John the Baptist was thinking and feeling in prison. Even so, a major theme I do imagine is doubt. Doubt about God, about God’s power and promises of justice, about the whole arc of what was supposed to happen with the Godly life. If I had been him, I would be confused about how I found myself in prison—looking into a future of execution. I would be saying to myself, “this isn’t how I expected this story to end.” After all, there John the Baptist was, a voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the Messiah, even baptizing the holy one and hearing the booming voice of God say some incredible things about Jesus! Rather than a triumphant, glorious battle where the Roman Empire is defeated to be replaced by God’s kingdom, however, John is imprisoned. I, too, would be saying, “wait, Jesus, are you really the one who is to come, is there another?”
And if I’m being honest, that’s sort of what the “expectation” of Christmas is like for me. I’m expecting Superman-god to save our residents of our shelters from violent deaths, to change all political and economic systems so everyone has a house this Christmas! We’ve talked about Advent being a season of darkness waiting for the light of the world to come into existence, but the light of the world that does enter isn’t normally the one expected. It’s not a light that violently stops all violence, like Superman! The coming light is like what Jesus says, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with a skin disease are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” The justice of God is like this—healing for those that are seeking, belonging for those who are outcast, ignition of life into those who have lost hope. Jesus didn’t stop death from occurring—or John from being imprisoned—but Jesus did respond in such a way that made it ever clear that the light of God is present during the darkest times. Or said a different way, God intentionally suffers violence from the violent to be with God’s children in a healing way.
If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, may your heart be attuned to this infectious joy of God’s active intervention in our world of grief.
Outward Mindset Application
Next time you hear a friend/co-worker/family member bring up a concern, ask them, “what is the need you are wanting fulfilled in this situation?” Allow yourself to attune to those needs. Pathways Toward Centeredness There is a practice called “tonglen” that means “to share with.” The practice is meant to embed yourself within all others, sharing yourself willingly and intentionally, like Jesus, and sharing in others experience as your own. Pema Chödrön, an American Tibetian Buddhist nun in the Shambhala Buddhism tradition (2000), says Tonglen can start on the inhale and gives the instruction as follows: "On the in-breath, you breathe in whatever particular area, group of people, country, or even one particular person... maybe it’s not this more global situation, maybe it’s breathing in the physical discomfort and mental anguish of chemotherapy; of all the people who are undergoing chemotherapy. And if you’ve undergone chemotherapy and come out the other side, it’s very real to you. Or maybe it’s the pain of those who have lost loved ones; suddenly, or recently, unexpectedly or over a long period of time, some dying. But the in-breath is... you find some place on the planet in your personal life or something you know about, and you breathe in with the wish that those human beings or those mistreated animals or whoever it is, that they could be free of that suffering, and you breathe in with the longing to remove their suffering. And then you send out – just relax out... send enough space so that peoples’ hearts and minds feel big enough to live with their discomfort, their fear, their anger or their despair, or their physical or mental anguish. But you can also breathe out for those who have no food and drink, you can breathe out food and drink. For those who are homeless, you can breathe out/send them shelter. For those who are suffering in any way, you can send out safety, comfort. So in the in-breath you breathe in with the wish to take away the suffering, and breathe out with the wish to send comfort and happiness to the same people, animals, nations, or whatever it is you decide. Do this for an individual, or do this for large areas, and if you do this with more than one subject in mind, that’s fine… breathing in as fully as you can, radiating out as widely as you can."
Pema guiding a tonglen meditation. She gives an explanation of the practice and then starts the meditation around minute 2.
Questions for Reflection One of the beatitudes says, “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Reflect on instances where you or someone you love has suffered—how were you or are you comforted in that mourning? Who in your life can you share this comfort with as you align with others who mourn, too?