Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
During his 2008 campaign for president, Barack Obama told Jewish voters that his first name had the same Semitic root as the Hebrew Hebrew name "Baruch," meaning "A blessing.” See a clip on YouTube The American Heritage Dictionary confirmed his claim. Baruch has been a personal name for Jews for centuries.
In today’s passage, Baruch appeals to Jews to stop being whiners. He says what is needed is a change of clothes:
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God
Those who have been oppressed often find it hard to give up the mantle of their oppression. Whining becomes ‘second-nature,’ self-pity a familiar routine that bears witness, as if to say, “at least I am.”
To prepare himself to write “The Prisoner of Chillon,” George Gordon, Lord Byron spent many days and nights in the same prison where his narrator had been shackled. Byron imagines that the prisoner did not find it easy to be freed; freedom lacks the familiar details of the prison:
My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:--even I
Regained my freedom with a sigh.”
See my article “Abusing Literacy to Colonize Minds: Eight Scenes from a Travesty in which I track related examples from Alabama, Hong Kong, South Carolina, Georgia, and other former British dominions.
Advent is meant to be a time of repentance, a time to ‘re-think, re-think! for God’s realm is near!”
Saint Paul cautioned Christians in Rome “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think” (12:3). As a gay Christian and as a son of a dear Southern Baptist mother who raised guilt and self-pity to an art form, I find it much more challenging to think of myself with a much respect and care as God has for absolutely everybody.
Paul completed that verse, “Think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Baruch speaks more boldly, more imaginatively:
Put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
Both give counsel fit for a Quean like me, a challenging discipline for Advent.
Where is my tiara when I really need it?!
Canticle 16 is the Song of Zechariah from Luke’s gospel, 1:68-79. Zechariah was the father of John the Baptist, and had been struck dumb during the pregnancy of his wife Elizabeth. When Elizabeth and Zechariah presented the baby for circumcision, the priests asked her what name to give him. All who knew the couple expected them to name the child for his father, and when she said “John,” they were confused, as that was not a name commonly used in her family. Then Zechariah himself was freed from his affliction and spoke, “He shall be named ‘John.‘” The spirit then prompted Zechariah to proclaim the advent of Christ, with John as the prophet who goes before to prepare the way. Elizabeth and Mary were sisters; John and Jesus were first cousins.
A Jewish friend of mine cautions that we Christians are prone to read too much magic into the birth narratives. “Every Jewish mother,” she tells me, “thinks her son has bee sent by God. And here we have two Jewish sisters, one of them pregnant and the older, newly a mother, resolving a potential family conflict deciding the relationship between these two “sons of God.”
Quean Lutibelle imagines another witness concerned about what the birth of Jesus might mean:
Honey, I know what I saw and heard
and I swear the three fancy foreigners
spoke of a baby Jewish "king"
kept in a stable by peasants.
I was in my Yiddish drag cruising
a dishy census-taker at the inn
when I overheard them saying
this little baby would bring
"salvation" even to us Romans.
Someone had better tell Herod
there's going to be trouble.
-- Louie Crew
Swish Christmas, 1980. Postcard
Pangloss Papers 4.3 (1985): Used my Chinese pen name ‘Li Min Hua’
Dignity/Integrity Mid-Hudson 3.8 (August 1, 1990): 7
New Poetry 5.11 (June 1992): 14
Gay Place from April 1999.
What I like most is that Paul does not give them a set of rules to show them who is right or wrong. While he may hope they will side with him, his prayer for them is that “your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best” (1:9-10). Paul operates with several assumptions:
- We need knowledge.
- The knowledge must flow from love.
- We’re given the job “to determine what is best”;
- ‘what is best’ has not been pre-determined for us. It's ours to discover.
Wake up, Anglican Consultative Council. Wake up, Anglican Communion. Why are you trying to bypass this understanding of how God wants us to determine what is best? What love is overflowing from you for those who have come to conclusions different from yours as they and you try “to determine what is best” regarding lgbt people and those provinces which want to ordain and bless them?
Even put here in the NRSV, if you listen closely, you may have trouble hearing this text without the influence of George Frederic Handel:
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
In almost 36 years together, my husband has chosen many tee shirts, usually with an eye to fashion more than to politics, but with one of those dearest to him fashion was not the designers’ main concern:
My Advent prayer for us is that “our love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help us to determine what is best.”