Sunday, 4 December 2016

Entering into chaos

GospelMatthew 3:1-12 



In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said:
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’


The Church chooses these weeks of Advent to begin again;to turn again.  You will notice that the mass books have changed and where we were once in Year C we are now in Year A. The years follow the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. 

The Church doesn’t even try to fit all of John into one year but keeps his writings for special occasions. For some feasts we only ever hear John’s voice but the rest of the year we get to hear similar accounts from three different people.  Similar; but not the same. It seems that at no time could the Good News be constrained to a single account; the ministry of Jesus has never been reported through just one set of eyes; between the Gospels, Paul’s writings and the letters we have always heard the Good News in more ways than one.

Is this meant to confuse us; to keep us on our toes? Or does it reveal Jesus in a more human way? If any group of people were asked to talk about a friend there would be differences of opinion; of experience; of sharing.  

Which is what the Gospels give us; which is why they are worth reading; not just listening to on a Sunday when you have missed the rest of the week – like watching a soap opera with missing episodes – but sitting and reading them as full accounts. Or even reading two or three side by side and noticing the nuances in the voices. 

Mark and Matthew seem very alike; perhaps because they are both Jews. Alike, but not the same. The later thoughts of Matthew sometimes tremble with anger and a need for retribution. Matthew’s people are suffering; they are being cast out of the Temple; they are being told that they are no longer Jews.  Matthew puts the words of his frustration into the mouth of the Baptist.  

Matthew's words give us an understanding of the early church; its fears and its trials.  He speaks up against those who have tormented them and calls the Baptist's prophecies to rail against those who have hurt his community. The people who nodded in agreement to John's visions are the ones who had been turned away from hope.  Now that we are the 'organised church' which side of Matthew are we  standing on?

At this time of Advent we listen to John calling us to ‘turn again’ –to find our own path that doesn't rely on tradition or expectation but in faith in a God that desires justice and mercy. It almost feels like a Lenten message of penance and reconciliation; much as the early church celebrated Advent. 

I recently heard a wonderful description of mercy passed down from the Jesuit priest Fr James F Keenan. 'the willingness to enter into the chaos of another'.

Faith isn't a place of safety; it's the decision to undertake the journey into the unknown.  We make our own paths straight only by supporting other people in the reconstruction of theirs. At this time of year we are surrounded by requests for shows of 'mercy'. We are asked to enter into the chaos of poverty, homelessness and fear; for food and necessities for the Foodbank, tents and clothes for the homeless, nappies and feminine hygiene items for those human conditions we would rather not think about. 

Preparing the way for a struggling couple, in a land of strangers, trying to find a place for the woman to have her baby has never been more relevant than it is now. If we do not want to believe that John's curses are against us, then we are surrounded by the means to prove it. 

mairiegelling2016


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