Advent has arrived, and with it a new year of readings. So today the readings shift, and there are many new beginnings. We begin to encounter Isaiah, who jumps right in by giving the people an ear full about worship. He argues that God rejects their ritualized worship if it is not accompanied by genuine inner change – a change in one’s moral compass. In many ways this is what Advent is – a shift in our compass, a focus on new things, and a renewal and preparation for Christ’s return.
In Luke, the shift is very different. In tone and outreach, the words to us are stark. We pick up the story right after Jesus has purged the temple. Folks are trying to entrap him. The reading is one of these dramatic conflicts in the temple where Jesus authority is questioned. Jesus is evasive. They ask him point blank where he derives his authority, or from whom. He fires back with a question, instead of an answer: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”
Advent is about decisions. How are we going to spend our time? Shopping? Getting caught in the hustle and bustle of the world? Preparing for the cold winter ahead? Preparing our hearts and minds too?
Following Christ is not easy. Being a faithful follower is not easy. If it were, everyone would do it. It would be second nature, and there would be no reason to provide the Bible in the first place.
I like to think of the Bible as a mystery novel – with twists and turns. And only if you read the whole thing do you have the possibility of discovering some of its secrets. One can spend a lifetime in the Bible and not crack all the code. Those who quote individual verses out of context are so often beginning Christians who have not yet come to understand the breadth and depth of following Christ.
Some of my non-Christian friends wonder what exactly it means to follow Christ. Or why? Or how? In my youth, I would try to answer them to the best of my ability. Now, I say to them, “You wouldn’t understand. It’s a secret. Might as well give up before you start.” It turns out, this gauntlet-throw-down challenge is some of the best evangelism I have done! Everyone wants a challenge – to break the code, and be part of a secret society.
Perhaps we should be making it harder to become Christian, not easier. Then we would be more like the First Century Church. It was really hard to become a Christian then! It was an underground secret society. First you had to find these supposed Christians.
These days it is so easy to say, “I accept Jesus into my heart.” And I find a church full of folks who have no inkling what that means, nor the desire to figure it out.
As we prepare for Advent and Christmas, let us also commit to the deep, rich, complexity of the story, and yet the simplicity of it as well. And if anyone has any questions, don’t be surprised if I go into “challenge mode” and become evasive and answer it with another question.