The Mystery Ahead

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Isa. 1:10-201 Thess. 1:1-10Luke 20:1-8

Happy New Year.

Yes you heard me right.  Advent has arrived, and with it a new year…a new liturgical year.  The Daily Office is a two-year cycle, and we have begun again with Year 1.

But more than that – it is a new year for the church – and messages of new beginnings fill our day, along with Advent hope.

We begin readings with Isaiah, who today is 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.

Paul begins his letter to the Thessalonians in traditional fashion, thanking God for their present activity and the way that the “gospel came to you not in world only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

In Luke the scene is set right after Jesus has purged the temple.  Folks are trying to entrap Jesus and the reading is a dramatic conflict where Jesus’ Temple 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?”

Since they don’t come up with an adequate answer, he decides not to answer their question.

Ever wondered why the Bible is so complex, deep, and arguably contradictory?  My thought is that if it was simple and vanilla, people would have stopped reading it a long time ago.  It is because of its richness that it reflects the human condition, which is also complex.  Life has no easy answers.

Jesus illuminates this today, as do Isaiah and Paul.  Following Christ is not easy.  Being faithful 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.

The Bible is more than a guidebook for right living. It is a Codebook.  Like a mystery novel it has 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.  And only those in the secret society can get it.”  It turns out, this is some of the best evangelism I have done recently.  Everyone wants to be part of a secret society.  Everyone wants to figure out the mystery.

It is only when I get elusive and refuse to answer that anyone has ever wanted to hear this minister mouth off about God.  Go figure.

Perhaps we should be making it harder to become Christian, not easier.

This would certainly be more like the First Century Church.  It was really hard to become a Christian back then.  It was an underground secret society.

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, and the mystery and depth of readings ahead, 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, I promise to be evasive and answer it with another question!

May joy fill your day.  And may the mystery of God enfold you.

-Matt

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