Are you ready? Do not be afraid; God is with us

Are you ready? Are we ready?

We have waited….in silence…..and sound…….with anticipation……and expectation…..for what? We have come to the climax of our Advent preparation. But are we ready for the Coming One?

In this Advent season, how have you been made ready? What has struck you or startled you? Touched you or troubled you? Inspired you or inconvenienced you? Perhaps it has been in worship or during the week. Perhaps it has been something you have seen or heard or felt or dreamed.  What is this Advent of your preparation for Christ’s coming doing to you?

Our readiness for the Advent of Jesus Christ is far more than checking off our long Christmas list. It is something that is being done to us and that we respond to and enter into with God who is with us in the world.

Who then shall save us?

Our scriptures help paint the picture and point the way….the way of Jesus.  In Psalm 80 that we prayed together, God’s people rightly call out: “Restore us, O God; let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved.”  God’s people, at their best and most faithful, know that God is the giver and restorer of life.

The prophet Isaiah names the sign of God’s coming in an unexpected expecting young woman who will birth a baby named Immanuel. This child will grow up refusing evil and choosing good so that we can do the same.

Matthew’s gospel has Joseph following dreams rather than his own instincts to become an instrument of God’s coming into the world in Jesus. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him “Do not be afraid” and “take Mary as your wife.” The angel in Matthew’s dream recalls Isaiah’s prophesy that, ‘a virgin shall conceive and bear a son who will be named Immanuel which means ‘God is with us.’ Joseph believed and lived his dream.

If that seems obvious to us it surely wasn’t for Joseph. But he trusted and lived his “yes” to this impossible dream.  Joseph’s amazing “yes” to the angel in Matthew equals Mary’s amazing “yes” to the angel in Luke’s gospel. This utterly ordinary couple and their readiness to respond with their “yes” became God’s entry into the world in an entirely new way.  Their “Yes” changed the world forever.

Daring to Dream

This Advent we are called to listen to the life-giving dream coming to birth within us – a dream that has to do with Jesus’ presence for peace to save the world.

Bob Dylan was once asked by an interviewer about his future plans. Dylan replied, “I’m looking forward to some dreams.” The puzzled interviewer said, “Excuse me.” Dylan explained, “It says right there in the Bible, ‘your young men and women will see visions, and your older men and women will dream dreams.’ I’m ready for some dreams.”  (John Dear, “Joseph and Mary’s Advent vision,” NCRonline 12/14/10)

Dylan, was referring to the prophet Joel in the Old Testament but he could just as well have been referring to Joseph and Mary. As great as Bob Dylan is it is hard to hold him up alongside Joseph, although he has turned some good dreams into great music. Nevertheless, Dylan is onto something in his desire to dream of the world to come and see those dreams come to life.

Joseph lived wholly into Advent. He is made ready to do the will of God even when it cuts against the grain of tradition. Joseph’s advent moment comes in two dreams. Here he hears that Mary, the young pregnant woman to whom he is engaged is not to be quietly divorced and put away even though tradition would have it so. He learns that the baby Mary is carrying within her is the coming Holy One and his response and responsibility is to care for mother and child. Joseph is open to God changing his heart and mind and becoming father to God’s nonviolent love coming into the world.

“By saying ‘Yes’ to the movement of God in his dreams Joseph becomes the father of nonviolent love who risks his life and reputation to protect mother and child. Later on, in a second dream, he discerns God’s spirit leading them out of harm’s way so the child might have a chance. We hear that gospel next Sunday immediately after Christmas. Joseph invites all of us to follow [The Way of loving] nonviolence, compassionate care, and wise discernment….His dream of doing God’s will – fulfilling his part in the story of God – comes true” (John Dear).

Mary, of course, also lives her ‘Yes” to God and gives birth to God coming into the world. Through her obedient being and body comes Immanuel – God is with us.

This Advent and always we are called to join Joseph and Mary today giving birth to Jesus in the world.

Other dreams give birth to Jesus

On the second Sunday of Advent, two weeks ago, we remembered four ordinary women with extraordinary commitment who were killed for their faith 30 years ago. These four women in El Salvador were so completely non-threatening to the “the least of these” that they were completely threatening to the imperial powers in their country and ours. They gave their lives to their dreams and for their dreams of the nonviolent love of God coming into the world.

To culminate our Advent I want to share a brief glimpse of dreamers like Joseph and the four women of El Salvador who listened to God and let Jesus come into the world in them.

Shelley Douglass, who along with her husband Jim, founded Mary’s House in Birmingham, Alabama, writes in the December Sojourners:  “Advent hope is not that a pretty baby will appear in a manger and sales will rise and the economy will resurrect. Advent hope is that empire will fall….and that we will [be] transform[ed]…” (p. 9).

For the past few weeks in a courtroom in Tacoma a trial has gone on. Who followed it? Or even heard about it? It was largely ignored by the media, the rulers, and the people. Daily I looked in vain in The Seattle Times and finally read one small article after the trial was over (12/14/10, B2).

Five members of the “Disarm Now Plowshares” group – Bill Bichsel, Susan Crane, Lynne Greenwald, Steve Kelly, and Anne Montgomery – were convicted of heeding Isaiah’s vision to beat swords into plowshares. Sanitized legal language convicted them of “conspiracy, trespass, and destruction of property” but this is the prophet Isaiah at work in the face of empire whose god is nuclear weapons.

Early in Advent 89-year-old Dan Berrigan spoke about Dorothy Day on the 30th anniversary of Dorothy’s death. In quintessential prophetic poetry Berrigan called for Christian peacemakers to persevere in the face of persecution. “You have no right to tie yourself in knots because you want to know the outcome of what you are doing. Don’t, no, no. Let it go. Let it go into history. Let it go into Christ. Let it go into the children. Play it and pray it well.” He went on to share Dorothy Day’s wisdom for the long haul that he has lived, “I am going to turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. I may never see the transformation myself. It makes no difference. I shall do it.” (NCRonline 12/8/10)

Or another Advent dreamer is Joe the gardener right here in our midst in community ministry. Joe’s passion for growing things even as we head into winter is a powerful sign of Advent hope and life growing among us. Another Advent dreamer among us is Kelli McBride’s passion for helping people find work through Vital Jobs. Immanuel has come, God is with us.

Then there is Gregory Boyle, the pastor in East Los Angeles who embodies nonviolent love in one of the most violent places in the country where gang warfare rules the day and night. In his new book Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle tells what it means when “kids I love kill kids I love.”

Greg Boyle’s life is a plea for “all of us to join in the ‘no matter whatness’ of God’s unconditional love” (Aaron McCarroll Gallegos, “Love, No Matter What,” Sojourners, December 2010, p. 44).

This unconditional love of God is how God comes into the world in Jesus Christ. In a few months Neah Ortman will be a member of a Gonzaga service team in Greg Boyle’s ministry in East LA.

Several days ago Dorothy Friesen, wife of Gene Stoltzfus who died last March, called to tell me that she is preparing a book of Gene’s writings, sermon, and stories from Christian Peacemaker Teams and other peacemaking efforts.

Finally, one of my first mentors in ministry, now well into his 80s and still a prophetic peace witness with Pace e Bene , sent his Christmas letter a few days ago. It said:

“Greetings of grace and peace to you in this season of the celebration of life. How do we embrace both the deep joy and the tragic grief in our world today? Two headlines stir my imagination.

Associated Press, Afghanistan

“The story as I imagine it:
“In that region there are farmers in their fields, keeping watch for insurgents coming by night. Then a messenger from America stands before them, and the armed forces of America surround them, and they are afraid. But the messenger says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy for all people. For to you is born this day our savior, which is bombs and more bombs. This will be a sign for you; you will find the bombs dropping from the skies all around. And suddenly there is with the messenger a multitude of the Predator Drones saying, ‘Forget about God in the heavens; here on earth its war, and hatred among [humanity].’

While, at the moment the Predator seems to be getting more votes, I’m placing my bets on the Prince of Peace. May the Christ Spirit be born anew in our lives and our world.”

Joseph had a dream and a choice. He chose the Prince of Peace. We have the same choice. This is what Advent prepares us for in December of the year of our Lord 2010. Are you ready? Are we ready?  Jesus is coming and is already here as God with us.