Finding Jesus, by Pastor Noel

Dec. 1 & 2, 2018 1st Sunday of Advent, C


      From time to time we hear of people who find images that look like Jesus or Mary in the most unusual places.

      A few years ago a woman found an image on the bottom of her iron with an image in the burned on starch. It could be a picture of Jesus, if you have a good imagination.

      Jesus, and especially his mother Mary, have been see in water stains of the Big Dig, burned houses, reflective windows, pizza—and a whole host of other surprising places.

      Do you think that Jesus would reveal himself in the burned starch on an iron? A friend said, “well, at least she found him somewhere!”

      In Hebrew Scripture God is revealed by a talking donkey! Can we find him in this rather scary Gospel reading?

      Where do you find Jesus? Do you see him in the clouds,  as our Gospel said? How does Jesus reveal himself to you?

      I find his presence in many ways, including silence, in prayer, in reading.

      I know, though, that reading the Bible can be confusing. I am grateful for scholars and other resources.

      Jesus’ message was just revealed to me in a new way in the writings of N. T. Wright.

      Wright is the Bishop of Durham, England, and a Biblical scholar and writer. He is criticized by both liberal and conservative theologians, so he must be doing something right! (to coin a phrase)       

      He and I are not on the same wave length in many issues, but one thing I admire about him is that he stays in conversation with those on the “other side.”

      Wright has written about the gospel passage we read today.

      As we begin Advent and await the birth of the Christ, it’s interesting to have a reading that seems to talk about the end of the world.

      Jesus says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Many have read that to mean that Jesus expected to come back in a short time, the “second coming,” or the end of the world.

      Here’s the new revelation I had about Jesus’ message.

      Wright says that Luke is writing about the destruction of the Temple as the fearful thing to happen before “this generation” passes away.

      The gospels were written after Roman soldiers burned the Temple. “This generation” saw that happen.

      Jesus talks about “signs” of natural disasters.       

      We heard those mentioned last Sunday, too. And, our news today is full of deadly fires, flooding, earthquakes, blizzards. Jesus said that these were not signs that the end was coming immediately, they were but the beginning.      Scary!

      Wright says, (Jesus) “is, at the moment, present with us, but hidden behind the invisible veil which keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments, such as prayer, the sacraments, reading Scripture, working with the poor, when the veil seems particularly thin.

      He continues, “But one day the veil will be lifted; earth and heaven will be one: Jesus will be personally present, and every knee will bow at his Name; creation will be renewed; the dead will be raised; and God’s new world will at last be in place, full of new prospects and possibilities.”

      “God’s new world” — what many call “the kingdom of God” is also here with us, now.

      The word “kingdom” sounds like a place, and many just assume that it means “heaven” — up there somewhere.

      I think “kingdom” is not the best way to describe God’s will for the world—now and in the future.  How about “God’s rule” or “God’s plan.” Or “God’s yearning” for us.

      God’s yearning is that we know his love in our lives and share that love in everything we do. That’s the “kingdom.”    

      It may be easier to deal with God’s presence if we don’t have to face it until some later time, but Jesus won’t let us do that. Jesus in waterstains is easier than the real Jesus.

      In this passage he draws a line in the sand, and asks us which side we want to be on. One side of the line are people filled with “fear and foreboding.”

      These people are afraid of judgment, perhaps because they are filled with judging others. They do not know God’s forgiveness and mercy.

      On the other side of the line, with Jesus, are those who do know God’s forgiveness and mercy.         

      And Jesus says, that even though others are in fear and foreboding, (You) “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

      Knowing that Jesus is with us always will help free us from the stress of dealing with the distress of the world.

      And that is really good news, especially now with the December shopping frenzy already in full swing. (I don’t want to call it “Christmas” shopping because I think what starts to happen even before “black Friday” is an insult to Jesus and a slap in the face for what Christmas really means.

      Jesus says “Be on guard, so your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.”

      In his Message version of the Bible, Eugene Peterson puts it even more succinctly, “Be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping…”

      Just as fearful as the natural disasters all over the earth, is waiting for the credit card bills in January, and wondering how to pay them.

      I don’t think that Jesus would tell us not to give gifts of love to those we love. I do think that he’d raise an eyebrow to hear now much friend of mine has already spent, and is still shopping.

      I’m praying that Jesus will be revealed to her somehow—maybe when the bills come in, maybe in something she sees or reads or hears. Maybe she’ll connect the world’s mistreatment of refugees with the mistreatment of Jesus and his family.

      Maybe she’ll see that reaching out to help folks in need is more holy and satisfying than all the presents under the tree.

      I think that she’s on the side of Jesus with those who know God’s mercy and forgiveness. I think that she knows that redemption isn’t just “near” it has already happened on the Cross.

      She doesn’t need to buy Christmas for her family, she can just celebrate the wonder and joy of God’s great gift to us all.

      How has Jesus been revealed to you? How will Jesus continue to reveal himself? Will it be in funky burned iron, or a pizza with an odd shaped crust, a water stain? In a homeless person begging at a street corner?

      Will you find Jesus in Luke’s gospel as we unfold the theme of promise and fulfillment that bring hope and joyful expectation?

      Or will it be the theme of Jesus’ universality—that his message of God’s mercy and forgiveness are offered to all and will, in God’s time, transform the whole earth?

      Even if Jesus is revealed to you in a burned steam iron, may that revelation lead you to strengthen your heart in holiness so that Jesus can be revealed in you and through you.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details