And to think it all began with The Church Without Pants

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent in a Box Redux: Hope

My friend, the Blind Irish Pirate, led some of us in assembling what she called “Advent in a Box” last year.  Our “Not Quite Church church” doesn’t meet every week and so we did Advent all in one night – hence the compact title.  Focusing on the elements of Advent (Hope, Peace, Joy and Love) we read Scripture, sang, shared life stories, and even made a short video that, taken all together, conveyed the sense of anticipation and celebration that goes along with the recognition that all is not right but that God has made some promises to our troubled world.

We opened a flap of that box last night when we gathered for worship at another friend’s home. We shared a meal, I read my story about Packing Jesus, Hap told some tear jerking tales from his childhood about life lessons learned from three Jewish kids during their school’s Christmas program and some “crippled” bullies (children with polio) who finally found someone that they could pick on, one of our hosts shared about Angels and admitted that she’s a bit skeptical about them, and the Pirate shared about Advent and the God of Second Chances.

The first Advent candle is most often associated with Hope. In the Christian world Jesus is the promised messiah who repairs our broken lives and our broken world.  Some doubt that this is true. I can’t blame them. If the messiah really fixed things, why do we still hope?  I wonder what I would hope for if everything were fine.

But maybe I’ve got this Advent thing turned backward.  Maybe it’s not all about me and my hopes, or even all of us and our hopes.  Maybe Advent is more about God and God's hopes for the world.  Maybe Advent is about God's Hope, God’s Peace, God’s Joy and God’s Love.

Thinking of it this way I am reminded of that very first season of Advent.  It lasted a few centuries and the final days of Advent actually stretched themselves out for about 30 years - from the days of Zechariah, Simeon, & Anna and the silent Baby Jesus - to the days approaching the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy just prior to the emergence of the indomitable Grown-Up Jesus.  Here Luke announces that it is John, son of Zechariah and known as "The Baptist," who will make the path straight and level the roads, allowing all to see God’s salvation. 

And what is the first thing John does to level things out?  He shouts at those coming to be baptized and calls them a “brood of vipers.”

A brood of vipers?  I’m pretty sure a viper is venomous snake, but I wanted to make sure I understood what a "brood" is. So I looked it up. According to a “brood” is the “offspring” of a certain animal, or those “hatched.” It can also refer to a breed, species, or kind of animal. So John is talking about the offspring of, or creatures of the same kind as, a poisonous snake.  Probably not a compliment and most likely akin to today’s bottom dwellers so often referred to as, “sons of bitches.”

Meanwhile, back at the river we have a hoard of these, now irritated, sons of bitches waiting for John to baptize them. But instead of offering an olive branch, or a "JK, we're all cool here," and proceeding with the cleansing ritual that allows sinners and impure people to re-enter in to fellowship with their people, John rails at them further for being a bunch of hypocrites and challenges them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” 

So repentance from living as a brood of vipers is the very first helpful thing that John talks about in that very first Advent season.  Repent from being of the same ilk as a poisonous snake. Repent from following the crooked path. Turn from the world from which you’ve been hatched and look at another one that works completely opposite to the one you know...

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. 

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” 

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. 

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

Note that the ethics and the economics of the kingdom John is talking about are completely at odds with those of the kingdom from which the crowds were hatched.  And this was supposed to be good news.

Luke implies that John did finally get around to baptizing them, but perhaps just as importantly, various translations convey that John appealed to them, exhorting them with challenging and encouraging words, words that gave them strength.  This is how he told them the good news about how God’s kingdom would be different.

Maybe John is right and Jesus really is the messiah, the one who saves the world and turns it all around by offering us an alternative.  If so, I think God’s Hope is that the world would repent and turn from the kingdoms we’ve created. This turning is a total about-face, a complete 180, which means that God’s realm would in many ways run counter to those kingdoms from which we are hatched.  Everything would change – all the way from who’s in charge down to the nitty-gritty of the how the ethics and the economy are manifested in the new realm.

It’s hard to repent from the life and culture that we’ve been immersed in (baptized in) our entire lives.  Maybe that’s why it’s so important, as our friendly Pirate reminded us last night, that God is a God of second chances.  In that, we can Hope. 

It begins with repentance and that, I think, is God's Hope for us and for the world.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The photograph is of a tree that began its life growing from underneath the ledge of a cliff. It was pointing straight to the ground. At some point in its life the tree repented of its ways and turned toward the light. It is growing in a totally and completely different direction.

  3. Let's talk about repentance versus conversion. And, let's talk about sin apologetics.

    Do you think that the culture then is the same or different from the culture now?



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