I’ve been ordained for over 17 years now, and I still think that somehow we’ll get a different gospel reading on the Third Sunday of Advent instead of a second dose of John the Baptist. And every year I am wrong. We gather to light the third candle of our Advent wreath—the pink one!—signifying our great joy expressed in our other lessons with the word, “Rejoice!” And then John leaps up from the wilderness and exclaims, “Repent!” It boggles the mind, and feels like a bit of ecclesiastical whiplash. Is it “Rejoice!” or “Repent”? And why is this the message of the third Sunday of Advent, when we’re now less than two weeks from the manger scene?
And so a New Year begins.
The new year of the Church comes in with the beginning of Advent and its four Sundays until Christmas Day. We turn the calendar and start a new set of readings for our worship together. We pull out the purple hangings for the church to remind us that we prepare for the Lord’s Coming. We watch and we wait as best we can as we do all the things we do to make Christmas Christmas. And so it begins.
Jesus and his disciples have journeyed to Jerusalem. What our reading really doesn’t say is that the gospel story takes place during Holy Week. Jesus has come to Jerusalem after healing blind Bartimaeus by the side of the road just outside Jericho, and he won’t be leaving. After driving out of the temple the money changers and the ones selling animals to the pilgrims in town for the Passover, the leaders want to trap him with technical theological and political questions. They want him to slip up. So that’s what they’ve been doing all afternoon, when one of the scribes—a lawyer and scholar—heard Jesus and his adversaries go back and forth. The scribe hears the way Jesus fended off his inquisitors and is impressed. So he asks Jesus a question not to test him, but because he really wants to hear what Jesus has to say: “Which commandment is first of all?”
Three weeks ago I began a sermon series on the Genesis 1 Creation account introducing the idea of zimzum to you. Building on the Jewish mystical understanding, zimzum describes how God’s first act in creation was to become humble, and withdraw within God’s self in order to make the space for all of creation to emerge. God limited God’s self in love, took on the posture of a servant, and then spoke the universe into existence in the womb like space within God’s self. And God decided not just to create a few choice things. Rather, God imagined and spoke into being billions of stars and creatures and vegetation and finally humankind. Humanity was formed in the image and likeness of God—all of us, not just one gender or color. Last week I suggested that we most fully bear God’s image when we embrace zimzum ourselves, making space in our lives for God, others, and all of creation. We too can take on the self-giving humility and love that God did and become most fully who God created us to be as we live in community.
We’ve reached a significant point in our Creation account from Genesis 1 as God calls forth into existence humanity into the beauty of the created world. A reminder of how we arrived at this place. First, at the very beginning, only God existed. As such, God withdrew into God’s self out of love in order to form the space into which God could create. This idea—called zimzum—shows us that the Godhead’s first act was one of self-giving love. God contracting, withdrawing, humbling Godself in order for there to to be room for something else to come into existence. The Triune God loved so much—and a reminder, the Trinity is probably best understood with the words as Lover, Beloved, and Love—that God created a type of womb into which all of the cosmos could emerge.
Last week I began a sermon series on Creation. We explored the reality that nothing else existed with God when God began to create—not even the dark empty space of nothingness. There was only God. Because of this, God’s first act involved God’s self withdrawing and becoming humble in order to create the space within God’s being in order for there to be the room in which to create. This contracting and limiting of God is called zimzum; God making space inside God’s very being for creation. God formed a womb into which God could speak forth the entire universe.
The writer of Genesis starts with, “In the beginning God…” and with those four words much debate has taken place in theological circles. As a good Anglican, I’ll present the two most prevalent understandings, and then consider a third way. First, the one you’ve likely heard about at some point. Many theologians suggest that God created “out of nothing”—ex nihilo, they say in the Latin. God, way back in the beginning, looked out across the nothingness and declared, “Let there be light,” and, Genesis tells us, with these powerful words from God into the nothingness, light emerged. There was in fact light! And it was good! And so God separated the light from the dark, and that was the First Day.
This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. After nearly 550 days of online church, outdoor church, and masked and physically distanced church, today was to be the day when we were finally able to gather and share hugs and have everything back to normal. With the vaccine coursing through our bodies, we were supposed to be able to get back to the way things were. We’d be having a huge welcome back brunch during coffee hour, and the kids—hopped up on ice cream—would be running down the halls upstairs sounding like dinosaurs to those of us below them. We’d be catching up with friends old and new, and we’d give thanks to God for bringing us through such a difficult time.
Happy Labor Day Weekend!
This holiday began back in the 1880s growing out of the trade union and labor movements. It was designed to celebrate those who worked in the trades and did other sorts of labor—the common man, at the time, and now, of course, includes all types of people—the ones who work primarily hourly wage jobs. It began with parades that would lead to picnic grounds. As people ate simple meals on their blankets and kids ran around playing games, labor leaders would give thanks to the workers.
I’ve encountered it more than once in my life— a parent coming down hard on a child in a public space. With a raised voice, the dad or mom seeks to correct or stop a child from doing some seemingly egregious act. Often it happens at a point of stress—like at a Disney vacation or a day at the beach—and everyone is overly tired, nerves frazzled, tempers short. I was that parent at a London tube stop—or was it Teddy Roosevelt National Park?— I was frustrated myself because things hadn’t gone as I expected and snapped at Olivia and Noah who were just being kids, and I’m sure I snapped at Melissa too who was trying to calm the situation down. Like I said, I’ve encountered it once or twice in my life.