For the past few weeks, as the seemingly endless atmospheric rivers have flooded my beloved British Columbia, I have watched in horror as familiar towns and neighbourhoods have been inundated with unprecedented flooding. I spent more than 20 years of my life living along the delta land created by the mighty Fraser River and not once, has that blessed river ever visited such devastation upon my neighbours. As we struggle to grasp the enormous impact of something which up until now, most of us never heard of, one atmospheric river after another dumps record shattering amounts of rainfall, day after day, and week after week. It is as if atmospheric rivers have unleashed the tears of our Mother the Earth and there is little we can do to comfort her. Watching the devastation climate change is inflicting upon our privileged neighbours compels us to expand our gaze to include our less privileged neighbours in distant lands, who are being forced to flee their homes with nowhere to go and precious aid being offered. The recent failure of COP20 in Glasgow to achieve any significate response from collective governments causes my own tears to flow. I am reminded of the ancient words of our ancestor Paul who wrote in the letter to the Romans:
“We know that the whole Creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only Creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the SPIRIT groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope, we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Alas, my patience has worn thin and I’m not sure I even know what to hope for let alone how to hope that Creation’s groaning will finally move individuals, nations, corporations, and indeed our whole world to respond with significant change to heal the wounds we have inflicted on our Mother the Earth.
During the season of Advent, we journey into the darkness so that we might seek the LIGHT. Sometimes, the present darkness causes me to despair for even a hint of LIGHT. Today we join our ancestors who embarked into the darkness of Advent, equipped with parables created by long forgotten ancestors, in which generations have seen LIGHT. While many may ask: What can a parable of unborn hope in the first century, offer us in the 21st century? I invite you to listen as together we seek LIGHT for our own times, in this present darkness. Listen to the Gospel Parable created by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke:
“Mary set out in those days and went to the hill country with haste, to a Judean town. There Mary entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Now when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the HOLY SPIRIT. Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. From where does this visit come to me? That the mother of my SOVERIGN comes to me? Look! As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting in my ear, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Now blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of those things spoken to her by the HOLY ONE.”
Is this a charming little story fit for little more than the pageants of a bygone age? Or is this a parable with power to reveal LIGHT in our present darkness? Perhaps only the darkness in which this parable was created can provide the answers which will LIGHT our own darkness. No one knows who created this parable. The author is anonymous, the name Luke was assigned to the gospel long after it was created. We do know that the unknown creator of this parable, wrote his Gospel account sometime between 70 and 90CE. That’s 40 to 60 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps two are three generations had passed; two or three generations of reflecting upon the life and death of Jesus.
The context in which our gospel-storyteller wrote down his parable was as dark as it gets; a darkness which can only be described as horrific. The Romans were waging a full-blooded campaign against the Jewish people. Between the years, 66 and 73, then between 115 and 117, and finally, between 132 and 136 a vicious war between Roman Empire and the Jewish people raged in what Rome called the Bellum Judaicum, “the Jewish War.” According to the history books millions of Jews were killed, Judea and Galilee were laid to waste and Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean were attacked en masse. Some historians have gone so far as to label the Jewish War “the first Holocaust”.
Rome perpetrated violence upon the Jewish people because the Jews refused to submit to Roman ways. The Jewish people refused to worship Roman gods, claiming YAHWEH is the ONE, true God, refusing to worship the various caesars, and longing for a Messiah the likes of David to save them from their Roman over-lords. During this terrible darkness the gospel storytellers crafted their stories of one such Messiah. During this darkness, the carnage would have been omnipresent. Historians tell us that thousands of men hung on crosses and untold numbers of women were raped and forced into slavery, while a multitude of infants whose bodies were torn apart were left to rot so as to terrorize the people into surrendering. Rome was just being Rome, demanding total submission of a people who refused to submit. This standoff reached a climax when in May of the year 70 the Roman’s responded to a particular Jewish uprising by the destroying the Temple and the raising to the ground of most of Jerusalem. The Temple was the very heart of Judaism, both the religious center of Jewish worship and the cultural center of the Jewish people. It was an apocalypse the likes of which would haunt the telling of the story of Jesus forever. All four of the gospels which have been handed down to us as canon were written during this apocalypse. Our sacred stories were born of the pain of a traumatized people.
Sadly, we Christians all too often read the gospel accounts without any reference to the horror of the Jewish War, which dominated the lives of the gospel-writers. Historians tell us that the view of Jerusalem after the year 70 would have included ten-thousand corpses hung on crosses, surrounding the Temple Mount. Out of such darkness the four gospels were born. Each of these four gospels navigates this darkness in a very particular way.
Try to imagine for just a moment that you are wandering around the ruins of Jerusalem a decade or so after the destruction of the Temple. All your life you have looked to the Temple and the Holy of Holies as the dwelling place of YAHWEH your God. Your religious practices, your cultural life, even the economic structures on which you rely all revolved around the Temple. You cannot think about or imagine YAHWEH without referencing the Temple. The Romans have destroyed the Temple. How could this happen? Why did YAHWEH allow this to happen? Why are you and your kinfolk being punished? What could your people have done to deserve this?
You are not alone in asking these questions. The rotting corpses of those who came up against the mighty Roman Empire fill your nostrils with the stench of defeats so enormous that the unspeakable crosses your mind: “Where is God when God’s dwelling place is destroyed?” “Has YAHWEH abandoned the children of Israel?” “Why else would God let the Romans execute Jesus?”
Some of Jesus’ followers began to doubt that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. They would have been taught what Jesus had been taught. They would have heard of Jesus’ teachings about non-violent resistance. They would have heard of Jesus’ insistence upon justice for the poor and the marginalized. They would have heard of Jesus’ claim that the reign of God is at hand. They would have been taught of Jesus’ insistence that they love their enemies as well as their neighbours.
Perhaps in the midst of the carnage which their enemies had wrought, Jesus’ teachings began to look less attractive. The Temple lay in ruins and Jesus had been executed. Jesus had insisted that He and the Father are ONE, and that as much as you do onto the least of these you do on to me.
In the teachings of Jesus, they were challenged to see the CHRIST in one another. Jesus taught them that God dwells in and with them. For the gospel storytellers Jesus would take the place of the Temple, for in Jesus, YAHWEH lived and breathed. In the life and teachings of Jesus, they saw the ONE whose Way of being in the world could deliver them from the Romans, even as the Temple lay in ruins. In the life and teachings of Jesus, they saw their MESSSIAH, their CHRIST, the ONE in whom YAHWEH dwells. In the destruction of the Temple, the followers of Jesus discovered what they had always known, that YAHWEH cannot be contained in a place because the HOLY ONE IS within and around them.
From within the darkness of the crisis flowing from the destruction of the Temple two new religions were born: Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Rabbinic Judaism inspired the Jewish people to seek God not in a place but in the life of the people, as they began to turn more and more to the Torah to inspire them to encounter the DIVINE in the stories of the people and in their collective struggle to live. The Jewish people looked to the life of the people and discovered the WISDOM of YAHWEH in their midst.
As Rabbinic Judaism thrived, Christianity inspired the followers of Jesus not to seek DIVINITY in a place, but in the life and teachings of Jesus who they heralded as the CHRIST, the WISDOM of God embodied in one of them. Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, two religions born of shared darkness, destined to follow parallel paths which would often intersect with tragic consequences.
Almost two-thousand years have passed since the birth of these two ways of knowing and relating to the HOLY ONE and once more darkness surrounds us. Peace through justice, the promise of Shalom continues to elude us. As we wander in the darkness, we cannot help but notice the rotting corpses of our own crisis. Millions die needless deaths as a result of greed and hatred. The poor cry out as we privatize and monetize the gifts of the Earth and line our pockets with treasure extracted from the weak and the powerless. The oppressed cry out for justice as we militarize the keepers of peace and shots ring out while the judgments of our power structures leave those whose skin is not lily white breathless. Fear abounds as we extort wealth from whole populations guarantying the birth of terrorists who perpetuate horrors the likes of which make the Roman Empire appear meek.
Wars and rumors of wars rage on, as the Earth suffers the ravages of our abuse; atmospheric rivers rain down Earth’s tears flooding both the privileged as well as the powerless. The ice-caps melt, the oceans rise, lands buckle and slide, and children are taught to fear the sun. Injustice, oppression, poverty, disease, racism, hatred, form the contours of our self-centered flailing in the darkness.
Just like our Jewish forebears and our Christian ancestors we look for a Messiah, a Saviour to rescue us from the crisis we have wrought. Where is God? Has YAHWEH abandoned us? We look to the heavens, but God is not there. The temples we erect to house God are dominated by the very evils which inspired the crisis Creation is enduring. God is not there? Where is God? Science and reason have exposed our images of God as mere idols unworthy of our worship. In this darkness, we long for a saviour to rescue us from our very selves.
Like our ancestors who endured the crisis of the Temple’s destruction we too must seek new meanings from old revelations and open ourselves to what is happening all around us so that new WISDOM can be born in us. We have been blessed with the WISDOM of the HOLY ONE who dwells among us. The sacredness of Creation in all its many expressions cries out to us like John the Baptist, repent, turn from your ways, repent, and prepare the way for our GOD.
In the midst of our darkness, we are learning so much about the nature of reality. Science is teaching us about the realities of the Cosmos and revealing things our ancestors couldn’t even begin to dream of.
When God is no longer a person up there in the sky, where is God? When God is no longer personified in ways which can be controlled and manipulated by the powerful, who is God? When we stop creating images of God which are mere projections of ourselves, what is God?
I believe religion is an art form. Like all art, religion takes practice if it is to live and grow and find expression in ways which inspire truth, beauty, and justice. Like all art, religion’s truth and beauty is judged by a religion’s ability to inspire us to live life more fully. So, let us look to our Christianity and judge this art form by its ability to inspire us to live more fully, to love more deeply, and to create peace through justice in all the Earth. Religion, like any art form, when it is practiced well, inspires us to live, to love, and to create. Let us judge our practice of the art of Christianity by Christianity’s ability to inspire abundant life on Earth by caring for Creation, by reflecting the LIGHT which sines in the darkness. Let us judge our images of DIVINITY by their power of our imaginings to inspire life, love, and peace through justice, as we work together to comfort and heal the Earth.
YAHWEH survived war’s destruction of the Temple. The LIGHT will survive science’s destruction of our personifications of DIVINITY. The HOLY ONE is not confined to a place. Nor will DIVINITY be held captive to our various personifications of the MYSTERY which is LOVE. The SOURCE of ALL that IS, the ONE which lies at the very heart of reality, the DIVINE MYSTERY which nourishes, grounds, and sustains us, will survive our inarticulate, often misguided practice of religion.
The HOLY ONE, lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond all of Creation. The WISDOM of the HOLY ONE, that which we call the CHRIST, has the power to save us, if we open ourselves to the reality that CHRIST, is born in us when LOVE abounds. The WISDOM of the HOLY ONE, the ONE we call the CHRIST, has the power to inspire the abundant life which our human nature, indeed that all of Creation longs for. So, let the LOVE gestating in darkness leap for joy within us. Let us care for one another, as we heal the Earth so that LOVE is born in us. Let the LIGHT of LOVE, the ONE we call the CHRIST find glorious expression in, with, through, and beyond us. Where is God in the darkness we have wrought? God, which is LOVE is here. Right here. Right here. Right now. In you, and in me, and in all our sisters and brothers. Let us reflect this LOVE in our lives. Let there be LIGHT. So, that we might practice the art of Christianity in ways which will inspire abundant life in all of Creation. Let LIGHT be born in us. Let CHRIST be born in us. Do not be afraid. For the ONE who is coming is far greater than all our images, personifications, and all our idols. The ONE who is coming is CHRIST the LOVE, which is DIVINITY, who from the beginning of time has found glorious expression in, with, through, and beyond Creation. The ONE who is coming is the LIGHT we need to see in this present darkness. The LIGHT is the LOVE which lives and breathes and loves in, with, through, and beyond us, inspiring abundant life in all of Creation. Let us reflect this LIGHT as we comfort, heal, and LOVE our Mother the Earth, for even in our present darkness LOVE leaps for joy in you!