Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel
by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, November 22, 2009:
First Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
First Reading (Semi-cont.): 2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm: Psalm 93
Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 132:1-13 [14-19] (Psalm 132:1-12 [13-18] NRSV)
Second Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8
Gospel: John 18:33-37
Some of us may be thinking, what a strange text to lead us into Advent. Some of us may be thinking, what a non-kingly Gospel for Christ the King Sunday. The weeks to come will be full of strange juxtapositions.
This whipsawed feeling should help us feel sympathy for the Jews of Jesus' time. We know that the Jews had been on the lookout for the Messiah for many years, but they certainly weren't looking for someone like Jesus. They wanted a more traditional vision of a King. They wanted someone who would sweep in and clean up current life. Specifically, they wanted someone to kick the Romans (and all the other outsiders) out of their homeland. They wanted someone to restore their vision of life as it should be.
We're probably familiar with that feeling. We, too, probably want a God we can control. If you don't believe me, head to the Spirituality section of your local bookstore and take a look. We're given prayers we can pray to make God do what we want (usually, in these books, to bring us riches). We're given visualizations to try. Or maybe we want a God that makes us feel superior. Here, too, there are plenty of books that will help, that will explain why one belief system over another will elevate us.
The Gospel readings for this week, and the Advent/Christmas texts remind us that we don't worship that kind of God. We worship a God who is willing to become one of the most vulnerable kinds of creatures in our world: a newborn baby, born to underclass parents, in an underclass minority, in an occupied land. We worship a God so radical that he is crucified as a political criminal. Yes, a political criminal--crucifixions were reserved for crimes against the state in the Roman system. It's interesting to reread the Gospels with that fact in mind and to learn anew what Jesus said that made him seem so radical and subversive to the Romans.
We worship a God that wants nothing to do with our human visions of power. Our God turned away from wealth. Our God calls us to a radical generosity. Our God turned away from political power. Our experience of God, in Jesus, reminds us that if we behave in the way that God wants us to behave, we will come into direct conflict with the dominant power structures of our day.
Our God is one that we will encounter in the oddest places, like a manger or in criminal court. Advent will remind us that we need to always be alert to the possibilities of this encounter, but that it likely won't happen in the way that we've prepared for or expected.
We come to the end of a liturgical year, the end of that long, green season after Pentecost (as my 5th grade Sunday School teacher called it). We begin a new year trembling with fear and hope. It is a good time, as all new years are, to make resolutions. In the next liturgical year, how will we prepare to meet God?