Advent 3: Keepin’ it Real
Lectionary readings for December 11, 2011: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John…he himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
In the Gospel reading for this week, John the Baptist is keepin’ it real—about who he is and who he is not. Who Jesus is and what his coming brings to our world. What distracts and what is really true from a spiritual point of view. This is never easy. During this season we wander somewhere between high hopes and deep dread…longing for connection and profound loneliness…generosity of spirit and poverty of soul. We kill ourselves to keep up with what the season requires while dying on the inside.
Especially as we get further and further into the Christmas season, we have trouble discerning the spiritual meaning of things. True enlightenment is just beyond our reach.
The practice of observing Advent reminds us that in a culture full of clutter and distraction, we seek to make room for what is essential. In a season frantic with consumerism and superficial sentiments, we are committed to creating space for what is real. In hearts driven to distraction by a multitude of cares and concerns, we do whatever it takes to “prepare the way” for some sort of meaningful connection with Christ.
In the wilderness of spiritual emptiness that often characterizes this season, we join John the Baptist in “keepin’ it real” by proclaiming our faith in what is true.
It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,
That whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.
It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: For unto us a child is born, and unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of Peace.
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth,
And lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world.
It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted,
who are the prophets of the church, before we can be peacemakers.
This is true: I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
And your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your young shall see visions, and your old shall have dreams.
It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity, of peace
are not meant for this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that true worshipers
shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope.
Let us see visions of love and peace and justice.
Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage:
Jesus Christ—the Life of the world.
This poem is often attributed to Daniel Berrigan, S.J., Testimony: The Word Made Fresh, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2004), p. 211 but it is actually adapted from a prayer by Allan Boesak which was originally published in “Gathered for Life: Official Report, VI Assembly, World Council of Churches”, ed. David Gill (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1983). Italics mine.
©Ruth Haley Barton, 2011. Feel free to share this article using the buttons below; please do not reproduce and distribute without permission.
Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founder of the Transforming Center. A teacher, spiritual director, and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (June 2012) and Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.
What do you need to do to keep it real?
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I so appreciate that you have written about the loneliness and the deep dread and the poverty of spirit that accompany this season for so many. Instead of the prospect of experiencing that exhausting guilt and fruitless condemnation, you, once again, have offered hope and mercy … like our Savior still does for us.
And thanks for pointing out the lies that our culture continues to push onto us … and the truths that can free us.
I’m thinking that this will be a great grace to those who suffer in their spirits during this time of year.
More on STRUGGLING during the nativity season –
I so appreciate your brilliant writing and ability to always get to the “heart” of the matter. This topic of “keeping it real” gets to one of the core intentions I have, which is to create authentic community. For me, one way of “keeping it real” is in my willingness to speak into all of my feelings……my anger, sadness, and fear in addition to my joy. I know that when I acknowledge them to myself, I move through them more quickly – and when I acknowledge them to another, I increase the possibility of a heartfelt connection. Feelings are part of being in flow…..being in the current of God’s plan for my life. When I ignore them, they can turn into tension in my body and build walls between me and God…..me and others. Whereas when I speak into them and ride the waves of energy they provide……I’m available for what they can teach me and how they can keep me in a place of aliveness.
Thanks for the question!
This is a very concrete way of keepin’ it real–and that is always the best kind! Thank you for sharing.