The Tending Place*

Gloominess has settled in for the afternoon.  The day that was once bright and seemed open to possibilities, now seems dreary and pressing in on my spirit.  Melancholy pervades all around me.  My mood weighs heavy on me and I feel that I can barely breathe.  It is as if the weight of the world is standing like an elephant on my chest.  Waves of this melancholy have washed over me off and on over the last few days.  I cannot seem to put my finger on the source of the blues that I am experiencing.  Thanksgiving has come and gone.  We are now in the season of Advent, the season where we celebrate the coming toward of God.  Yet I do not feel too celebratory.  God has already come toward us in the person of Jesus Christ.  And God continues to come toward and break into our realm with God's love, healing, and wholeness.  And yet, at this moment, I feel alone and as if the darkness will over take me.  

In my heart of hearts I know that darkness in and of itself is not bad.  I would even argue that we need to come to places of darkness and shadows in our lives to better fully understand who we are.  

One of the wells that I am choosing to drink from, this Advent Season, is Jan Richardson's book, Night Visions:  Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas.  In it, she writes:

I believe that Christ came not to dispel the darkness but to teach us to dwell with integrity, compassion, and love in the midst of  ambiguity.  The one who grew in the fertile darkness of Mary's womb knew that darkness is not evil of itself.  Rather it can become the tending place in which our longings for healing, justice, and peace grow and come to birth.  (Page xvii)

As I sit here in the midst of my own darkness, I am endeavoring to rest in the darkness, name the darkness.  I am allowing it to be a place for growth.  I am waiting for the whispers of God's light to be made known to me.   

This Sunday's lectionary text carry the theme of preparation.  As I start to reflect on these themes, I realize that like a seed planted in the ground or a baby in a womb, preparation and growth some times come in the context of darkness and shadows.  In the midst of our darkness we invite the light of Christ to shine in the darkness so that the darkness does not overcome us.  In the midst of our darkness, God's presence is still there.

Advent calls us to a season of preparation.

The people of Israel found themselves in a time of darkness.  The last fresh word from God recorded in the Old Testament is found in Malachi:

Then those who revered the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the LORD and thought on his name.  They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children who serve them.  Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. 

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.  But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.  And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. 

Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.  He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse. 

Malachi 3:16 – 4:56 (NRSV)

Most scholars recognize about a 400 year period between Malachi (the end of the Old Testament) and the beginning of the New Testament.  Although God was still at work in the world, there was not a fresh word recorded by the people of Israel.  

This Sunday's Gospel lectionary text is from the prologue of Mark:

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way”— 

“a voice of one calling in the desert, 

  ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.’” 

And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.  John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.   I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 

At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. 

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:1-15 (NIV)

Mark is telling the story of the inbreaking of good news, of light in the midst of their darkness.  

The first word of the Gospel of Mark is the Greek Word arche, literally "the beginning."  When we think back to Genesis, there the first word is also "beginning."  The preparation for the receiving of Christ marks a new beginning.    The opening line translates literally:  "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

The words "good news" or "gospel" are from the Greek word evangeliou, which is where we get our English word evangelism.  Mark opens with making sure the readers/hearers know that this is a story of good news.  And this good news is of Jesus Christ.  The ambiguity in the Greek allows for this to be translated as the good news about Jesus Christ and/or the good news from (proclaimed by) Jesus Christ.  Let us rest in the tension of accepting both translations.

This Gospel will be reflecting on Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the long awaited anointed one, the son of God.  Mark is making sure that Jews and Gentiles, alike, understand the importance of who this Jesus is.  Jesus' very name means Yaweh saves.  This story is one of salvation, of deliverance, of healing.  

John the Baptist is revealed as the new Elijah, not as the threat that was once anticipated but rather as a preparer.  John has arrived in the wilderness to help the people to be prepared to receive Christ in their midst.  John has come to point to the light that is coming.  John is the voice crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way.  John meets us in the midst of our spiritual wilderness, our spiritual darkness.  John names the places in our lives that need the light of God.  John calls us to change our minds, to tun our hearts back toward God, to allow God to bathe us in love and light.  John calls us to let God meet us where we are.  Let us make space for God's grace, healing, and forgiveness.  Let us be willing to confess where we do not have it all together.  Let us be willing to be authentic with God.  Let us approach as we are with integrity and love.  Let us realize our need for preparation, healing, and love.

As we are washed in God's amazing grace, it does not mean that we will be free from the wildernesses of life.  No, it means that we do not walk alone in the wilderness.  God is with us, shining light, breathing life and love.    

During this Advent season, may we be willing to walk in the darkness of life.  May we be willing to grow, to not always know, and to trust in God who is light.  May we realize that even in the darkest of darks, God's light shines.  Let us keep preparing to receive the ever-present grace and love of God in our midst.

*Please note that the title The Tending Place is taken straight out of the quote from Jan Richardson.

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