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From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada). Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way". Contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
2nd After Christmas - Year A
Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18
"That Advancing Light of Love"
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. "It's Cindy," whimpered the voice on the other end of the phone. "I can't stop crying. Do you have some time to talk to me?" "Of course," I said. "What's up?" Cindy was a middle-aged woman who had just ended a 12 year-long relationship with her husband. Three attempts at couple counselling had failed to make a dent in Bill's defensive, angry shell. He had been raised by a very religious and extremely abusive "old Dutch" mother and had had huge problems trusting women ever since. Cindy had given it her best; but now it was the end of the road. She and the children could not take any more of his abuse. As she had indicated a month earlier, Bill had agreed to move out. They had followed the plan with a minimum of conflict. Then, just recently, Cindy found him dating a younger woman and confronted him angrily. Bill had told her that his new girlfriend meant nothing, but that he hadn't loved Cindy in a long time. "I feel so betrayed," she said. "It's the cruelest thing anyone has ever done to me! How could anyone put me through so much grief!?" I had spent time earlier explaining the problem of co-dependency to Cindy and had predicted that she would have trouble letting go. You don't just assume a mothering role for a grown man for most of twelve years and then give it up overnight. "You'll let go when you no longer feel the need to be responsible for him," I had said. But it was more than just a co-dependent relationship. A part of her had truly loved him just as a part of him had truly loved Cindy. It was this that was tearing her apart. "Why couldn't he let me help him?" she wept. "Because part of him is too afraid," I said. "For the first time in his life he came across a woman he could trust and who demanded the same trust from him. The thought of being exposed, of having to come out and actually stand in the light of such a love was too much for him to bear." + Well, I resist as much as I can getting all 'psychological' on you; but we're back to John's gospel for this second Sunday of Christmastide because the authors of the Lectionary argue that fair is fair. Matthew and Luke have had their turn at it. Finally John gets to tell his story of Christmas. The problem with John is, well, John. He doesn't tell stories. He gives speeches. He doesn't preach three-point sermons. He preaches fifty-three-point sermons. John never does anything small. And as for psychological? John is the most psychological treatise of all four gospels. John, quite simply, likes to write things large. Mark goes back to Isaiah and Malachi to begin his gospel. Matthew goes back to Abraham. Luke - not to be outdone - goes all the way back to Adam. But John is in a class by himself. When he tells the story of how Jesus came into the world, he goes back to the dawn of time. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. Do you see what I mean? In John, Jesus doesn't just come into the world because of two people, Mary and Joseph. He isn't just the Messiah Israel has been longing for and for which the prophets held out hope. He is the logos, the Word of God himself. He is that very part of God that reveals, that very part of God that speaks, that very part of God that makes himself heard. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. It is an oft-repeated and stark contrast in John, this metaphor of light and darkness. This light that Jesus was, John says, turned out to be a threat to many, so threatening, in fact, that the forces of darkness tried to overcome it. Behind this pattern, of course, we hear the struggle that was going on in John's church, a Jewish church, many of whom would not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Throughout John we will hear about not only how Jesus was persecuted by his own people but how his followers were equally mistreated. What we have in such stories is a lens through which we can view the struggle that went on in the emerging church, a time in which followers of Jesus were experiencing a severe estrangement from their religious and cultural roots. Why did this happen? That is the question. If you read John carefully, you will find clues dropped here and there about why people found Jesus so threatening. But, in the end, he simply doesn't come out and explain why. All he says is He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. It is left to us to explain why the self-professed children of light were closed to the light of God's truth when it shone. How do we answer such a question without becoming guilty of the very same kind of self-righteousness that Jesus' opponents embodied? The only way that makes sense to me is 'psychological', that is to say, by looking deep into that placed called 'soul' that is the deepest place inside you and me. What is it that happened when the light that was Jesus came into the world that is still happening today whenever the light that is Christ begins to shine? Light is not only the revelation of the logos; it reveals the nature of all who come in contact with it, and the judgment upon each person is determined by his or her response to it. Light shines in darkness. It reveals. It also exposes, says Alan Culpepper (Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel). The way I think it works is this. Light comes into the world and it's as if everyone and everything is seen in a new and penetrating way. Suddenly we are connected with each other and the source of divine love precisely because this light comes as an invitation to grow in connectedness. Just as suddenly, however, we are also alienated because of everything about us that insists on remaining entrenched in isolation. This is the contrast John is talking about. It is the contrast we, no doubt witness, every passing day. + Like Cindy and her husband Bill, we are, all of us, a mixture of light and darkness. There is much that has happened to us since we came into the world that encouraged trust in us or damaged it deeply. It is that sense of trust that allows us to put our ignorance and fear into the larger context of struggle and growth. When we trust, we risk, moving toward the light, letting it draw us out of the darkness of ego and fear into the warmth of self and love. It is as if we know that the light is where we belong. That is why we journey toward it. It is why Bill fell in love with Cindy. For the first time in his life he saw where he belonged. But there are those of us who love darkness more than we love light. Like those who love the light more, they are also a mixture of good and evil. The problem is that they have begun to identify with their own darkness, to love their own evil more than their own good. The light that shines on them, then, from another human being, appears harsh and glaring. It exposes their mistakes and inadequacies. In terror they flee from it and scheme to keep themselves covered - even from their own goodness. Lying to themselves and to others is the only strategy they can envision. They cling to their own darkness out of fear. In this perverted sense they love it. it allows them not to be seen. Eventually they realize the only way to secure the darkness is to kill the advancing light. They think this will protect them, but it proves to be their undoing. - John Shea, Gospel Light: Jesus Stories for Spiritual Consciousness It is how judgment works. It is not about going before a Judge who will weigh our good deeds and bad. It is about the choice we make every single day about whether or not to step into the light or retreat into the darkness. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world and human beings loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. - John 3:19 In the end Bill felt the need to retreat into his angry, abusive shell because he simply would not trust the invitation of love. It is the kind of story that gets repeated in countless places, in countless places every single day. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. That was John's Christmas message to his own church, a people who were tempted to despair before this awful struggle going on in their own church and their own hearts. It is the message that there is something about this light that has come that will not be stopped even by the human refusal to accept it. Even in a world like ours. Even people like us. Eventually, all those of us who insist on living in the dark will have to give in to that advancing light of love. + Jeremiah 31:7-14 - The text has few direct links with the other lessons for this week, but it is appropriate because it expresses the mood and spirit of the celebration of Christmas. Like the news of Christ's birth it is an announcement of salvation. The Lord has saved, gathered, consoled and ransomed a people from sorrow to joy. It is, of course, a prophetic announcement concerning the return of exiles. It is the answer to last week's lament by Rachel for her children (31.15). 1. The passage uses the metaphor of redeeming someone who has been left in pledge for a debt or from slavery. Why is this metaphor appropriate/inappropriate for people like us? 2. The redemption announced is a very corporate vision, involving all people? Why must this be so? 3. In what ways does your community announce such a vision? In what ways do you embody it? Ephesians 1:3-14 - This week's gospel and epistle agree in one respect: the story of Christ began before the world began. The author links our own adoption by God with Christ's vocation. So the story of our salvation begins before the world began as well. God is regarded as the source of true wisdom, revelation and knowledge. Wisdom is precisely that which enables us to know that our true wealth consists in the inheritance we share as saints. 1. What does the first part of the passage (verses 1-10) emphasize? 2. What does the second part (verses 11-14) emphasize? 3. How can you tell if someone has "heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation"? John 1:1-18 - It is a passage that has central importance to Christian history, Christian doctrine and Christian understanding of the life of faith. It is John's attempt to give meaning to the coming of Christ. he does so by comparing Christ to a divine light that has begun to shine in the world. The problem is the darkness in which this light shines and its resistance to the light. The tragic question that is emphasized in this week's reflection is: why do we close ourselves to the revelation of God's truth? 1. As the self-professed children of the light, Jesus' people were closed to the light of God's truth. As the self-professed children of the light, how are we closed to it? 2. What is it about the light of love that is inviting? that is threatening? 3. When have you seen this struggle of resistance to the light played out in your own life, in your own community? FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "Since they will do almost anything to avoid the particular pain that comes from self-examination, under ordinary circumstances the evil are the last people who would ever come to psychotherapy. The evil hate the light - the light of goodness that shows them up, the light of scrutiny that exposes them, the light of truth that penetrates their deception. Psychotherapy is a light-shedding process par excellence." - F. Scott Peck, People of the Lie HYMN: O Lord, How Shall I Meet You (Voices United 31)
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