Archives for November 2009

1 Advent (C) – 2009

Choose: God or idol

November 29, 2009

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Choose: God or idol? Given our druthers, what do we ultimately choose: God the Creator or those earthly things that command our attention, our concern, and too often, our devoted fascination? What is the real choice here? Can we exercise a balance of the temporal with the divine? In other words, can we have both?

At core, Christians believe that God is loving and merciful. In the scripture appointed for this first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of the Church’s liturgical calendar, we again hear of the loving and merciful Creator described as a God of hope and expectation; a God of promise and fulfillment. These dual themes of hope and promise are fulfilled, historically and prophetically, in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

Advent is the season of preparation not just for the retelling of the story of the nativity of the Lord under the humblest of circumstances, but perhaps, more importantly, for the return of the Messiah in glory. There is an understanding amongst disciples of Jesus from the first century through to the present day that the Messiah’s first appearance “on this fragile earth, our island home” was to reopen the way to the Creator, to allow us to reconnect to the God of all creation. And those who have the audacity to humbly proclaim discipleship also wait – with a sometimes wavering or tentative expectation – for the second appearance of Jesus, when “the Son of Man” returns to complete the work of creation.
Wait. Why a wavering and tentative expectation?

Today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews and the gospel reading both describe a God of accountability. In short, God’s merciful love, hopeful expectation, and fulfilled promise are an offer to those who are ready to receive these gifts. To be accountable to God’s call, we must not give such centrality to what scripture calls idols or idolatrous living. Jeremiah’s and Jesus’ words in Luke are not some historical musings meant for our forbearers. These are powerful words that point to a choice in the here and now. Which god is worshipped? In whom or in what do we really believe, and in whom or in what do we really place trust? More than two and a half millennia after the time of Jeremiah, what do his words as a prophet say to us today? Almost two millennia after Jesus spoke, what do his words mean today?

Jeremiah’s prophetic work begins during a time in history when the King, Josiah, was attempting to reform the religious practices of the people of Judah. Indeed, the first part of Jeremiah’s work focuses on what will befall Israel because of their religious practices, which were displeasing to the God of accountability. Early in the book of Jeremiah the prophet proclaims:

“Thus says the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.”

These people lost the way of their God, choosing little “g” gods over the Creator. After the return from the Babylonian exile, that is, after suffering the consequences of their idolatrous ways, the loving and merciful God reappears. Jeremiah proclaims that “the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

In the Gospel of Luke we hear Jesus say, “They will see the ‘Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.” More importantly, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.”

Jesus warns us to “be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Throughout our lives, we are faced with this choice between little “g” gods, idols, and the Triune God, the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier. What can we trust to the total exclusion of God: the lure of money or fame, the power of position, the fascination with technology, or the rightness of religion? To whom is our primary and sole allegiance: partner, self, employer, or mentor? We should know that these things and persons in and of themselves are not inherently idolatrous. Indeed, these very things and people can be a source of goodness for one and indeed for all. Yet, these things and people can become idols. We make the choice.

And in the midst of worries, how is it we can be distracted from God? When faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, why do we often forget to seek God’s peace? The disciple of Christ understands God as the source of all good things. Why not seek God in the midst of all the things in our lives, both good and bad?

Do not be distracted by earthly priorities, things, and worries at the expense of forgetting the “fount of all one’s blessings.” When we become preoccupied, the object of our preoccupation or the preoccupation itself can become an idol or little “g” god. When we are preoccupied, we risk cutting off the love and mercy of the real God. When we choose the idol over the expectation of God’s fulfilled promise, we forget the notion of divine blessing.

In the end, even though God calls us to faithfulness, remember that, ultimately, it is our choice. God calls. We choose.

And before choosing, take a moment and remember Jeremiah, the people of Judah, and the Babylonian exile. Before choosing, stop and remember the apocalyptic words of Jesus. At the outset of the new liturgical year, think this over with great care and choose wisely.

 

— John E. Colón is an active Episcopal layperson and is director of Human Resources at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City. He attends Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights, in the Diocese of Long Island.