December 4 2022 “Advent 2”
Today we heard in the Gospel one of the primary stories of our namesake, John the Baptist. It is a complex Gospel, one of our Advent gifts…the choice to follow or not the path of Jesus. Wake up, wake up, the reign of heaven is near.
We know in historical documents that John was a revered religious figure in Christianity, Islam, Bahai, and was the first prophetic voice in Judaism in over 400 years. Some scholars believe he was a member of the Essenes, a Jewish sect expecting and actively preparing for the messiah.
Scripture reports that John baptized Jesus and scholars suggest that he is the second most important figure in our Christian narrative. Jesus speaks of John as the Elijah who is to come in Matthew 11:14
James Carroll in Constantine’s Sword writes ‘the origins of the Jesus movement, Christianity, cannot be understood apart from the century long roman war against the Jews, a war punctuated by occasional acts of Jewish rebellion. Jesus and his movement were born in the shadow of what would stand as the most grievous violence against Jewish people until Hitler’s attempt at a final solution.’
I understand John as a rebel prophet community organizer….
As we consider the history of this congregation, and our current missions, it should not be lost on us that John did not hang out in the synagogue pews and chairs, or in the cathedral, but in the wilderness. Living on the gifts of creation.
John was not shy with his prophetic agitations. When the leaders of the synagogue came to him, presumably to be baptized, he called them out on their hypocrisy and challenged them to either bear good fruit or be cut down and thrown into the fire. John is clearing the path, preparing the way of Jesus in the messages of repentance, confession and baptism; he is also clarifying that a radical choice must be made, and the consequences could be severe.
As we move into the second week of Advent, a time of decisions, a time of despair and darkness perhaps, and yet a time of hopefulness and longing and waiting. Emotionally this is a complicated time of the year…. and our ancestors and liturgical leaders have suggested in our lectionary that being woken paves for us the way to the celebration of Jesus among us, but not quite yet.
Consider from last week’s readings: You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Romans
you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew)
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins. (Isaiah)
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Dylan strips away all the frills and charades of life to reveal the one of the only truths in this life—you are “gonna have to serve somebody”- like it or not.
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to serve at All Saint’s with our bishop… I loved being there, with him and the wonderful community. In his sermon he referenced the Matrix and the importance of choice… it was great. I have been dwelling with the Matrix Films ever since, there deep mythology, and knowing that imitation is the highest form of flattery thought about them in the context of today’s gospel.
For those that do not know this amazing story, AI have taken over the world and use humans as a Matrix of sleeping batteries. We humans are in a dream state living our normal lives in a seemingly normal world. There are a few that have escaped the Matrix and are attempting to liberate humankind from this slavery. Neo is the main character, Mr Anderson, programmer by day and hacker by night. Morpheus is the leader of the rebellion, prophet in every sense, father figure, teacher, mentor and believes that Neo is the chose one to lead them all to freedom.
Morpheus: “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Neo meets the imposing Morpheus for the first time in an empty room in an abandoned building in the Matrix, he still has no idea what’s happening to him. With little time available, Morpheus gives Neo the famous choice between the red and blue pills. The blue pill will let Neo keep control over his story, but his story will have no basis in truth. The red pill will throw Neo headlong into a world he has no basis for understanding. Neo takes the red pill,
The “wonderland” and “rabbit hole” references come from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Young Alice follows a white rabbit into a deep rabbit hole. By entering the hole, she leaves the real world behind and enters a strange new world where the usual physical laws don’t apply. In this new world, she can change the size of her body, from abnormally big to unusually small.
Neo’s wake up begins his spiritual and physical awakening, a movement from a sleeper to an awakened one. From the Gnostic work called the Apocalypse of John we read “let him who hears wake from heavy sleep” In many ways Neo’s story is about us.
John the Baptist asks us to follow a similar movement in our life, repent and return. His apocalyptic challenge is not about violence and death, it is not about winning and losing, it is about redemption and connection. The creator and the created reconciling.
People of faith gather in churches, mosques, synagogues weekly to worship an entity they trust and believe is real. Jesus, and the prophets, teach us that there is a reign of heaven that is near to us but difficult to see with human eyes, a holy water that will cure all thirst.
John the Baptist, and Morpheus suggest there is an alternate reality, a higher path, rejecting what we might experience in our temporal dream state worlds. We might ask who the people are who realize the matrix as illusion designed to medicate and maintain control over all of us. Perhaps, these rebel truth seekers are the followers of the Way of Jesus?
When we trust and chose the alternate spiritual path we smell and taste the sweetness of Creator and witness in nature the divine. We recognize the Holy through the laugh of children, we feel the Creator’s power in our wow moments in nature. We renew our relationship with God.
Consider the Matrix itself as the brood of vipers John challenges when they come to observe his work in the wilderness. The Matrix is so entrenched that most people are not aware of it and are not easily permitted to change paths and challenge it, it is there to enslave them in a perpetual state of euphoric sleep.
We might imagine that many systemic religious or governmental structures are the matrix, and the Pharisees are the Agent Smith’s.
In the film, Morpheus tells us to challenge everything we have been taught, to abandon our sleeping experience and follow a different path.
Morpheus at the end of Reloaded says, “There are no accidents. We have not come to this point by chance. I do not believe in chance…I see providence, I see purpose. I believe it is our fate to be here.” Agent Smith charges Morpheus as the most dangerous man in the world.
In the Isaiah passage we heard earlier, consider this vision…which is frequently used throughout the Isaiah’s scrolls…
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Please take look at the cover for today’s bulletin…
The quaker minister and painter Edward Hicks is best known for his Peaceable Kingdom pictures, of which sixty-two exist. The paintings represent a messianic prophecy in the book of Isaiah.
John in Matthew’s Gospel, Hick’s painting, and the Matrix call us to a spiritual choice that is beyond a simple cause and effect, and leads us towards a new paradigm, a reign of heaven. We like the Jewish people in John and Jesus time long for relief, a messiah. We are also called to Repent now, to make a choice, for the ax is at the root of the tree.
We are called to nourish and to deepen our faith, to trust in the Holy, and to reaffirm through shared experiences, our community with others, and those we encounter along the way.
My personal decisions of faith, to choose and trust the Holy, happen surprisingly frequently. My experience is that they are not a one-time singular event, but rather repetitive and dynamic. Sometimes with intention, but most often I am surprised by Joy.
I ask you this week to consider your own decisions to choose God; you might share them during our sermon discussion in the library following the service. To be sure, not all of our decision or conversion stories are the same….perhaps it is in the form of ‘repent and return’, or an experienced based event, or in committing ‘to love one another’…. or which pill would you take.
In closing, consider this from Boff, Brazilian Liberation Theologian.
The human spirit is that moment of consciousness in which we become aware of ourselves as part of a larger whole, begin to grasp its wholeness and unity, and realize that there is a thread binding everything together and bringing a cosmos out of the chaos. By establishing a relationship with the Whole, the spirit within us turns human beings into an infinite project, wholly open to others, to the world, and to God.. Leonardo Boff