12/11/2014 11:59:00 AM WORD OF FAITH The kingdom among us
BY REV. ROGER KARBAN
FROM A READING FOR DEC. 14, THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT 'As the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.' - Isaiah 61:11
One of the reasons John originally composed his Gospel was to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. If he had music playing the background as he wrote, it probably would be that well-known song from "Annie Get Your Gun:" "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better."
As we hear in Sunday's Gospel (John 1:6-8,19-28), he states his thesis in his very first chapter.
John the Baptizer is a spokes-person. Though sent from God, this wilderness prophet isn't the light people were expecting. He's simply on the scene "to testify to the light."
Neither is he the Messiah. He's just "the voice of one crying out in the desert, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'" Even when it comes to his trademark baptism, he's convinced there's a better baptism around the corner.
That logically leads us to the question, "How is Christianity superior to Judaism?"
Being other Christs
It's essential to remember that Jesus' original followers committed themselves to imitating His death and resurrection not because they wanted to get into heaven - the "rich young man" narrative in Mark 10 teaches that they could have accomplished that feat by just keeping the commandments - but because they experienced a more meaningful and fulfilling life by becoming other Christs.
This Galilean carpenter had discovered that the most important element in achieving a meaningful and fulfilling life was the ability to surface the kingdom of God permeating all we do. He not only believed that God's working effectively in our daily lives, He also was convinced that, if we rearrange our value system, we can actually experience God's presence.
He didn't proclaim this kind of repentance for repentance's sake, but because it was the only way to become part of God's kingdom. Only when people become more important than institutions, more valuable than rules and regulations, will we even notice God's presence in all we encounter and in all we do.
Paul's community in Thessalonica (I Thessalonians 5:16-24) has already traveled a long way down the road that leads to that goal. We presume they're praying without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances, rejoicing in the Spirit's gifts and listening to the prophets in their midst.
Day by day, they're becoming more holy - more "other." They stand in contrast to others around them, to those who have yet to repent.
It's clear from this earliest Christian writing we possess that Jesus' first and second generation followers expected His second coming to take place in their lifetime. Though later generations had to adjust to His delayed Parousia, they gradually began to discover that the God working effectively among them was actually the risen Jesus - an experience which made their transition from "short-term" to "long-term" Christians much easier to accomplish.
Here and now
As often happens to all of us, what we once thought to be something in the future is actually here right now, if we just know what to look for.
No wonder Luke's Jesus zeroes in on Sunday's Third-Isaiah passage (Isaiah 61:1-2a,10-11) when He's given the Scripture scroll to read in His hometown synagogue. Because of His belief in God's kingdom among us, He certainly conceives of His itinerant preaching ministry as a way to bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners.
What He says and what He does frees people from the restrictions which make their lives unfulfilling and meaningless.
Pope Francis certainly hit the theological nail on the head when he insisted that some Church leaders should stop being "sourpusses." Could he have been implying that some of the key people in our Christian communities have yet to hear and proclaim Jesus' good news - that they've yet to repent?