Starting Over

Luke 3: 1-6

Did you ever want to start over…?

Did you ever drag yourself, reluctantly, to church, in December, wondering whether anything good, anything new, anything other than the experience of the last six days might appear…?

Appear he does. John the Baptist, an imposing figure. Railing in the wilderness. Overshadowing the exhaustion, religious and secular, of life shorn of faith. Dressed in camel’s hair, a scratchy outfit. Feeding on locusts and wild honey, on the wild offerings of untamed nature. Set apart, for the moment, as is his wont, from history. A voice, not a face, crying, not speaking, in the wilderness, not the city…

It is healthy that we not approach the manger, let alone all the cozy secular trappings of Christmas, without this annual run-in with a truly rough diamond. He stands among us today, rude, arrogant, abrasive, demanding a hearing for faith in God’s future. The voice of one crying in the wilderness…

For the advent of the Christ, to whom John bears witness (all the chaotic nonsense which we make of Christmas to the contrary), if nothing else, if nothing else, suggests the frightening possibility, the struggle, of starting over…

Faith means starting over…

Sometimes faith means having the courage to start over, even in the midst of loss: New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth, one must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth…

This rough warrior, prowling in the wilderness, down in the depths, the depths, reminds us of the condition of our existence. The liminal, last things. As hungry as the heart is for immortality, we are mortal. As feverishly as we might like to think otherwise, we know deep down that we are accountable for our lives. As strange and non-descript as our belief in eternity remains, our consciences resonate with the image of a final sifting, heaven and its sub-basement. Death…Judgment…HeavenHell: the advent of Christ illumines these conditions of our existence…

Faith is the power to start over, in the midst of anxiety, and even in the throes of despair. Faith is God’s gift, and the message of the Advent of the Christ. What the reason can never fully capture, and what the law can never fully define, faith gives: the power to struggle free of despair. Faith says: ‘Start again’…

Start, says John, down in the deep icy river of the truth, down where you find my wet camel coat, my long hard fingers, my rasping voice…

John, like a hanging, focuses our attention. What one thing should be said of Jesus this Advent? You can say many things. As Tittle repeated, ‘the preacher can always find something innocuous to talk about on Sunday’. What one thing? In Advent 1862, the one thing to have said of Jesus was that he was black, a person of color. In 1933, that he was poor. In 1944, that he was Jewish. In 1965, that he championed women. In 1986, that he was a child, born of a Mary’s womb. And today, coming toward 2007? What one advent word rings out from the dark Jordan?…

Just this one. That Jesus was the Prince of Peace…

Oh this railing Baptist cuts through our native pre-emption, our national unilateralism, our country’s imperialism, our shared lack of foresight. PREPARE THE WAY…

Start over…

Go back to the source, the start, where and when you once knew something clearly. Go there, and begin again…

Take with you the Courage to Be, in Life, in Family, in Work…

Of life, I give you James Baldwin: ‘Nothing is fixed forever and forever, it is not fixed. The earth is always shifting and the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down the rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them, because they are the only witnesses we have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to one another, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with each other, the sea engulfs us, and the light goes out’…

Of family, I give you Mark Helperin: ‘I was graduated from the finest school, which is that of the love between parent and child…In this school you learn the measure not of power, but of love; not of victory, but of grace; not of triumph, but of foregiveness’ (Memoir from Antproof Case, 298)…

Of work, I give you Annie Dillard: ‘The line of words is a hammer. You hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls, lightly, everywhere. After giving many years of attention to these things you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls. They have to stay, or everything else falls down. Other walls can go with impunity; you can hear the difference. Unfortunately, it is often a bearing wall that has to go. It cannot be helped. There is only one solution, which appalls you, but there it is. Knock it down. Duck. Courage utterly opposes the bold hope that this is such fine stuff the work needs it, or the world. Courage, exhausted, stands on bare reality: this writing weakens the work. You must demolish the work. AND START OVER. You can save some sentences, like bricks. It will be a miracle if you can save some paragraphs, no matter how excellent in themselves, or hard won. You can waste a year worrying about it, or you can get it over with now. (Are you a woman or a mouse?) (The Writing Life, 73)…

Faith means starting over, in life and in family and in work…

As we receive Jesus Christ, his presence and memory and thanksgiving, in bread and cup, MAY GOD GIVE US THE GIFT OF FAITH THIS DAY THAT WE MAY BEGIN AGAIN…

Leave a Reply