Saturday, November 28, 2009

Advent Shaking

"...the celestial powers will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming with power and great glory." Luke 21:26-27

The compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary, in assigning this text for the First Sunday of Advent (Year C), seem to be deliberately wrong-footing us. We are expecting to prepare for the coming of Christ as the infant Jesus; instead we are confronted with predictions of the return of the glorious Son of Man. This return, it is claimed, will be preceded by a shaking of earth and heaven. Our planet, with its land-masses, waters, mountains, ravines and craters, is living testament to an ongoing shaking as tectonic plates move and asteroids collide. This ball of magma with its hardened crust and breathable atmosphere, rotating and orbiting in space, is always moving and changing. The shaking of which Jesus speaks, however, is different than this perpetual motion. It is the shaking that God causes; a shaking that coincides with the Advent of the Son of Man.

If, as interpreters of this text, we move from the literal to metaphor, we find that shaking is not restricted to Christ's return but is part of what God does with his people. God shook Israel's moral and religious order out of idolatry and polytheism when God made covenant with it and gave it the Law. God shook Israel further through foreign exile and occupation. But perhaps the greatest shaking occurred in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; a shaking of the very foundations of what it means to be in right relationship with God. Andrew Shanks interprets the Beatitude blessings that Jesus pronounces as, 'How blessed are those who are shaken'. In other words, how blessed are those whose attitude to being shaken in life (poverty, sorrow, gentleness, seeking righteousness, merciful, pure, peacemaking, persecuted) makes them open to God and to others. But those who hate change, except on their own terms, would not tolerate shaking of this sort and therefore nailed down the one who so unsettled them. As Colin Morris writes, " crucifying Jesus the 'powers that be' imagined they were doing one thing; in fact they were being used to accomplish another. They became instruments of the God who shook the tomb until it fell apart and let loose his great agent of change into all the world and for all time.” (pp. 157-8, Things Shaken - Things Unshaken)

We who identify with the incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended and returning Christ—we who worship the God who is Spirit and is therefore 'pure activity'—cannot avoid being shaken. Yet we are given courage and hope by the author of The Letter to the Hebrews, who writes that after God has finished shaking "...what cannot be shaken [will] remain. The kingdom we are given is unshakeable…" Hebrews 12:27b-28a

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