We’re back to John tonight. After our brief sojourn to touch base with Luke and connect some actual Adventy Christmasy story lines, we’re back to John and some of his more out there in the heavens kind of ideas. And true to form, John does not disappoint as he gets into the whole birth and rebirth scenario. You know, the simple and straightforward stuff.
Our reading tonight kind of begs the question, “How on earth can we be reborn?” Upon hearing from Jesus that one must be born from above, Nicodemus asks a fairly straightforward question, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” I mean seriously, the reality is there are just some things you cannot do twice. You can’t stand in the same river twice, you can’t live this moment twice, and you can’t be born twice. Right?
Well, maybe in a physical sense you can’t be born twice but I’m reasonably certain Jesus isn’t talking about that. In the same way I’m also reasonably certain that Jesus is talking about being reborn in a spiritual sense. No real surprise there, is there? I mean he did say ‘born from above’ after all. I’m kind of surprised Nicodemus missed that, him being a Pharisee and all. I’m pretty sure you had to be fairly smart and wise to be a Pharisee. It’s almost like John wanted to help us learn something with a story.
It isn’t even that difficult of a concept to grasp. We are born into the world physically and then it is in Christ that we are reborn spiritually. It is in Christ we become a new creation. We know this stuff. We’ve been to church enough times that it isn’t anything really new to be hearing, is it?
Nah, we got this solidly entrenched into the things we know. The hard part is living into that spiritual rebirth and actually becoming a new creation rather than holding onto the old. I’ve wondered at times if it wouldn’t actually be simpler to be reborn physically that to live into being the new creation we are in Christ.
Okay, just so we’re all on the same page, the way it works is this. The Holy Spirit descends upon us when the waters of baptism pour over our heads. We note that in the liturgy when the baptizer says, “(Insert name here) child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” Sealed by the Holy Spirit. That’s some big words. And we’re supposed to go out into the world like that?
Yes. Yes we are. But… oftentimes we don’t.
We get so entrenched in our way of thinking and doing that we forget we have been claimed by one who is so much greater than anything we can comprehend. And maybe that is part of the problem. If we think too deeply about God then we become immobilized, trapped in the immensity of God that we cannot process our thoughts, any thoughts, properly. Or perhaps we’re tired and worn out and lack the energy to get ourselves moving forward and away from the old us, the old me. Maybe it’s just plain old fear. The fear of the unknown. The fear of what will happen to us when a God powerful enough to create all that is, seen and unseen, transforms us into the new creation we are.
Because when it comes down to it, transformation means we have to let loose of our need for control and let God do the work. We are allowed to choose whether we let loose of our control and let God do the work. We are not robots and God is not a master controller updating our programming as needed and so we can, and frequently do, get in God’s way. We cling to our old way of thinking, we’re tired and we’re afraid of change, and thus we have a tendency to keep God at arm’s length. We like the idea of baptism as fire insurance, as saving us from the fires of hell and all but when it comes to total transformation of everything we are we’re a little less enthusiastic about that aspect of baptism. And properly framed, baptism is much more about total transformation than it is about fire insurance.
Theologian Richard Rohr writes, “I hoped for the religious people to take incarnation seriously and recognize the brilliance of a God who creates things that keep creating themselves, but they too kept beating one drum — of an extremely unimaginative and uninvolved God.” We may talk about the brilliance of God but most of the time we think about God we prefer God not do anything interesting or exceptional. We like reading about God showing up on the mountain in a burning bush or helping Moses part the Red Sea. But if any of those things actually happened around us? What would you likely do? I’m thinking I’d like to watch someone part Branched Oak Lake but I’d like to watch it from the comfort of my camp chair with a frosty beverage in hand, rather than actively participating in the event itself.
It makes me kind of think we’re not actually ready for such a thing if we’re honest about it. And really should be because however unlikely it seems to us it is entirely possible that God will do something like that to or around us. The people around Moses probably didn’t wake up one day and say, “Oh, I think there will be a Red Sea parting today. We should go and see.” Will we be ready for that kind of transformational event should we find ourselves in the middle of it?
If not, then why not? Usually I hear there’s not enough time to do the prep work needed, like prayer and spending time in silence. What’s funny about this is a TED talk I heard yesterday about time. We all have 168 hours/week, right. And of that we spend something like 100 working and sleeping. What are we doing with the other 68?
Doing busy kinds of things, no doubt. No time for this that or the other thing because we’re too busy. Want to wash your windows? Nope, too busy. What if someone gave you $100,000 to clean your windows, would you do it then? Ah, so the issue isn’t so much about time, is it? If you’re water heater broke, would you find time to fix it?
By the end of this TED talk I hated the person giving the talk. But she wasn’t wrong. We have the time, we’re just often times too busy being busy.
That’s what is good about Advent. Or would be if we actually celebrated Advent instead of pre-Christmas. Advent should be a time to slow down and breathe. A time to reflect on and examine our relationship with God. A time to consider or reconsider the things we do to practice our faith. A Celtic Kind of Advent is supposed to help with all of that. Coming in on Wednesday nights to take some time to slow down and escape the hustle and bustle of the consumer Christmas. Coming in on Wednesday nights to spend some time in silent reflection.
Coming in on Wednesday night to reconnect to God who transforms us.