THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (December 16, 2018)
Religion does not enjoy the popularity of spirituality in our day in this part of the United States. Religion and spirituality were so united, here, some years ago. I am sure religion will regain popularity. It has to. Here is why.
It all starts with a spiritual happening: I would like to choose one happening from Jesus’ life and one from today’s Gospel to make my point. On one day in Jesus’ life, he took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain and, an unforgettable religious experience occurred. Jesus shone brilliantly and spoke with the long-dead Moses and Elijah. We know this as the “transfiguration.” The three apostles experienced the awesomeness of Jesus. They concluded: “Jesus is awesome.” A creed-belief was born.
Immediately following this wondrous experience, peter impulsively said, “Let’s build three tents. The need to do something after such seems innate in us. ‘What should we do?’ is the question after this experience. Code was born.
Before they descended the mountain, the apostles were hot to tell the world about it, celebrate, and proclaim this Good News. Celebration is cult or ritual, a need to memorialize the spiritual experience. Jesus told them to keep quiet. Later. The need for cult or ritual for this experience was born.
Creed, code, and cult are the three markers in comparative religion courses for each religion studied: what do they believe? Creed. What should they do because they believe? Code. And how they will celebrate? Cult/ ritual. The various religions are identified in this way.
John the baptizer was a charismatic character: strange clothes, stranger diet, and a challenging message – “repent.” He was not effective because he came on strong, but because the people who saw John were inspired: they knew the truth when they heard it; the man who spoke it was courageous.
People in his day experienced his ‘wild-man’ appearance and his message of repentance, his creed. As we heard in today’s Gospel, John personalized what a tax collector and a Roman soldier should do when they asked him. Code. Did you notice the two people who asked were especially tough customers: a tax collector, a person despised by fellow Jews and a roman soldier, a non-Jew, a member of the hated, occupying army of Rome.
Different people, after having experienced a man who spoke the truth and courageously spoke out, were motivated. His was a courage that eventually led to his execution – as would the truth and courage of Jesus later lead to his execution.
Three different kinds of people in this reading asked the same question after their creedal acceptance of him. They wanted to know what they should we do? The religious question of code invariably follows the religious acceptance of creed. John, like a good counselor, did not give them a lengthy or detailed “life-improvement program.” He did not command them to give up being tax collectors or soldiers; his advice was simple He gave each a specific task for a starter - something appropriate for each person’s work.
John himself determined the ritual/celebration of a baptism of repentance – an immersion in water, a sign of drowning and rising to a new life. A new beginning: Jesus would build on this as John predicted.
We see creed, code, and cult as “markers” in our day just as they were in John’s and Jesus’ day. We accept Jesus’ revelation that “god is love” as our fundamental creed. Jesus provided the code that follows from this creed: his two great commandments: “Love God back and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus provided the celebration of our union of love with our god and neighbor: our cult / ritual, the Eucharist. Here we celebrate his gifts of himself in his word to us and our communion with him we call “holy” - in this space where we have communion with one another and mutual support.
Jesus himself gifts us with the truth that real religion and our spirituality are one and the same as we clear the way for to appreciate him in our hearts more and more deeply when he approaches us.