Friday, December 16, 2016

Advent, Day 20: Wandering Star

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the deepest darkness has been reserved. For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them. 

- 2 Peter 2:17-19

[Jesus said,] "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen!"

- Matthew 11:12-15

File this one under "Put not your trust in earthly rulers."

The second letter of Peter is rarely quoted. It's a very late addition to the Bible, and it is bleak and unyielding. There's a parallel quote in the Letter of Jude: "They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved for ever" (12b-13).

The primary concern here is with false teachers -- people who promise things to believers in bad faith. "People are slaves to whatever masters them." This is true of all of us. What masters you? The concern here is that those who teach falsehoods lead others astray.

Meanwhile, in the gospel reading, Jesus is speaking of John the Baptist, who is still alive and in prison at this point in the narrative. What does this mean, that "the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force"? I think it's meant to be ironic.  You may think that you can force your way into God's good graces, but if so, you're in for an unpleasant surprise.

People in positions of power get there by promising things to people. They make emotional appeals that are actually "bombastic nonsense," and then people hand them the keys to the kingdom. Beware of them. Waterless clouds, wild waves, wandering stars ...

Not all who seek power are evil. How do you distinguish those of good faith from those of bad? Those of good faith are willing to share their power. They don't have to be right all the time. They admit their mistakes and learn from them. They seek out new information in order to be of more help to others than they were before. They raise others up without needing to step on anyone in the process. Above all, they don't take delight in the pain of others.

When we find ourselves with leaders like this, we need to resist them. We need to work to protect those whom they victimize as they shore up their power. This responsibility belongs to all of us. While such leaders have always been present, they are now out in force. We can resist them by encouraging our elected leaders to use their own power to resist their plans. We can protest when such protest is focused and well executed. And we can refuse to collude when invited or tempted to do so.

We also need to remember that we owe no allegiance to the violent and cruel, and we do not depend on them for our hope. Like John, we ask Jesus, "Are you the one to come, or are we to wait for another?" And then we hear Jesus reply, "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

A savior is one who lays down not only all his power but also his very life. He's coming. A different kind of wandering star announces the imminent arrival of a different kind of king ...

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