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The Still Point
A Time of Meditation and Reflection
Second Sunday of Advent
… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…
T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton
Peace on each one who comes in need;
Peace on each one who comes in joy.
Peace on each one who offers prayers;
Peace on each one who offers song.
Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,
Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One.
Come, O come Emmanuel,
you are the way, the truth and the life;
Come, living Savior
come to your world which waits for you.
Hear this prayer for your love’s sake.
The Gospel Matthew 3:1-12
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Poem: “Possible Answers to Prayer” By Scott Cairns
Your petitions—though they continue to bear
just the one signature—have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties—despite their constant,
relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value—nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.
Your repentance—all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.
Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.
Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you—
these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.
John the Baptist, the forerunner and herald of the Holy One who is coming into our midst, breaks into the opening scenes of each gospel narrative. Some of the details are similar in every account, and still, the emphasis is different. In the account from Matthew’s gospel that we read this year, a focus is on the religious professionals who come seeking the form of baptism without understanding their own need for repentance. The John the Baptist who confronts this “brood of vipers” envisions a winnowing of grain and a purifying fire that will begin the renewal of all things and the ushering in of a good and fruitful time.
The poem is addressed to just the sort of sanctimonious “brood of vipers” who believe their heritage and adherence to traditional practices are all they need in order to be right with God – or their idea of God. The real, the true God – as the poet envisions that being – is tolerant and perhaps even indulgent of human attempts to “repent” and practice an acceptable piety. But God’s passion is to break through the layers of sanctimony in order to shower radical love on the despised, and even on the self-satisfied.
Questions for Reflection
What does “repentance” mean to you? Have you ever had a meaningful experience of repentance?
Have you ever known someone who reminded you of John the Baptist? What were your encounters with that person like? Were you changed by an encounter with this person?
Is there any moment in the poem by which you feel convicted or called to account?
How do you experience the love and acceptance, the fervor and adoration, of the God you hear speaking in the poem?
We bring before God someone whom we have met or remembered today
We bring to God someone who is hurting tonight and needs our prayer
We bring to God a troubled situation in our world
We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust
We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection
We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives
We name before God those who have died.
Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.
Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.
May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.
Poem and Reflection offered by: Rev’d Elizabeth Randall