What is the “reason” for the season? I ask because I’m wary of simplistic answers to questions which easily rhyme. Does the one word answer “Jesus” serve as an adequate response to a query fraught with theological, social, and emotional baggage? I am not certain it does. Simply stating “Jesus”, pointing at the manger, and expecting the contextual blanks to be filled in as one would complete a holiday Mad-Lib raises more questions. Jesus who? How does this event, captured in manger scenes, live nativities, and Christmas pageants define anything about daily life in post-truth, post-fact, 50% off at Wal-Mart, 21st century America?
In order to answer the question, “what is the reason for the season?” I return to John the Baptizer. John’s dramatic calls for preparation give clear reasons why the Messiah is coming. In his explication of these ideas, we also see John laying the groundwork for our engagement with “the one who is coming”. In short, the Messiah’s reasons become our motivations. If we listen to John carefully, we will hear that there’s never one reason which defines Jesus’ arrival, mission, or ministry. The Good News is more than just a headline. It’s everything. When you find the farthest star you can see, go back further. The Good News and the God who brings this message is everything between you and the infinite. The baby in the manger makes the vastness of God comprehensible to a species who only uses about ten percent of their brains.
John’s loved Isaiah. You can hear him quoting Isaiah in the passages quoted in the Gospel readings which form our Advent lectionary. Isaiah was John’s lectionary. He lived and breathed Isaiah’s words of liberation. While Mark tells us John preached from Isaiah 40, I’m sure John was also reading Isaiah 58. In fact, I can’t read through Isaiah 58-60 without hearing (what I imagine to be) John’s voice preaching these words.
It’s here, in Isaiah 58, that I find in John the Baptizer’s lectionary, the reasons for the season. Isaiah puts it this way:
9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
Isaiah’s message, which I’m certain John preached, and then became the core of Jesus’ teachings is this: stop pointing fingers, speaking evil, be light, reject darkness, be a repairer of broken things, give food to the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted. Help remove suffering from others. Do these things as a way of life, not one month or six weeks out of the year (when TV stations or charities hold coat/toy drives), but every day.
Mark says the “beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ” began in the Judean wilderness with John the Baptizer preaching the gospel from Isaiah when Jesus came to be baptized. Jesus allowed the two dimensional reasons of Isaiah to take life and become a three dimensional incarnate reality.
Are we content with single word explanations and quaint depictions of a sleeping child? Or, do we want to know the reasons God became human? Oh, and notice this, neither Isaiah, John, or Jesus asks anyone why they are naked, hungry, thirsty, or needy. God takes care of them. No questions asked. God doesn’t need a reason. That’s our thing. We’re the “reason” people.
Richard Lowell Bryant