House of Deputies

Roderick Dugliss"Are you the one who is to come?"

It is one of the perennial questions.

It is a question arising out of our hope.

We look back in hope to the home we lost, yearning to reconnect, restore, reunite with essential oneness. We look forward in hope for the one who comes to reconcile us with that which we profoundly lost. Our great story tells that someone comes into our lives and times to show us, to lead us on the way home.

And so all who have hoped through time and each of us look in hope and ask, "are you the one who is to come?"

We have asked and asked.

Is it the giver of the law? The great shepherd king? This prophet or that, ablaze with the heat of God's love? Is it the itinerant carpenter from Nazareth? Even John the Baptist, who as the forerunner you would think would know, had to send to Jesus' disciples to ask, "are you the one?"

His radical teaching and disruptive healing was not expected. John, most intimately connected to Jesus, teaches us the expected one comes unexpectedly.

Our hope shapes our expectations and our expectations can get in the way of our ability to apprehend and embrace the one who has already come and is coming.

 

Surely, the one who will companion our ached-for homecoming will come in power and prestige. He will be unmistakably grand and so then, as now, we look for the spectacular. And while we were and are so distracted, Incarnate Hope came in a messy birth in a rickety cowshed. The expected one arrived, not at the center of power, but in a backwater village in a land occupied by ambitious empire and ruled by venal toadies. The expected birth came at an unexpected time to an odd couple from an even less distinguished village. And the only people who got it, who knew that the longed for had come, were grubby outcast herdsmen and odd aliens who practiced "another" religion.

The one who comes, comes out of rejection, neglect, marginalization, and insignificance ready to embrace our pain and brokenness as our hopeful and only way home.

These days, most of our celebration of this pivotal event misses this core truth and feeds those expectations that tempt us to miss the one who comes in unexpected ways.

Distracted expectation is epitomized for me by the famous crèche scene at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which I admit to having only seen in pictures.

It is massive staging with hundreds of figures in fully authentic renaissance dress representing all walks of life. It cascades down an incline in amazing variety and color. It takes a minute to find the beautiful figures of Mary, Joseph, and the lovely, haloed baby. It is a stunning display. It is a rich expression of the work of many skilled artists. It is gorgeous. And there is nothing grubby or broken about it.

If this vision—replicated in less ambitious form in the images, and pageants, and dazzling lights of our Christmas—informs our expectation of the one who comes and is coming for all of us, how will we be able to see the Holy One in the unexpected?

Jesus comes in a moment in time, born in ignominy, and shows us our redeeming path home through crucifixion. In this is the answer to our question, are you the one?

In our Baptismal Covenant we have committed to seek and serve Jesus the incarnate Word, the Christ, the anointed One, our companion in reconciliation, in "all persons." The arc of Jesus' life and teaching call us to look deeply into all whom we encounter, especially those caught in the dark edges of our communities, for in them is yet another iteration of the One who has come and is coming. Our companions and guides in reconciliation will come in unexpected guises, in unlikely places, with blindingly ordinary stories and invitations. It is God's gracious gift to us every day, in every place we live, and work, and worship. And especially in those places we wish to pass by quickly.
In any such ordinary encounter, will we even think to ask, are you the one? Are you my agency of redemption this day, in this holy moment?

The grubby stable holds the most important Christmas message of redeeming, if we are ready and willing to see, to seek, and then to serve.