I wanted to share a good news story with you this morning. We’re about ready for some good news these days, eh? So, there was a woman preparing for her annual holiday meal, and she was texting everyone asking so and so to bring the mashed potatoes, this person to bring the stuffing and the cranberry sauce. And she texts her grandson and says, “Let me know if you’re coming. Hope to see you at dinner. Make sure you bring etc etc.”
And she gets a text back that says, “Who is this?”
And she replies, “Your grandma.”
“Grandma? Can I have a picture?”
“Of who?” she says.
So this sweet grandma texts over a selfie. And the person texts back with a picture of himself, laughing, and says, “You’re not my grandma! . . . Can I still get a plate, though?”
And she writes back, “Of course you can! That’s what grandmas do. Feed everyone!”
So this was six years ago, and this young man has shared a holiday meal with this accidental grandma every year since.
This morning in our scriptures, we had the privilege of hearing from some people who are about ready for some good news. Our first reading was from one of the lesser known books of the Bible. The book of Baruch is what’s known as apocryphal. The apocrypha is a collection of writings that throughout Christian history fell outside the canon, fell outside what was considered to be authoritative, in the way that some of the more well-known books of the Bible are (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, for example).
While books that belong to the apocrypha are not read in every Christian tradition, they are included in Catholic and Anglican churches, and they’re considered to be useful for teaching and building up our faith. Just a little tidbit of history on why we have heard this reading today.
Baruch is said to have been the secretary to the prophet Jeremiah. Baruch was an ancient Israelite scribe and the book of Baruch is really a book of poetry: there are love poems where God’s wisdom is spoken of with the kind of affection you would hold for a spouse. There are also poems of grief, processing the trauma this community was going through as they recovered from the destruction of their homes. The city of Jerusalem, for example, is personified as a widow, weeping for her lost children.
In this morning’s reading, the people of Baruch’s community are called to trade in their garments of sorrow for royal robes. It’s a radical invitation to hear some good news: to imagine yourself in the seat of your captors, in a seat of power. They are told to “[p]ut on the robe of righteousness that comes from God,” to “put on the diadem, the crown of the glory of the Everlasting.”
The meaning of this is layered. Anglican priest and author Miranda Threlfall-Holmes talks about the four layers of interpretation that have been used since the earliest days of reading the Bible. There is the literal or plain sense: the original, historical audience who is, maybe, hearing this poem read aloud and receiving it as encouragement to look forward to a time when they will reclaim the throne, a time when they will literally once again wear the robes of royalty.
Then there is the allegorical meaning of this passage. What does this passage illustrate about the Church or Christian belief?
The third layer is the inner, soul sense. When we hear this call to put on the robe of righteousness, to put on the the crown of the glory of the Everlasting, what comes to mind? What visceral reaction do you feel in your body? What emotions come to the fore?
Lastly, there is the anagogical, the future sense. What does this passage say about the ultimate destiny of humanity?
It’s that last “future sense” that I want to talk about for a bit, and I want to suggest that when we hear the scriptures on this second Sunday of Advent, they’re saying that even amidst all of the hardship and suffering of our lives, humanity’s ultimate destiny is to be ready to hear good news.
We’ve been following Gayle Boss’ book, All Creation Waits in our Advent study on Thursday evenings. In her chapter on the honey bee, she’s talking about how in winter bees huddle together, shivering, their “fine, transparent wings” beating together to keep the colony warm and the honey at the core of the hive an astonishing 34 degrees celsius (92 degrees fahrenheit). And here’s what she says about the queen honey bee:
At the heart of the dance lies the queen. She is every bee’s reason for being. Without a queen the colony would fall into chaos. Nurse bees, grooming her, pass her scent back through the ranks. It tells all the news of her health, which is their health. They smell that now, in Advent, she’s laying no eggs. There is no brood to feed. Each bee senses that their one obligation is to give the smallest motion of her flight muscles to the collective work of keeping the queen and the colony’s honey stores warm. The whole hive knows they will survive only if they shiver together.
If we were to ask the honey bees what ultimate future, what ultimate destiny they are waiting for, I think they would say that they are waiting on the queen; she’s the one who communicates good news throughout the colony. And, isn’t it interesting, that when the queen shares news through the ranks, the good news isn’t for her sake alone, but for the collective good of the colony?
At the top of our gospel reading today it’s laid out pretty clearly who’s in charge of the ultimate future, the ultimate destiny of humanity: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas . . . .”
Ruler after ruler after ruler after ruler---who, in the original context of this passage, have shown that they don’t care all that much about the collective good of humanity. And way down at the bottom of the passage, at the bottom of this list, John says, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The picture we get in this season leading up to Christmas is that a very different queen is coming; a very different ruler will reign; and under this One’s rule the good news is this: “God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that all may walk safely in the glory of God.”
So may it be.