Second Sunday in Advent
Scripture Readings: Bar 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-6, 8-11; Lk 23:1-6
Recently, I’ve been distracted by a short little video that keeps playing over and over again in my imagination. Watching it is a little distressing. The scene takes place fifty years from now. I see a little girl working in the garden beside her grandma, and at one point she says to her: “Grandma, yesterday at school, our teacher told us that when you were young, people couldn’t agree if two men getting married was right or wrong, so – they took a vote? That’s not true is it grandma?” After a moment or two the older woman replies tentatively: “Yes. Yes sweet heart, that’s – how we did things in those days.” And then, (and this is the part of the video I find really hard to watch), the girl; that little twelve year old girl says to her grandma: “Really?” Brothers and sisters I worry there is danger of our seeming a little silly to future generations. What will be our reply when they ask us: “So – where did you get the idea that you could resolve a really difficult moral question by taking a vote?”
In this morning’s gospel, the scene is being set for the Christian drama with Pilate and Herod introduced as main characters. The fate of Jesus will be decided by these two men through whom the deep meaning of Christmas is finally revealed. Meeting Jesus, Pilate will prove quite unequal to the task. He will as, Cardinal Bernadin used to say, try to resolve a moral problem with a procedural solution. Pilate will stand face to face with Jesus the Christ. The question at stake: Is Jesus – King? This is The moral question. It concerns the Incarnation; the man standing before him as one fully human and fully divine who is, in his person, Goodness itself and the source of all moral good. Poor Pilate hasn’t a clue how to engage this moment. Is Jesus King? He could take a vote, but that’s risky because Jesus is popular. But, as we have learned in the United States, a safer way out of this predicament is to take it to the Supreme Court where, with only five votes, you can resolve a difficult moral question and then impose the solution on the populace. This is the route Pilate will take. Maybe Jesus is King. The point is, he is a Galilean and that’s not Pilate’s jurisdiction. That’s Herod’s jurisdiction and so he sends Jesus to Herod. This, of course, fails to answer the moral question because it never engages it. Brothers and sisters, we are long past the time when Christmas was a national celebration of the birth of the King of Kings. Today, in the U.S., the non-committal expression “Happy Holidays” implicitly poses the question: Is Jesus King? Do you think so? Shall we have a show of hands?
Progressives like to point out that those disposed to believe Jesus is King tend to be older, non-college-educated, working class, white people. But by 2030, they will be outnumbered by younger Millennial voters who are by all measures the least religious people our nation has ever produced. That should resolve once and for all the question of whether or not Jesus is King. Right?
Maybe not. Progressives should be warned: kids deprived of a moral formation are not always grateful. Growing up and becoming adults, they can find themselves increasingly anxious and sad, and if they are reflective and gain any insight into why they are so anxious and sad, they are likely to become very angry, their anger aimed straight at that older generation who taught them you solve important moral questions by taking a vote, and thus cheating them of a chance at real and lasting happiness. If we learned anything in November of 2016 it is how anger, built up over time, can flip an election and, turn the country upside down. Our world really can be turned upside down in one night. During this season of Advent we nurture the hope that our world may yet be turned upside down on Christmas night.