Saturday, December 16, 2006

waiting...waiting..waiting... #3

Waiting in Real time

By Steve Taylor, aka emergentkiwi

Last Sunday night a dog ate some of the communion bread in church. Now, this does not normally happen in my church, so let me tell you how it happened

Toward the end of the evening service, a man walked in, with his dog, and sat down toward the front. My first thought was: “You can’t bring your dog to church.” My second thought was: “Well, church has provided no place for him to leave his dog, no doggy bowl out the front. So what else can he do?”

The church service ended with communion. All were invited to gather around the communion table. The is the table of Jesus, who welcomes saint and sinner. So any and all who want to follow Jesus are welcome.

I break the bread and pass the body of Christ down one side of the table, then down the other. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a blur of movement. I turn, to see the dog looking up at me, licking the crumbs of communion off his jaws. A dog has just eaten part of the body of Christ.

Now in an ideal world this would not happen. In an ideal world church would have a place for dogs outside the church. So a dog would not get near the communion table. But the reality is, that none of us actually live in an ideal world.

Rather, we live in real worlds, where things are unexpected and not often according to plan.

The Advent story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is a real world story. Both are born into families who have served God as priests. Both continue to obey God’s commands. Now in an ideal world, good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. Right?

Not in the real world, for in Luke 1:7, “But they did not have children. Elizabeth could not have any, and both Zechariah and Elizabeth were already old.” Welcome to the real world, where bad things happen to good people.

The story continues. In Zechariah’s priestly world, he does shift work in the temple. And one day, Zechariah gets the plum shift. He gets to go into the temple’s special place, alone and close to God, an easy place to pray. And in an ideal world, Zechariah would be praying. Right? He is, after all, a priest, a paid God-botherer.

But this is real world. In the real world, when God’s messenger turns up to answer prayer; Zechariah was confused and afraid. (Luke 1:12).

We humans are often tempted to play the “I’ll help God game.” “If I help God, by praying long enough, God will hear me.” Or, “If I help God, by being nice, God will like me.” Or, “If I help God by believing, God will listen.”

But that is the opposite of this Zechariah and Elizabeth Advent story, where God turns up in the real world, to people who have prayed and had no answer, among people who have stopped expecting answers.

Which means that Advent is about God in our real world, where dogs eat communion and bad things happen to good people and prayers go unanswered and disbelief is the norm. It is in the real world that the real God of Advent appears.