So what does the coming of the Lord look like in Advent? Like the disciples of John the Baptist we have to ask ourselves what we have come to see in this Advent season. I suspect most of us resonate with the straight-forward wonder of Isaiah’s reading, the joy and rejoicing as the ransomed people coming singing into Zion. But the reading from the Gospel is odd, puzzling, ambiguous. Jesus is talking in riddles, pointing to a strange, coming reality of the Kingdom of God. John’s disciples are skeptical about the coming of Jesus. He doesn’t look like what they expected, where is their triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the vengeance and divine recompense? Jesus reassures John’s disciples and the crowds who came to see him that something amazing is indeed happening, starting with the appearance of this strange prophet in the wilderness.
I suspect Benedict would identify with the questions Jesus asks. In his Rule Benedict has set up the structure for a group of people who are also looking for the Kingdom of God. Monastics are those inside and outside of monasteries who are seeking the deeper reality of God in their lives. Monastics are those who have come to the wilderness of Benedictine life looking for the new reality of transformation and like the followers of John and Jesus in the reading they are sometimes confused by what they see. Did you come to Benedictine life seeking an easy life of comfortable prayer and cheap grace? Did you come to make the journey with a perfect, companionable group of people? Benedict stands in the wilderness and responds that we find the prophetic, we find the way leading to the Reign of God in the midst of the mundane, daily reality of our lives and the motley crew that composes the community that each of us belongs to.
In his Rule Benedict says that he intends to set up “a school for the Lord’s service.” He is equally clear that this way of life, this school, isn’t a post-graduate course for the spiritually talented. His school, set out in his “little rule for beginners” is more of a kindergarten than an advanced degree program. Benedict knows that we are all beginners in the spiritual journey and like a group of kindergarteners we need to be holding hands if we are to make progress and not get lost on our life-long field trip to the Kingdom of God.
This is where we get confused. How can this motley crew of people I am connected with on my spiritual journey really be part of the Reign of God? My monastic community, my oblate community, my Church, my faith sharing group, they aren’t any further along on the journey than I am! Where is the wonderful vision of Isaiah? When I look around at the people with me I’m not seeing much glory and splendor and miracles. Is this what is to come or shall we await something better?
But here is the paradox of the Gospel, of the Reign of God, of Benedictine life. The coming of God does indeed happen with glory and singing and the irruption of God into our daily reality, but it rarely looks like our expectations. The coming of God requires us to learn a new way of seeing, listening, acting and being. Miracles happen in our little kindergarten of the Lord’s service. God enters our lives when we slow down and hold hands with those who are on the way with us. The Reign of God comes about when those of us who are deaf learn to listen to God, one another and our hurting world with the ears of our heart. There is singing in Zion when those of us who are blind come to see the image of God in those who unfailingly get on our last nerve day after day, year after year. The lame will leap for joy when together we take action to bind up the wounds of the world in the name of God’s love.
What did we go out in the wilderness of Benedictine spirituality and the Rule to see? A sophisticated, perfect set of people living without conflict? A way of life that brings instantaneous spiritual progress to my self and the world? No, we go to the wilderness of the monastic way to look around and see a motley crew of people who are frequently lost, scared, anxious and disagreeable who have agreed to hold hands with each other and with God so that together they will know that they are journeying together into everlasting life.
So, fellow children, this is our invitation of Advent. Stay together, hold hands, listen carefully to the instructions of God’s word and pay attention to the sights and sounds of the amazing, unexpected, wonderful birth of God in our lives and in our world.