“Prepare for Disruption”

Our family enjoys the Knuffle Bunny stories by Mo Willems. The first book begins this way: “Not so long ago, before she could even speak words, Trixie went on an errand with her daddy.” As Trixie and her Dad leave their apartment, Dad balances a full laundry basket with one arm while steering Trixie with his other hand on her head. Trixie clutches her stuffed bunny (her Knuffle Bunny), under her arm. “Trixie and her Daddy went down the block, through the park, past the school and into the Laundromat. Trixie helped her daddy put the laundry into the machine.” (Well, actually, the pictures show her dancing around with a pair of pants on her head, as she wildly waves undergarments in the air.) “[Trixie] even got to put the money in the machine. Then they left.” As Trixie and her Daddy walk away, the reader sees Knuffle Bunny’s wide eyes peeking out from inside a spinning washing machine.

“A block or so later, Trixie realized something. Trixie turned to her daddy and said, ‘Aggle flaggle Klabbe!’ ‘That’s right’ replied her daddy,” with a serene, know-it-all parental expression on his face, “‘We’re going home.’ ‘AGGLE, FLAGGLE KLABBLE!’ said Trixie again. ‘Blaggle plabble! Wumpy flappy?! Snurp!’” The tears begin to flow. “‘Now please don’t get fussy,’ said her Daddy. Well, she had no choice… Trixie bawled, ‘WAAAA!’” Trixie’s daddy is now dragging her by one arm with her heels skidding along the pavement. “She went boneless.” Trixie melts in a slippery, hard-to-hold heap toward the sidewalk. “She did everything she could to show how unhappy she was. By the time they got home, her daddy was unhappy too. As soon as Trixie’s mommy opened the door, she asked, ‘Where’s Knuffle Bunny?’”

Parenting, in my experience, is all about welcoming disruption. Kids are constantly working through crises that seem fairly trivial to us adults—a lost toy, an invisible owie, toast with jelly when honey was wanted. Crying, yelling, foot dragging, and going boneless is their way of communicating their deeper feelings and needs.

I realize this comparison is a bit strange. But the story of Trixie and her Knuffle Bunny reminds me of the way of God’s prophets and messengers communicate in this Advent season. Isaiah and John the Baptist are disruptive figures. They cry in the wilderness; they proclaim from high mountains, they lift up their voices with strength. They demand attention. They speak out of marginal places—exile and wilderness—and from these landscapes of struggle, they insist that a whole new world is on its way. Like Trixie, seeking to communicate her beloved bunny’s fate, they bring a message that is important, yet hard to understand.

Today’s lesson from the Gospel of Mark opens with a verse that is not even a complete sentence. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Child of God.” These words actually serve as the title for the whole of Mark’s Gospel. According to scholars, the word “gospel” in the Greek language—usually translated simply “good news”—can mean, more specifically, good news “from the battlefield.”[1] Or, “good news from a place of struggle.” Mark’s title frames the entire Gospel as an urgent message that disrupts our complacency. Indeed, in Mark’s version of Jesus’ coming, there is no baby, no manger, no shepherds, angels or wise ones. There is just a lone prophet howling in the wilderness. To the rulers of the world, the ones who decided how things would be, John the Baptist’s voice, calling for repentance, was inconsequential. His words must have sounded, to them, like sheer nonsense, like the babble of a child before he can even speak words.

John, “clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist…[eating] locusts and wild honey” was just another religious fanatic whose way of life and priorities made no sense to the rich and powerful.

And John’s voice, of course, is also the voice of the prophet Isaiah before him, shouting from the wilderness of Israel’s exile about how God’s hope and comfort would reshape the world’s landscape. “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” Really? A God who levels mountains and fills valleys? A God who will build a highway in order to reach those who are suffering, in order to be with those enduring oppression? If the kings of the earth heard this promise, I would guess it made them laugh. After all, they were the only ones with the resources, in those days, to build roads. Roads were a tool of the empire, a part of the infrastructure of oppression.

This past Thursday morning, twelve faith leaders were arrested for protesting the tax bill in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. With the prophets before them, these women and men understand that the Gospel is a disruptive message. They know it to be good news from a place of struggle. Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners (a progressive evangelical organization) was one of those jailed. Sojourners reported: “As the Republican Senate majority plans to pass a tax bill that will strip away food, shelter, and medical care for the poor while doling money to the very rich, people of faith gathered to read aloud from the #2000verses of the Bible that call upon all of us to tend to those most in need. . . . Jim Wallis quoted Isaiah 10:1-4: ‘Woe to the legislators who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people.’”[2]

God’s prophets have always brought good news from the place of struggle, and they will continue to do so, even when no one heeds their cries. God’s messengers will keep on raising up and centering the experiences of people whose needs, whose very lives, do not matter enough to the world’s ruling powers. The hope of Advent, the hope of God-with-us, is a disruptive hope. This voice insists on naming possibilities we do not consider possible. What if we the people and those who represent us in the legislature sat down together and put care for the poor and vulnerable at the heart of our agenda? What if hunger and nuclear weapons ceased to exist? What if we healed our relationships in the community of creation—with the earth and its creatures, with our indigenous siblings? What if we banded together to begin to return wealth stolen through colonization and slavery, by helping people purchase homes and pay off student debt? What if, what if? The voice of God disrupts our despair, disrupts our fear, disrupts our cynicism and rage. It shouts from a high mountain and whispers in our souls that the world can be different than it is.

In order to receive the good news of God’s coming we also have to be willing to receive disruption into our lives. The people in Mark’s Gospel followed John into the wilderness. They did not stay home, stay busy, stay focused on merely surviving. They went out into the desert and participated in a ritual designed to help them learn to welcome God’s disruptive voice, God’s disruptive hope.

“A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance means turning in the direction of a new life. Forgiveness is about receiving the healing we need, about being made whole (not perfect, but whole). Repentance and forgiveness together represent our commitment to partner with God to repair ourselves and the world.

People of God, let us prepare the way for the coming of God-with-us. Let us tune our ears and our lives to the voices from the margins, the voices in the wilderness, the voices in exile, the disruptive voices we do not understand. Let us listen for good news from the place of struggle.

Amen.

[1] Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary, p. 30

[2] https://sojo.net/media/warning-senate-nsfbr-not-safe-bible-readers